The Laval Rockets are proving that patience pays off in the 2021 season. One of the biggest stains on Marc Bergevin’s tenure in Montreal has been his inability to properly develop prospects. Things seem to have changed in a giant way since current Head Coach Joël Bouchard took the reigns, and while it took some time for him to implement his system, the seeds are starting to sprout.
Under the guidance of Bouchard the Rockets are off to one of the best starts to a season in their history. The team recently activated their thruster’s, collecting point in their last 7 games (6-0-1) to put them in first place in the AHL’s Canadian Division. Their 12-4-2 record has them tied for first in the league in points, and tied for fourth in win percentage while hovering around the top 10 in both the Power Play (21.6%) and Penalty Kill (82.3%) (10th & T-12th respectively).
More important than the team success is the individual progress of some of the Canadiens’ best prospects. Starting with the player who has the highest expectations, Ryan Poehling appears to be rounding a corner for the Rocket. After a slow start to the season, Bouchard remained patient with his young center, continuing to give him consistent ice time and it is starting to pay off. Poehling has eight points in his last seven games highlighted by a stretch of 6 points in three games. Not to suggest there is a direct correlation, but it is nice to see the team winning during Poehling’s most productive stretch in the AHL.
A second name who seems to be thriving of late with the Rocket is rookie Jesse Ylönen. No one has benefitted more from joining the Rockets this season than the Habs former second round pick. Due to COVID, Ylönen started the season in Finland where he had a less than ideal start to the season. His 7 points in 21 games were a far cry from the expectations for the highly touted offensive talent. I said it when he came over, and I will say it again, the style of game play in Liiga is night and day compared to the AHL, the latter being better suited for Ylönen.
It has been nice to see Ylönen pot a couple on the PP of late, tied for first on the Rockets with 2 PP goals on the season. He is tied for the team lead in goals (7) and second in points (14) but more importantly he tied for second in goals and points among all rookies in the AHL. He seems to have found a home on a line with Jordan Weal and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard to form the team’s top line.
Before moving to the back end, there are a few new comers up front who deserve some praise. Joël Teasedale does not look like a player who hasn’t played in nearly two years. After a rough stretch, going seven games without a point, Teasedale has caught fire of late, putting up nine points in his last eight games. He has been a regular on a line with Poehling and the Rocket’s leading scorer Joseph Blandisi, providing the team with some much needed scoring depth.
The fact that Jan Mysak does not completely look out of place is incredible. His time playing professional hockey in the Czech Republic is paying dividends right now with the OHL season currently delayed, waiting for word from Ontario health officials. He has cemented himself in this lineup as the team’s fourth line center.
Another young gun who has impressed has been Rafaël Harvey-Pinard. He started the season lower on the depth chart and now plays on the team’s ‘top line’. He is far from the team’s biggest offensive threat but he brings his lunch pail to work every day and he has a motor that doesn’t stop. He’s also shown flashes of brilliance which has been incredibly fun to watch.
On the back end, in Captain Xavier Ouellet’s absense, the team has been led by their three big dogs in Otto Leskinen, Josh Brooke and Cale Fleury. Fleury has not been putting up the points, however he has provided the team with very strong defensive play. Otto Leskinen has been the team’s best defenseman and possibly their best player. I thought he may find himself on the Taxi Squad this season because he earned it but, being wrong feels good. He is tied for first among AHL defenseman in scoring (most Games Played), and if we take a deeper dive, Leskinen has been one of the most productive defenders in the league on both sides of the puck.
Josh Brook is in the same category as Poehling. The former second round pick has had high expectations since being drafted but struggled to make any significant progress last season. Whether you want to credit his two game trip to the Press Box as a Healthy Skratch or the added opportunity since Xavier Ouellet’s call up to the the big club, Brook has elevated his game the a new level of late. He has points in back to back games, however it will be critical to see if Brook can remain consistent over the course of the season.
Finally between the pipes it has primarily been the Cayden Primeau show. The team has shuffled between the 4 goalies on the roster, giving everyone their turn in nets, however, Primeau is the clear starter. From a statistical standpoint there is some good and bad. His 8 wins on the season thus far rank tied for second and he is 10th in Goals Against Average (2.36), but his 0.903 Save Percentage could use some work. At the end of the day the team is winning and Primeau’s overall body of work has passed the eye test.
Continued progression is the name of the game, winning is a cherry on top.
Don’t forget the check out the rest of the Hot Sauce Family! This week on Not Sauce For Work, Peeze Terry and Eagle discuss March Madness, Deshaun Watson and Steve Kerr vs Kevin Durant!
(Stats provided by theAHL.com)