Hockey NHL

2020-21 Team Rocket (de Laval) is Blasting Off Again

Going into last Friday’s GM meetings, one major point of contention was what is the plan for the AHL? Teams were anxious to know what they could do with their prospects, because a year of no hockey is a death sentence for some. As a primarily Gate Revenue driven league, there was some concern about whether or not the league would be financially feasible with no fans. As to the how and why, there are no details yet, but AHL hockey is back!

With Joël Bouchard at the helm, the Canadiens have taken a major step forward in terms of player development. The big club is set for this upcoming season, so the Habs should be able to keep their prospects in the AHL to allow them to develop properly. Bergevin does not get enough credit for just how much talent he has brought into this club over the last three seasons. More so through the draft at the prospect level, but the recent signings has pushed a few players down the roster which has a trickle down effect to keep some of the team’s most important prospects where they belong. Arpon Basu and Marc Antoine Godin eluded to exactly this earlier this year.

This is a paid subscription site, but I will summarize it by focusing on a specific point these two gentleman made. Bergevin over the last couple of seasons has basically told his young players, if you want to be on the main club, show up and earn it. On the surface this makes perfect sense, but the problem lies in the fact that while these young players are coming in at 100% effort level to make the team, the Vets are skating at 75%. So when it comes time for the Regular Season and the Vets are no longer just going through the motions, the rookies are getting exposed and their development in certain cases takes the hit.

The Canadiens have been much better about this over the last few seasons, but without getting into every player on the Rockets roster, let’s take a look at a few names of interest!

BUBBLE GUYS

Noah Juulsen (23, D)
Cale Fleury (21, D)
Alex Belzile (29, F)
Ryan Poehling (21, F)

This is the bubble in the opposite sense of it’s traditional use, these are guys that will be on the NHL/AHL bubble. I am not sure how it will work in terms of moving up and down between the two clubs for the upcoming season, but I expect all four of these players to make an appearance with the Habs. Especially if injury bug takes a toll on the team. None of these players are expected to see substantial minutes with the Canadiens, therefore they are better served in the AHL getting more minutes.

Belzile is a bit of an exception to this rule and his journey to the NHL is amazing, playing his first professional in the Bubble at the age of 29! With the Canadiens current financial situation, there is a path where Belzile starts the season with the Habs in order for the team to be Cap compliant.

NEED TO TAKE A STEP FORWARD GUYS

Otto Leskinen (23 , D)
Lukas Vejdemo (24 , F)
Josh Brook (21 , D)
Jesse Ylonen (21 , F)

Leskinen and Vejdemo both had brief stints with the Habs last season and will be relied on to be two of the core pieces in Laval this season. The Rockets are set to lose their top two scorers from last season (Evans and Hudon, jury is still out on the latter) so these two will need to help pick up some of that lost offense. Personally I hope Hudon leaves, the team’s annual Cy Young Award Winner can undoubtably put the puck in the net, but he refuses to pay his dues to work his way up the Habs roster.

Leskinen and Vejdemo are the opposite, and they are both off to solid starts in Europe. Leskinen is having the better start, with a goal and four assists in six games while on Loan to KalPa of the Liiga. Vejdemo retuned home to Sweden to play for Södertälja SK of the Allsvenskan (Sweden’s AHL) where he has two goals and three assists in 10 games. The point totals for Vejdemo may be slightly lower than hoped for, however he plays a 200 foot game and is better built to flex into the Habs roster as a bottom six forward.

Two more names to bring up, who are both still very young are Josh Brook and Jesse Ylonen. They are the perfect segway duo to the final group of player that will be discussed, however these two find themselves as part of this group mainly because of expectations. Brook and Ylonen are both Second Round picks and are expected to at least compete for a spot with the Habs in the near future. Ylonen is off to a rough start to the season with just one assist in nine games for Pelican in the Liiga. This would normally not be too concerning because it is still early in the season, but he had a rough season last year as well, so maybe a change of address and teammates will get him out of his slump.

Brook will be going into his second professional season after making the jump to the Rockets from Moose Jaw in the WHL. He definitely went through some growing pains last season which is fine, but he will need to show noticeable improvement this year. Brook was a physical force in the WHL, but quickly learned that as a 20 year old playing against men, this style does not work. He is still young and still has room to physically grow and get stronger, but he will need to develop additional parts to his game because he cannot rely on his raw strength as much as he did in juniors.

YOUNG BLOOD

Cam Hillis (20 , F)
Joel Teasdale (21 , F)
Raphael Harvey-Pinard (21 , D)

Arsen Khisamutdinov (22, F)
Liam Hawel (21, F)

Meet the newest influx of young talent to join the Laval Rockets! Cam Hillis is my favourite of the group, he is a player that has continually grown on me over the past season. After losing the majority of the 2018-19 season to injuries, Hillis came back on a mission this past season, eyeing an Entry Level Contract (ELC) with the Canadiens. Being drafted in 2018, Hillis needed to be signed this off-season or he would have become a Free Agent, and his 83 points in 62 games made Bergevin’s decision a little easier.

Teasdale and Harvey-Pinard both won the Memorial Cup with Rouyn-Noranda, with Harvey-Pinard serving as the team’s captain. Unfortunately for Teasdale he lost the entire 2019-20 to injury, but he is a lock to at least start the season in Laval this season in order to try and get his game back on track. Harvey-Pinard was traded to Chicoutimi following his Memorial Cup victory, eclipsing the 75 point mark for the third straight season.

Khisamutdinov is basically Gordin before Gordin was a thing. A Sixth Round pick in 2019, he dominated the Junior ranks in Russia before getting an opportunity in the KHL with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. His time in the KHL was short lived as he was demoted back to the VHL (Russia’s AHL) where he put up nearly a Point per Game with nine goals and four assists in 14 games.

The final player, Liam Hawel was a Fourth Round pick by the Rangers in 2017, and after not receiving an ELC, the Habs quickly picked him up. Hawel was part of the Guelph Storm team along with Nick Suzuki and Cam Hillis (injured) that went to the Memorial Cup in 2019. The 6’5 Power Forward is coming off back to back 70+ point season in the OHL and will look to join the Rockets as a bottom six forward who will work his way up the roster.

An obvious omission from this list was Cayden Primeau, but everyone knows about him already. As one of the most highly anticipated prospects in the organization, his development this year will be overly followed and scrutinized. Habs fans would love to see him step up his game to another level and I think it will based on not only his play, but the team success that should be coming in Laval.

The Rockets were more often than not a shell of their full roster because of the amount of players called up to the Canadiens due to injury. The team started the season with a 9-6-2 record through their first 17 games (included a 6 game win streak), which was the point in the season where Drouin and Byron got injured and the snowball of injuries began to pick up steam. They also finished the season with a 6-1-0 record in their final 7 games before the season was postponed due to COVID, arguably giving the team a 15-7-2 record as a more or less ‘full roster’.

Despite all of these numbers, at the end of the day, the Habs finally have a plan in Laval, with the right people leading the ship. Let’s hope that the Rockets can build off of last season’s momentum and that Bouchard can properly develop the pipeline of Habs prospects for the next couple of years to come.

As always, don’t forget to check out our Weekly Podast and Weekly Sauce Episodes! This week the guys discuss sweaters, sandwiches, the World Series and sit down with Andy McNamara to discuss Week 8 in the NFL.

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