Montreal Canadiens AHL Affiliate | Laval Rocket News: Projected Roster on Opening Night
ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — At this point during the off-season, we shouldn’t expect Marc Bergevin to make any major moves prior to opening night of the season. Any transactions that may happen from now until then, should be minor. Unless there are any significant injuries during training camp, General Managers make minor deals to avoid losing a player on waivers or to acquire a depth player.
In last week’s Habs Notepad on All Habs Hockey Magazine, I wrote that the Canadiens roster heading into this season is similar to the one from last year. That’s not good news for Habs fans who want their team to make the playoffs this season.
The same can’t be said for the Laval Rocket. Regardless of what happens on waivers before the start of the season, Laval’s lineup for their opening night game against Cleveland on October 4th will be improved. It will be the best lineup that the fans in Laval will have a chance to see at Place Bell and might even be the best lineup that the Canadiens AHL affiliate will have under Bergevin’s tenure with the organization.
If we include the years that the organization’s AHL affiliate was located in Hamilton and St.John’s, last season was the seventh time in the last eight years that they didn’t clinch a playoff spot. While player development is more important than winning in the AHL, one playoff birth in the last eight years is unacceptable.
Last season, I believe that a lack of goal scoring is the main reason that the Rocket missed the playoffs. They finished 29th in the AHL in that category. Laval didn’t have a good group of veterans at forward that stuck around very long. Byron Froese, Kenny Agostino, and Michael Chaput played 46, 12, and 24 games respectively in Laval before they were traded or lost via waivers. Michael McCarron played 32 games before his season ending injury. Alexandre Grenier and Hunter Shinkaruk are both veterans that played below expectations and, not surprisingly, will not return to the team this season.
Assuming a healthy team, from the players that had a regular place on Montreal’s roster last season, I don’t expect Dale Weise, and Matthew Peca to get a spot with the Canadiens this season. Both players would need to clear waivers before heading to the AHL. McCarron along with newcomers Riley Barber and Philip Varone would also need to clear waivers before joining the Rocket. I’m also expecting that Ryan Poehling will start the season in Montreal.
Here are my projected forward lines for opening night in Laval:
These line combinations would match the young prospects with veterans. Nick Suzuki will benefit playing with Barber and Varone, who are veterans that have had offensive success in the AHL. That line should put points on the board for Laval. I expect Suzuki to transition to playing at centre at some point during the season. Joel Teasdale, also making his professional debut would have veteran McCarron as his centre.
Hayden Verbeek and Michael Pezzetta had regular spots with Laval last season, and would be bumped out of the starting lineup in this scenario. Antoine Waked, Morgan Adams-Moisan, Joe Cox, and newcomer William Pelletier would join them as the extra forwards.
This forward group is better that it was at any point of last season and should be able to improve the team’s scoring.
The Rocket had a lot of players with NHL experience at the blue line last season. Xavier Ouellet, Karl Alzner, David Schlemko, and Simon Despres all spent time in Laval. Schlemko was traded to the Flyers and Despres finished the season in Europe.
Ouellet and Alzner will need to go through waivers before joining Laval and I’m expecting them both to clear. It would be good news for the team if this is the case. Ouellet was named the team captain last season after Froese was traded and in my opinion, was the team’s best defenceman. Alzner was the team’s best shut down defenceman, and kept a positive attitude after getting demoted from the NHL. I wrote about the impact of both those players in May, which you can read here.
Here are my projected defensive pairings for opening night in Laval:
You’re probably surprised to see Noah Juulsen in Laval in my proposed lineup. Juulsen played 21 games with the Canadiens and three games with the Rocket before having his season ended with a vision-related issue. He played his final game on December 27th. It would make sense that he starts the season in Laval, due to his long absence and the fact that he’s exempt from waivers.
In addition to Juulsen, Gustav Olofsson will get a chance to integrate the starting lineup. He suffered a season ending shoulder in his second game as a Rocket. He would need to clear waivers prior to joining Laval, which I expect him to do. If Oloffson doesn’t clear waivers, David Sklenicka will battle Otto Leskinen for a regular spot.
Sklenicka scored three goals and added six assists in 68 games last season, while playing primarily on the third pairing. Joel Bouchard said in March that Sklenicka was the player that progressed the most.
Leskinen was signed to a two-way contract by the Canadiens in May. Last season, he led his team’s defensemen in goals (8), assists (23) and points (31) in 57 games with the Finnish Liiga’s KalPa Kuopio. The scouting report on Leskinen is that his strength would be his play on the power play, while he needs to work on his play in the defensive zone.
Maxim Lamarche and Ryan Culkin would be the two other extra defensemen. Lamarche had a regular role with the team last season, playing 73 games, while Culkin played 10 games in Laval and 39 with Maine in the ECHL.
The signing of Keith Kinkaid in Montreal is causing congestion at the goaltending position. Charlie Lindgren finished the season as the Canadiens number three goalie, a role that was created at the end of last season once the coaching staff lost confidence in Antti Niemi. It’s safe to assume that there won’t be three goalies to start the season in Montreal.
Lindgren would need to clear waivers before joining Laval. I think that he would clear waivers and that would mean a trio of Lindgren, Cayden Primeau, and Michael McNiven for the Rocket. In the AHL, a tandem of three goalies can work for a short period of time. If you have three prospects in goal, like the Canadiens, you need to get them all some ice time.
For opening night, I would expect Lindgren as the starting goalie with Primeau acting as his backup. I recently wrote about the Rocket’s goaltending options, which you can read by clicking here.
As is expected in the AHL, Laval’s roster will change significantly throughout the season. Injuries, recalls, trades, waivers are the norm that every AHL team faces every season. I gave Bouchard a pass last season even though the team didn’t make the playoffs because it was his first season as a pro coach and the quality of the roster he and Bergevin selected wasn’t impressive.
Bouchard has been praised for his ability to develop players. This season, he gets the opportunity to show his skills with a good group of prospects.