Montreal Canadiens AHL Affiliate | Laval Rocket News: Reviewing Rocket Season Predictions
ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — Prior to the start of the 2019-20 American Hockey League (AHL) season, I took on the brave assignment of projecting the Rocket’s lineup and even made some season predictions.
It’s a difficult task, especially in the AHL, where the team’s roster significantly changes during the season due to injuries in it’s own team, and roster moves with the NHL organization.
With the AHL season having ended, it’s time to take a look back and see how close my predictions from prior to the start of the season ended up being.
Jake Evans finished the team’s leading scorer with 38 points despite playing in only 51 games. My prediction that Riley Barber would lead the offence didn’t pan out, but I’ll give myself partial credit as Barber finished second with 0.79 points per game with the Rocket.
Barber was signed to add offence to the team that struggled in 2018-19 to put the puck in the net. He had a slow start scoring once in the first 13 games of the season. After that stretch, he scored 12 goals in 26 games and added 13 assists before getting traded to the Penguins organization. In Wilkes-Barre, he scored three goals and three assists in seven games.
These were my projected forward lines for opening night in Laval:
Nick Suzuki and Joel Teasdale never played a game with Laval this season. Suzuki spent the entire season with the Habs, where he scored 13 goals and added 28 assists in 71 games. When I projected the line combinations, I thought that Ryan Poehling would start the season in the NHL, but it turned out that he spent most of the year with Laval.
Teasdale suffered torn ligaments in his right knee while skating in Boisbriand last August. Surgery was needed that forced him to miss the entire season. He had started skating in early March, but there was no plan of him returning to action even if the season would have ended as originally scheduled.
I had identified Charles Hudon, Matthew Peca, and Phil Varone as three players that wouldn’t play the entire year with the Rocket. Hudon played 15 games with Montreal, while Peca got traded to the Senators at the trade deadline, and Varone was traded to the Penguins in February.
Cale Fleury was the biggest surprise on defence as he earned a spot in Montreal from training camp. He joined Laval on January 31st after playing 41 games in the National Hockey League (NHL).
These were my projected defensive pairings for opening night in Laval:
The remaining five defencemen from my projections all had key roles with the Rocket. Noah Juulsen was supposed to be competing for a defensive role with Montreal, but after suffering a setback in his vision related issue during training camp, he was assigned to the AHL. Juulsen ended up missing a significant amount of time for a second consecutive season before returning to play against Belleville in the final game of the season. You can read more about his return by clicking here.
Josh Brook‘s ice time and responsibilities increased as the year progressed and was playing in the top-two pairing and on power play when the season was cancelled. Brook had an ups and downs during the year. Joel Bouchard wanted him to improve when the puck was in his own zone. It led the coach to scratch the defenceman for two-games in January before using him as a forward for two games in Manitoba, where Brook recorded one goal.
Injuries suffered at the blue line throughout the organization allowed Otto Leskinen and Gustav Olfosson to play key roles in Laval during the season. During the season, Leskinen, Olofsson, Ouellet, and Alzner received an opportunity to play in Montreal.
Other notable moves on defence was the mutual agreement between the organization and David Sklenicka to terminate his contract in December after playing seven games up to that point. In 2018-19, the defenceman had played 68 matches with the Rocket, therefore surprising on how things ended for him with the team.
Evan McEneny signed a professional contract in November, before signing an AHL contract in January. McEneny was playing in the top two pairings, on the penalty kill, and occasionally on the power play. In 21 games, he scored twice and added one assist.
In goal, the season started as I had expected. Charlie Lindgren got the call on opening night, and then alternated starts with Cayden Primeau for the duration of this tandem.
That duo stayed intact until December 2nd when the Canadiens placed Keith Kinkaid on waivers and recalled Primeau. I wasn’t surprised that Kinkaid wouldn’t perform to expectations, however I didn’t think that the organization would throw the towel so quickly on him.
Primeau obtained two starts with Montreal, collecting his first NHL win against Ottawa before being returned to the AHL for the balance of the season. At that point, Lindgren was recalled and remained Carey Price’s backup until the NHL paused its activities.
The rotation continued between Primeau and Kinkaid until mid-February, when Bouchard decided to trust Primeau as his number one starter for the team’s playoff push. By the end of the month, Kinkaid was loaned to the Charlotte Checkers. For a more detailed review of Kinkaid’s tenure with the Rocket, click here.
Michael McNiven got the short end of the stick. In order to get him some playing time, McNiven was assigned to the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) immediately after training camp. With the Canadiens not having their own ECHL affiliate, McNiven was forced to play with three different teams. He got in goal for a total of 22 times in his ECHL stops with Adirondack, Jacksonville, and Norfolk. McNiven returned to Laval on February 3rd, when Kinkaid’s time with the organization were numbered, won all three of his starts.
When I made my season predictions in October, I evaluated that the Rocket had a good enough roster to clinch a playoff spot. It would have been the first time since the AHL affiliate moved to Laval. Fast forward to today, I still believe they had a good enough roster throughout the season to accomplish that goal.
They were still in the hunt when the season was stopped, but it would have been a difficult road. Their 68 point total placed them sixth place in the North Division, four points out of the last playoff spot held by the Devils. Syracuse was one point ahead of Laval for fifth place in the division standings.