Montreal Canadiens AHL Affiliate | Laval Rocket News: Playoffs, Step Forward, Charles Hudon Most Valuable Player
ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — Two months after the 2019-20 regular season was suspended due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, the American Hockey League (AHL) announced on May 11th that they will not attempt to conclude the season, and will focus on preparing for the 2020-21 season. That decision was the right call in my book.
“I cannot put my personal agenda, or even the personal agenda of what we’re trying to do, with the world crisis right now. I just can’t do it. My human side, I feel, is what it is, and when I see people suffering around the world, and we all know people that are affected by this virus right now, so I just cannot put aside this situation and be fully disappointed on something that would be so selfish,” commented Joel Bouchard when meeting the media following the announcement.
The Rocket concluded the season playing 62 games finishing with a 30-24-5-3 record. 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. This season’s prorated point total represents an increase of 11 versus 2018-19.
There was a perception by few observers that it was a given that Laval would clinch a playoff spot if the regular season was played to its conclusion. It would have been only the second time in the last nine seasons, that the organization’s AHL affiliate would participate to the post season dance.
In my opinion, 14 games wouldn’t suffice for the Rocket to surpass the two teams that we separating them from that accomplishment. Laval was on a roll when the season was suspended having won seven of their last 10 games. The Rocket ended the year at Place Bell with an impressive 3-0 win against the division leading Senators on March 11th.
The Devils and the Crunch were doing their share of winning matches down the stretch. Binghamton had won 13 of their last 15 games, while Syracuse had won six of their last 10. It was far from a lock that Laval would be able to keep up that pace and sneak into the playoffs.
It wasn’t perfect, but I think that the team took one step forward this year. The improvement in the quality of the roster was a contributing factor. In 2018-19, Bouchard would frequently state that his roster was the youngest of the conference. It wasn’t the case this year.
The coach’s language and decisions changed as the season progressed. “Not only do I want to make the playoffs, but I want us to be ready for a long run. The goal is to win and not just stop at making into the playoffs. It’s more than that for me,” Bouchard told 91.9 Sports on January 24th. Ironically, it was that night that the team’s worst stretch of the season began.
Between January 24th and February 19th, Laval won only one of their 11 games, and eight of their defeats were against opponents from their division. It was this sequence that held the Rocket out of a playoff spot.
As the team faced its worse adversity of the season, Bouchard’s messaging shifted away from winning. An example of this was when he spoke about Jesperi Kotkaniemi following his first game in the AHL. “We want him to be a 200-foot player. Power play, PK, five-on-five, four-on-four, three-on-three. We have to get him to kill penalties. He’s a smart hockey player.” That statement aligns more with the development objective of an AHL team.
I also think that the coaching staff did a good job giving the organization’s top prospects ice time and responsibilities. Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling, Josh Brook, Cale Fleury, and Cayden Primeau, all had key roles when they were on the roster.
“We are on the right track with developing our guys…We would all like things to be fast, but when we first started two years ago and where we are now, it’s exciting to see all the guys we have that are knocking on the door of the NHL and the players did a great job to buy in to what we’re doing” assessed the coach during last week’s press conference.
Charles Hudon – MVP
Charles Hudon gets my vote for the team’s most valuable player. He finished second in team scoring with 35 points in 46 games, three points behind Jake Evans, and was the team representative to the AHL All-Star game.
Hudon finished fifth in the league with 27 goals and lead the AHL with 14 power play goals. His scoring office while his team had an extra attacker was located at the faceoff circle on the right wing.
At the end of the 2018-19 season, Hudon was emotional when speaking about his season with the Canadiens. It was understandable since he spent most of the year watching his team from the press box.
After clearing waivers at the end of September, Hudon was off to a slow start with Laval. He had scored twice and added one assist in his first seven games. “The next 15 or 20 games, I think, will be very important. We all have times in our lives when we need to step up. It’s not life and death. It’s hockey, and I like him. Hockey challenges you. But at one point, you need to step up,” said the coach at the time.
Hudon responded to Bouchard’s challenge and went on a sequence of scoring eight times and adding one assist in seven games. His performance earned him a recall to Montreal on November 16th, when Jonathan Drouin suffered a wrist injury in Washington.
“I got to tip my hat, I was hard and demanding on him and you know, I put him in the bay window and challenge him and remember a few weeks ago I said the next 15 games are critical and he’s answering it well,” evaluated Bouchard at the time of the recall.
Hudon continued producing with the Rocket once he was returned from the NHL, which earned him a subsequent recall on February 27th following an ankle injury suffered by Drouin. Hudon was on the Canadiens roster when the NHL season was paused.
On April 7th, Le Matin daily newspaper in Switzerland reported that several teams from the Swiss league showed interest for Hudon’s services. Allain Roy, Hudon’s agent, confirmed the report to La Presse and also added that KHL teams have also contacted them.
“I haven’t spoken to anyone there, there’s been no negotiations!” Hudon told RDS in a story published on Friday. “My goal is to play with the Montreal Canadiens and in the NHL.” Hudon will be a restricted free agent on July 1st, and there’s been no talks with the organization yet about his future.