Montreal Canadiens AHL Affiliate | Laval Rocket News: Canadiens Roster and Potential Black Aces

Noah Juulsen (photo by Martin Chevalier / JdeM)

ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — On Tuesday, National Hockey League (NHL) commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league’s plan to return to play, once they are able to do so without compromising the health of their players, support staff, arena employees, and everyone else required for the matches to be played.

The league’s plan consists of the top 12 teams from each conference that will obtain an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup. In this format, the 12th place Canadiens will face the ninth place Penguins in a play-in series, where the winner will enter the playoffs.

Each team will be able to bring 28 skaters and an unlimited number of goalies with them to compete. In total, every organization will be able to bring a maximum of 50 persons to the hub city that will be hosting their conference games.

Roster Decisions  

When the NHL season was paused on March 12th, the Canadiens had 12 forwards, and eight defensemen on their roster. Assuming that all the players would be available for the play-in series against the Penguins, the Habs would be able to invite eight more skaters to travel with them to hub city.

In the sections below, I will provide my thoughts on the players from Laval that will join Montreal for the trip to the hub city. I anticipate that the skaters will consist of 18 forwards, 10 defensemen, and three goalies.

Forwards 

Jesperi Kotkaniemi was sent to Laval after playing 36 games with Montreal this season. He totalled six goals, two assists, and minus-11 during that time. Both Claude Julien and Marc Bergevin felt that Kotkaniemi had a tough second season due to the injuries that he suffered over the year. Click here for more detailed review on Kotkaniemi’s season in Montreal.

In Laval, Kotkaniemi scored one goal and added 12 assists in 13 games, playing on the first line and on the top power-play unit. On March 6th, he suffered a spleen injury during a match against the Cleveland Monsters. Bergevin advised last week that Kotkaniemi will be evaluated by team doctors when he returns from Finland. Click here for more analysis of his tenure with Laval.

Ryan Poehling was part of the final cuts at Habs training camp in October, however was recalled twice during the year. Poehling didn’t have a productive year in either of the leagues in his first year of professional hockey. In Montreal, he collected one goal and one assist in 27 games, playing on the left wing in a bottom-six role. In Laval, he scored five times and added 13 assists in 36 games, alternating between left wing and center.

Poehling suffered an undisclosed injury on February 29th, and didn’t return prior to the American Hockey League’s (AHL) season cancellation. “His last performances before getting injured were very good,” said Joel Bouchard. “In his last games with us, I felt him comfortable on the ice.”

Jake Evans will likely have the first opportunity to center the fourth line once play-in begins. He earned Julien’s trust for that role since the Canadiens traded Nate Thompson to the Flyers and was on a two-game point streak. Evans was returned to the Rocket after the NHL season was paused, therefore his name appears on this list.

In Laval, Evans had a slow start to the season totaling four assists in his first 17 games. During the next 34 games, he scored 14 goals and added 20 assists to finish the team’s leading scorer with 38 points in 51 games.

Alex Belzile had a good training camp with the Canadiens in September and was among the final cuts. He missed significant time this year with Laval as he suffered a concussion at the end of November and then suffered an injury in his first game in December that forced Belzile to undergo surgery on the right pectoral muscle that requires a recovery period of six months. He finished the season with seven goals and seven assists in 20 games played.

Lukas Vejdemo got his first taste of the NHL this year, playing seven total games with Montreal during his two recalls. He recorded his first NHL goal on his final night against Nashville. During his first tenure with the Canadiens, Vejdemo didn’t get a lot of ice time, playing on average 7:30 in four games. He struggled when he returned to Laval, collecting one goal and two assists in 16 contests.

Laurent Dauphin was acquired from the Nashville Predators on January 7th via trade for Michael McCarron. Dauphin felt that he wasn’t given opportunities in the Predators organization even though he was playing well. He struggled getting on the board in his start with the Rocket, getting four points in his first 17 games.

After the organization traded Phil Varone and Riley Barber to the Penguins, Dauphin was one of the veterans that stepped up his play to help his team succeed. In his last eight games, Dauphin scored five goals and added six assists. After the March 11th game against Belleville, he was told by the organization that he would be joining the Habs the following night. That never materialized as the league suspended play before he can make his Canadiens debut.

Jesse Ylönen isn’t eligible to play as his entry level contract is set to begin for the 2020-21 season. He signed an AHL contract for the 2019-20 season after being loaned to the Rocket from his team in Finland.

Defensemen

It’s not officially agreed upon by the NHL and the NHL Players Association, but for the purpose of this post, I will assume that Alexander Romanov will not be eligible to wear the Canadiens jersey for the play-in series.

Cale Fleury caused a surprise at training camp by earning himself a roster spot in Montreal. He remained in the NHL for 41 games playing on the third pairing with an average ice time of 14:21. When he was assigned to the AHL at the end of January, Julien explained that the rookie had hit a wall in his rookie season. For more coverage of Fleury’s performance with Montreal, click here.

Fleury played 14 games with the Rocket, and was given key responsibilities playing on the top defensive pairing, first power play, and first penalty kill units.

Noah Juulsen continued to feel the effects of the vision-related issue that he suffered during the 2018-19 season. Headaches forced him to miss 38 games between November 29th and March 11th. After a shaky start, Juulsen looked comfortable in his return game against Belleville. “He was excellent. For me, it was his best game in two years with the Rocket,” said Bouchard. A video analysis of his game is available by clicking here.

“He played 13 games. Thirteen isn’t important for me. It’s one. He was able to play one game before the pause. That game makes all the difference. If the season would have been stopped before he plays that game, I will tell you that he would of had some doubts in his head,” added the coach on the confidence that the return gave Juulsen.

Goalie

When the season was paused, Cayden Primeau had started nine of the last 12 games. Up to that point, the rookie was alternating starts with his backup partner. Primeau got a taste of the NHL with two starts during the year, when the organization deemed that the signing of Keith Kinkaid wasn’t working as they anticipated. Primeau won one of his two starts, recording a 2.52 goals against average and .931 save percentage.

With the Rocket, Primeau finished with a 17-11-3-4 record, 2.45 goals against average, and .908 save percentage. On May 19th, he was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team as voted by players, coaches, and media from across the league.

“There was a lot of ups and downs. I felt I went into the year doing pretty well, but then, I don’t want to say that I took a downward turn, but I started not playing as well and not doing my best, and then towards the end, I started to pick it back up again,” Primeau evaluated his season.

His worst stretch was between November 13th and December 20th, where he had a .816 save percentage, allowing 29 goals in seven starts. In contrast, Primeau was at his best in his last eight starts, where he had a .934 save percentage and allowing 13 goals during that sequence.

By Chris G., Senior Writer.
All Habs Hockey Magazine
Copyright © 2019 Rocket Sports

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