Montreal Canadiens AHL Affiliate | Laval Rocket News: Alex Belzile Leading Scorer, Jake Evans Rookie Season, Lack of Veteran Contributions
ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — The Rocket ended their season on April 13th with a 4-3 overtime win against the Binghamton Devils. Nikita Jevpalovs scored a pair of goals including a spectacular between the legs game winning goal that went top corner in overtime. With that win, Laval finished the season with a 30-34-6-6 record, which placed them seventh in the North Division, 12 points out of a playoff spot and 27th overall in the AHL.
The message delivered by the players and Joel Bouchard was that of disappointment for missing the playoffs, and content with the team’s performance. Many observers deemed this season a success as the team got an additional 14 points in the standings compared to the previous season.
Prior to the start of the season, Bouchard said that the he wanted to implement a winning culture to the team, and the organization’s mantra is that the objective is to make the playoffs and that anything can happen after that point. The team failed on both fronts, as the team had a winning percentage of only .474 and they missed the playoffs again. If we include the years that the organization’s AHL affiliate was located in Hamilton and St.John’s, it’s the seventh time in the last eight years that they didn’t clinch a playoff spot.
There were positives this season. The team competed hard constantly throughout the year, even after the team was eliminated. It was rare that the team didn’t show up. When asked about their coach at the conclusion of the season, they consistently brought up the work ethic that was implemented by Bouchard.
Alex Belzile – MVP
Alex Belzile finished as the team’s leading scorer with 19 goals, 35 assists and a minus-11 rating. With his 54 points in 74 games, he set a personal high in the AHL. Belzile played in the top-6 with time on the top unit on the power play and penalty kill. He was the team’s most consistent player this season in terms of producing points and effort. Belzile was the team’s leader in penalty minutes with 80.
Belzile was Laval’s representative at the All Star Game and was the team’s nominee for the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award, which honours a player’s contribution to the community.
Currently without a contract for next season, Belzile would like to return to Laval next season and I think he’s a good veteran to be part of the team. “He’s passionate, when he talks about hockey, you can see stars in his eyes. He worked hard, he played in the ECHL, he didn’t always have it easy, and see him perform the way he did in the AHL, it says a lot about him,” said Alexandre Alain about his teammate.
Jake Evans Increased Responsibilities
Jake Evans began the season playing on the fourth line and finished the season as the team’s number one centre. The departure of veteran centres due to recalls, and trades set the stage for Evans to inherit that role. Evans was playing on the top power-play unit throughout the season, and in the final games, he would also get time on the penalty-kill.
Evans finished second on the team in scoring with 45 points in 67 games, and was tied for first on the team with 23 points on the power play. It’s impressive for the 22-year-old that was drafted in the seventh round by the Canadiens in 2014.
Evans started the year with a concussion received in rookie camp. He missed four games in January with an upper body injury. When he returned Evans played tentatively and had bouts of inconsistency. He didn’t play the last five games of the season due to a broken rib.
“I would like to find more consistency throughout my game, I think overall I had a pretty good progression,” said Evans. His focus during the off-season will be his strength and his speed.
In my opinion, Evans had a good season and was one of the positives to come out of the season. This season was the most hockey that Evans has played and he admitted that it had a toll on him in the first half of the season. I think he needs another full season in the AHL before even being considered to be a NHL player.
Lack of Veteran Contributions
With the team finishing 12 points out of a playoff spot, it’s hard to pinpoint only one reason that the Rocket didn’t make it to the playoffs. I think that the main reason was the lack of veterans in their forward group. The Rocket scored just 195 goals this season, with a goals per game rate ranking them 30th in the league. While loaded on the backend with NHL experience, the Rocket didn’t have a good group of veterans at forward that stuck around very long.
Byron Froese had a good presence on the team for 46 games before being traded to the Flyers organization as part of the trade that brought Dale Weise and Christian Folin to Montreal. Froese was the team captain and collected 30 points in Laval. He was also a good example for the young players on the roster.
Kenny Agostino and Michael Chaput also had a good tenure with the team before losing them respectively on waivers and trade. Agostino had ten points in 12 games, while Chaput had 16 points in 24 games. Both of them had important roles on the team.
Michael McCarron was having a good season until he suffered an injury in late December that led to a season ending shoulder injury. He said that it was his best season since his first season in St.John’s. Prior to his injury, McCarron had 21 points in 32 games and was also physically involved in the games. He’s an unrestricted free agent and it will be interesting to see if the organization will make him a contract offer for next season.
Alexandre Grenier and Hunter Shinkaruk are both veterans that played below expectations. With 11 goals in 68 games, it was Grenier’s lowest goal production from his six complete seasons in the AHL. He said that he was trying too hard in the first half of the season and it took him time to assimilate what the coach was asking from him. Grenier has a hard shot that he didn’t manage to use as a weapon on the power-play.
Shinkaruk collected ten points in 54 games. Those were career lows for the veteran who has played 305 games in the AHL. He’s an unrestricted free agent and I don’t expect the Canadiens to offer him a contract for next season. He didn’t seem to fit the system that Bouchard had in place and finished the season on the fourth line.