Rocket News: AHL, Laval Rocket, Jean-Francois Houle, Cayden Primeau, Jesse Ylonen, Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Anthony Richard, William Trudeau
ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — The Laval Rocket’s 2022-’23 season ended on Friday with a 2-1 overtime loss against the Utica Comets. Laval had a 1-0 lead with two seconds remaining in the third period when Utica scored and force a fourth period.
“It’s a tough one to swallow. It’s never fun when you have the lead and they score with two seconds to go. It was a heartbreaker but that’s hockey. I thought our players fought a pretty good fight throughout the last month,” coach Jean-Francois Houle said.
In the regular season, Laval finished second in the American Hockey League (AHL) with 258 goals for, but Utica muzzled the Rocket’s offence to one goal in two games. The Comets struggled against their North division rivals this season, winning only once in their six matchups.
Young Roster on the Horizon?
During the end-of-season media session on Saturday, Houle said that his highlight of the year was the final stretch of the regular season where the team won eight of their last nine contests. “The players putting forth the effort, the passion and refusing to lose,” he explained as the key to that sequence.
Houle stated that the roster in hand was not built for a playoff run. “I’m not going to sit here and say that we were built for playoffs. We were young on defence, on the left defence we had three 20-year olds. I think in the playoffs in the AHL, if you want to go far, you need some veteran presence and you need some size. Our team gave everything we have. For the team we had, we competed hard.”
Houle said that the emphasis was on developing players and felt that they did a decent job at accomplishing their duties. Next season, Houle believes that the Rocket will be one of the youngest teams in the league. This season, Laval was midway in the AHL with an average age of 24.55 years, while Utica was the third youngest team in the league.
The team will need some veteran presence to help show the way to the younger players. The coaching staff will have their own meetings before presenting their recommendations to the Canadiens management.
Houle is ready for the challenge of leading a younger team. “[Houle] is close to the players. He’s demanding but he’s smart enough to let you play your game. He’s not too hard on the rookies when they make an error and gives them a second chance,” forward Anthony Richard spoke about the coach.
Primeau Ready For Next Step
Cayden Primeau was a key contributor in the final push that allowed Laval to sneak in and clinch the North division’s final playoff spot. He allowed five goals on 57 shots in the two-game series versus Utica.
With the goalie becoming waiver eligible next season, the odds of him returning to Laval are very low. Primeau has spent his professional career bouncing between the NHL and the AHL, and has mostly struggled during his stints in Montreal.
The 23-year old feels ready for the next step. “I think the biggest thing for me is being able to be up there consistently and show what I can do.” He added that it wasn’t easy for him to go back and forth between the teams in short period of times.
Houle is confident that Primeau can show consistency at the NHL level. “I think he’s matured a lot. I think he understands where he is with his career, but with goalies, it takes a while.”
Ylonen Passing on Worlds
Jesse Ylonen is heading into the off-season as a restricted free agent. The forward wants to return to the Canadiens organization and has no intention to return to Finland to continue his career. On Saturday, he said that he will not participate in the World Championships since he currently doesn’t have a contract for next season.
Ylonen split the season between Laval and Montreal collecting 32 points in 39 AHL games and 16 points in 37 NHL games. Houle said that Ylonen took advantage of his opportunity with Montreal and showed that he’s ready to be a NHL player.
At the NHL-level, Ylonen averaged 13:27 of ice time, playing up and down the lineup and was a regular on the power play units.
Harvey-Pinard Done with Laval?
Rafael Harvey-Pinard obtained a first extended stint with the Canadiens and the 24-year old took full advantage of the opportunity. In 34 games with the big club, Harvey-Pinard collected 20 points. Despite the small sample, he finished fifth on the team with 14 goals.
“It was a season with a lot of emotions and good experiences with my first long stay in the NHL. There was a lot of learning and it didn’t finish the way I would have wanted,” Harvey-Pinard said on Saturday. “I think I proved that I’m able to play in the NHL.”
Harvey-Pinard is an unrestricted free agent and confident that he belongs with the Canadiens going forward. “Camp will be really important. I’m going to have a big summer training and it will be up to me to earn my spot next year and show that I belong in the NHL full time.”
Houle agrees that Harvey-Pinard is ready for the NHL. “When he came back, he played with confidence and had big games in the three games that we needed to win to make it to the playoffs. It was tougher in the playoffs. [Utica’s] big defencemen shut down his line.”
“He has a good future in front of him. He showed good things with the Montreal Canadiens and I hope for him that he begins in the NHL next season.”
Richard Wants to Return
Anthony Richard led Laval with 30 goals and 67 points in 60 games, setting personal career highs. There was a 21-point gap between him and the second place held by Peter Abbandonato.
Houle used Richard in the top-six, power play and penalty kill units throughout the year. “Anthony showed good things. He had one of his best seasons of his career. He had a lot of ice time. We used him in a lot of facets of the game and I think he can be a good leader for our young players and we’d like to have him back.”
The forward is an unrestricted free agent and advised the organization that he would like to return. Richard played 13 games with the Canadiens, recording five points during his stint. The 26-year old expressed disappointment when returning to Laval from his first recall, but received positive feedback from Martin St. Louis and Kent Hughes.
“I like the style of play that [Martin St. Louis] encourages, I like what Jean-Francois brings here. In terms of playing in Montreal next year, you never know what can happen in terms of trades, contract buyouts. It’s something I take into consideration but my goal is to make the team at camp and I know that I will have chance in Montreal at camp. They know my game, they know what I can bring and I showed this year that I can produce [in Laval].”
The Predators 2015 draft pick feels that he had a chance of remaining in the NHL for a longer period, but there was some bad luck involved as there wasn’t many injuries when he had his opportunity before being returned to the AHL to avoid waivers eligibility.
When projecting Laval’s defence heading into the season, William Trudeau‘s name was usually left off the roster. The fact that the 20-year old was eligible to return to play for the QMJHL’s Charlottetown Islanders did not work in his favour.
Trudeau began the season in a reduced role before suffering an upper body injury on October 29th that kept him out of the lineup until November 23rd. His ice time and responsibilities gradually increased for the remainder of the year, and ended on the top pairing and a staple on the special units.
“There’s really a big step [between juniors and pros]. The game is much quicker, the guys are bigger and you have less time and space. When I got used to all that is when things started going well for me,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau was paired to Corey Schueneman for the majority of the season and he was impressed with the rookie’s progression. “Looking at [Trudeau] from the beginning of the year coming in and to where he finished off is night and day difference. He grew as a player, as a person, he developed and played with so much confidence. I think he’s hell of a player and has got a real bright future.”
Houle said that the Trudeau was the most improved player of the season. The Canadiens 2021 fourth round pick credited assistant coach Kelly Buchberger for helping him grow as a player this season.
“This summer will be a big one for me. I’m going to work out hard in Brossard and even if I have a contract for next year, I will continue to work hard to be ready for camp and prove that I still belong here.”
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