The Laval Rocket are getting a serious overhaul of skill next season as the Montreal Canadiens have prospects and signings heading their way.
The Laval Rocket have been in the AHL for three years after the Montreal Canadiens brought the team to Laval ahead of the 2017-18 season. The previous affiliate – the St. John’s IceCaps – had just made the playoffs for the first time in years, and the organization hoped they would stay on that trajectory as the Rockets. Unfortunately, the team ran into several issues that kept them out of contention every year.
That first season saw Laval finish dead last in the league with 58 points. A season like that cost then head coach Sylvain Lefebvre, who spent many years with the organization as the minor league coach, his job at the end of the year.
Porous defence and little skill was the team’s downfall. Chris Terry and Adam Cracknell were the top contributors with 32 and 27 goals, respectively, while defenceman Matt Taormina put up 52 points in 63 games. Young players who did produce, such as Nikita Scherbak, were called up while others didn’t take over the game as much as the team hoped.
The Rocket finished six spots higher at the end of the 2018-19 season with 72 points. Laval had some new players in Jake Evans, Lukas Vejdemo, and Alex Belzile, but they couldn’t sustain things either.
The 2019-20 season was the closest the team was to making the playoffs. They won more games, and although they weren’t perfect, more aspects of the roster were coming together. The defence improved with Xavier Ouellet, Cale Fleury and Josh Brook while Cayden Primeau stood out with a solid debut year.
Additionally, Evans had another good season, while Charles Hudon‘s return to the AHL added 27 goals for Laval.
Unfortunately, the current season has been cancelled, but next year’s team may be the most skilled roster the Laval Rocket has ever had. The Montreal Canadiens sent both Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling down to the AHL this year to help them develop further. There’s a chance one of, if not both, spend the entirety of the 2020-21 season in the minors. There’s also new skill in Jesse Ylonen, Arsen Khisamutdinov and Cam Hillis joining the team.
And let’s not forget about Joel Teasdale. He was expected to make his debut ahead of this season but sustained an injury ahead of time that ended his year. Teasdale is a prospect who has flown under the radar but will be shot out of a cannon when he finally gets an opportunity to play.
Laval hasn’t had a player dominate the league since Terry in that inaugural season. If these young players can come together, they can have several options who can do so, and Kotkaniemi may be the front-runner in that discussion give his start with the team.
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The Rocket needed more talent, similar to the big club, and it’s on the way. Joel Bouchard has proven to be a coach that likes to make use of the skill on his roster, and next season will have a decent amount to work with.