MONTREAL – Matt D’Agostini was pegged as a goal-scorer when the Montreal Canadiens drafted him 190th overall in 2005 and so far, their guess is looking good.
The 22-year-old right winger had three goals and an assist in his first four games after being called up last week from Hamilton of the AHL. He has looked right at home on Montreal’s hottest line with captain Saku Koivu and left-winger Andrei Kostitsyn.
“So far, every level I’ve been at I’ve been able to put the puck in the net, but this league is a lot different,” D’Agostini said as the Canadiens prepared to host the Calgary Flames on Tuesday night. “These are the best hockey players in the world, so you’ve got to bear down on your chances.
“They don’t come as often as they do in the minors.”
The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., native was called up when the Canadiens had a rash of injuries. But immediate success on a team that was struggling to score bought him extra time with the NHL club.
It also helped that the goals came as young forwards Sergei Kostitsyn and Guillaume Latendresse fell into coach Guy Carbonneau’s doghouse and were scratched from the lineup.
D’Agostini made the most of it, scoring his first NHL goal Dec. 2 against Atlanta, and adding a goal each in games against the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils.
Soon, a decision will have to be made whether to keep him with the NHL club. The Canadiens are carrying the league maximum of 23 players, but defenceman Mike Komisarek is due back sometime before Christmas from a shoulder injury.
When Komisarek returns, someone will have to go and the most likely candidate is D’Agostini, if only because he wouldn’t have to clear waivers.
But Carbonneau said no decision has been made yet.
D’Agostini, who was shut out in one NHL game last season, is enjoying his stretch with the Canadiens.
“It’s pretty overwhelming,” he said. “Last year, I was only here for a couple of days so it was hard to get in the swing of things, but I’ve been here a while now.
“Day by day you get more comfortable with your surroundings and the guys and the games. Hopefully, I continue to progress.”
Carbonneau has been impressed by the six-foot 200-pound D’Agostini’s defensive play as well as his goal-scoring.
“Time will tell,” the coach said. “We want to make sure he’s not just a flash in the pan.
“His overall play has been really good. His positioning is good. His work along the boards is also good. He’s had a couple of chances and buried them and it’s always a plus when that happens.”
He said he matched D’Agostini with Koivu, a smart playmaker, and Kostitsyn, a strong passer with speed, because the line needed a shooter, particularly one with a right-hand shot.
“He fit,” added Carbonneau. “And I hope it keeps going.”
D’Agostini calls himself a late-bloomer. He was already 18 when he began playing major junior with the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League. He said that may have put some NHL scouts off, but not Montreal.
“Montreal took a chance on me and hopefully, I’ve grown as a player since then,” he said. “Each year, you get a little more mature, a little stronger and wiser.
“I like to think I’ve become more consistent and have rounded out all aspects of my game.”
His scoring with Guelph and in the AHL was good, but hardly eye-popping. He had 49 goals in two seasons of junior hockey, then had seasons of 21 and 23 goals with Hamilton.
But he had a strong training camp in September and was leading the Bulldogs with 14 goals and 25 points when he was called up.