MONTREAL - The transition from Arizona to Montreal certainly worked wonders for Max Domi and Jordan Weal last season. Nick Cousins is hoping for a similar result, too.
On Friday, the Canadiens agreed to terms on a one-year, one-way contract with the 25-year-old centerman, who spent the last two seasons plying his trade in the desert.
Cousins is coming off a solid year production-wise, registering a career-high 20 assists and 27 points in 81 games.
"It's a fresh start for me. I'm looking forward to a new challenge," said Cousins, who jumped at the opportunity to sign with the Habs. "They're a young and up-and-coming team on the verge of making the playoffs last year. I think it's a great fit."
For the five-year NHL veteran, the goal come October is rather simple.
"I want to continue to establish myself as an NHL player, so try to come in and prove myself. I have to keep doing what I was doing," insisted Cousins, a veteran of 259 NHL games between Philadelphia and Arizona. "I'm a versatile player that can play up and down the lineup. I can actually play all three forward positions, so that can bring a little bit to this team. I've gotten better each year statistics-wise, so just trying to build on that."
Putting up those numbers helped the Belleville, ON native head into the offseason feeling particularly good about himself.
Now, his focus is squarely on continuing to trend upward in his brand new hockey home.
"Last season, I played more minutes and was used in different situations as well. When you get put in those situations, you've got to produce. It helped my confidence knowing I could play at a high level in this League. I'm just trying to carry that confidence over," explained Cousins, who registered career-highs in average ice time per game (13:33), shots on goal (144), faceoff win percentage (46.7), blocked shots (51) and takeaways (39). "I want to help the team any way I can."
And he's prepared to handle any assignment head coach Claude Julien throws his way.
"Wherever the coach wants to plug me in, I'm more than happy to play my game," said Cousins. "I play grinder, but I can also make plays. I have some skill, too, and I can score. I'm just a guy that is going to put his best foot forward every night."
Being reunited with Domi means a lot to Cousins.
Shortly after the signing was announced, the Canadiens' leading point-getter this past season took to Twitter to share his delight about the new pivot joining the fold.
According to Cousins, the pair became rather close in the Grand Canyon State.
"He's a good friend of mine. I've actually been texting him the last couple of days and he's got great things to say about Montreal, the fans, and obviously playing at the Bell Centre. There's nothing better. It's actually my favorite road arena, so it's going to be fun," revealed Cousins. "When we were in Arizona, we actually had a chance to play with each other for a little bit there. I feel like we have good chemistry off the ice, and honestly it translates on the ice as well. He's a good player and a good person. I'm looking forward to spending that time in Montreal together."
Cousins was proud of Domi's success in his first campaign with the Canadiens.
It didn't necessarily come as a surprise, though, given his fellow Ontarian's incredible dedication to his craft.
"I followed him really closely last year. I just knew that he was going to do well over there. He's a hard-working guy off the ice. He's a true pro. He takes the game very seriously," praised Cousins. "I admire the way he carries himself. He always comes to the rink with a smile on his face, works on his game and always looks at ways to get better. That's what I admire most about him, his every-day approach and that pro mentality."
A special place
Why does the Bell Centre rank atop Cousins' list of road rinks to date?
"It feels like the fans are honestly on top of you with the way it's set up," explained Cousins, who has played three career games in the Canadiens' home arena over the years. "You just feel that buzz around the city when you're going to the rink. It's awesome."
And given the proximity of Belleville to Montreal, Cousins fully expects to have a steady stream of family members in the stands this fall.
"They're pretty excited. I think I'm going to have to tell them to stop visiting me so much," said Cousins with a laugh. "It's nice to be closer to home, though. I'll get to see them a lot this year."