Montreal Canadiens AHL Affiliate | Laval Rocket News: 2019-20 Laval Rocket Season Predictions, Offensive Leaders, Defence, Goaltending, Playoffs
ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — The Laval Rocket started their regular season over the weekend at Place Bell with a pair of losses against the Cleveland Monsters. On Friday night, the Monsters scored a late goal in the third period to win by a score of 3-2 and then on Saturday afternoon, the Rocket lost by a score of 4-1.
This isn’t the start of season that the Rocket was hoping for. If you include the two pre-season games against the Senators, Laval has lost all four games that they have played up to this point.
“When the guys come and you let them play and you realize in what condition they’re in, and at this moment I have half the team that don’t have their heads here. It’s evident, you can see it on the ice,” said Joel Bouchard following Sunday’s game. “No excuses to the guys, not good enough, not even close, they’re uncoachable when they’re in that mindset.”
It will be a quiet week for the Rocket in terms of game action. Laval will be at home to practice until Thursday before travelling on Friday to Milwaukee to play the Admirals on Saturday night.
It’s that time of the season, where we all look in our crystal balls and make predictions for the upcoming season. It’s already a tough exercise to do, 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.
The main reason that the Rocket missed clinching a playoff spot last season was their lack of offence. Laval finished 29th in the league, and last in their division for goals scored. Alex Belzile led the team in almost all offensive categories by scoring 19 goals and adding 35 assists. His overall play earned him his first two-way (NHL/AHL) contract of his career.
During the off-season, Marc Bergevin made two key signings in order to help the Rocket in that category by signing Phil Varone and Riley Barber to one-year two-way contracts. Varone is entering his ninth season in the AHL, and has had four seasons with 50-plus points. His best season was in 2017-18, when he scored 23 goals and added 47 assists in 74 games for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
I think Barber will finish the team’s leading scorer. This is Barber’s fifth season in the AHL, and has had two seasons with 50-plus points. In 64 games last season, Barber scored 31 goals and added 29 assists playing for the Hershey Bears.
Between both players, I think Varone is the one that can put up the most points on the board, which I think means that there’s a bigger chance that he gets recalled by the Canadiens at some point during the season.
Laval’s defence will be quarterbacked by team captain Xavier Ouellet. He will be given a lot of responsibility by Bouchard. He will play on the first defensive pairing, and on the top power-play and penalty-kill units. Ouellet has a good point shot and can help generate offensive scoring chances.
Over the weekend, Ouellet was matched with Josh Brook on the first defensive pairing. I don’t know if this duo will remain intact for a long time as the strength of both players is in the offensive zone.
Over the weekend, we regularly saw Brook creating plays in the offensive zone and we also saw him make poor decisions in the defensive zone. “He has some nice assets, but it’s a little bit the reason that he is here,” said Bouchard following Friday’s game. “We don’t want to take away his creativity. An offensive defenceman in professional hockey needs to have extraordinary assets. An extraordinary shot, hands, vision and you will be able to get away with being average defensively.”
I expect Laval to have a good defensive unit. Gustav Olofsson joined the team on Friday after being cleared to play and should make his return to the lineup soon. No updates have been provided by the organization but Noah Juulsen started to skate on his own.
Maxim Lamarche is the only other right-handed shooting defenceman on the roster besides Brook, therefore we should see left shot defensemen play on the right side. Last season, Karl Alzner was the team’s best shut down defender and David Sklenicka significantly progressed during the season. It is Otto Leskinen‘s turn this season to adapt to the North American hockey, and he made good progress already since the start of camp.
The goaltending picture got clearer last week. As I anticipated over the summer, Michael McNiven began the season in the ECHL as he was assigned to Adirondack on Tuesday. This is an important season for him as it’s the final season of his contract with organization.
“I just want to play hockey, I wanna have fun this year,” said McNiven after his pre-season start against the Senators. Things change quickly in hockey, and I expect to see McNiven with Laval at some point this season.
Charlie Lindgren joined Laval after clearing waivers and got the start on Friday for the season opener. Lindgren had an excellent start on Friday, making 20 saves. “I felt great, I felt really good. I thought I was seeing the puck really well,” said Lindgren after his start.
Lindgren will share goaltending duties with Cayden Primeau this season. It’s unclear on how the duties will be split between both of them. “For the number of games that we play on the weekends with two games in two days with less than 24 hours in between them, the American League does the work for us,” said Bouchard when asked about the goaltending plan.
Primeau had a good start on Saturday making 29 saves. “He’s a good goalie. He gets his body in front of stuff kind of the same way Pricey (Carey Price) does. Noticed that on a few saves today where I mean I don’t know what it’s like for from the shooters perspective but from the bench it looks like like there’s nothing to shoot at. So that’s always nice and frustrating as a player,” said Alzner after the game.
Will they make the playoffs?
The expectations for Laval are high this season, the highest that they have been in years for the organization’s AHL affiliate. If we include the years that the Canadiens AHL affiliate was located in Hamilton and St.John’s, a playoff hasn’t been clinched in seven of the last eight years.
The team right now has the veteran presence and talent required to clinch a playoff spot. Bergevin made it clear that Ryan Poehling won’t be in Laval for a long time and I don’t expect that Charles Hudon, Matthew Peca, and Varone all play for the Rocket for the entire season.
I think that the team right now has a good forward core, a strong defensive unit, and a solid goalie tandem. These are all the right ingredients needed to earn a playoff spot.