The Montreal Canadiens looked to have a deep roster at the start of the season. Injuries to Shea Weber and Carey Price took a bite out of their defence and goaltending depth, but the forwards looked quite deep.
How were they going to make room for all of these wingers with Brendan Gallagher, Joel Armia, Mike Hoffman, Mathieu Perreault, Artturi Lehkonen, Jake Evans, Ryan Poehling and Cedric Paquette battling for just the bottom six roster spots up front.
With all of the injuries they are dealing with now, it seems wild to think the team had a logjam at the bottom end of the roster, but the really did.
Poehling was sent down to Laval to start the season and that caused a bit of a similar situation for the Laval Rocket. They now had Poehling, Laurent Dauphin, Lukas Vejdemo, Jean Sebastien Dea and J. C. Beaudin available to play centre at the AHL level. That is incredible value and depth to have at the minor league level.
It resulted in Cam Hillis, a promising young prospect, starting the year at the ECHL level. The Canadiens finally have an affiliate at the ECHL level, so it was easy for them to find a place for Hillis to play. The Trois Rivières Lions are in their inaugural season and Hillis would begin the season playing for them.
The 21 year old playmaking centre had 24 goals and 83 points in 62 games during his final OHL season with the Guelph Storm. He scored just one point in 18 AHL games last season as he snuck into the fourth line from time to time.
This season, he scored three points, all assists, in six games with the Lions during his brief ECHL stint. He was then recalled to the Laval Rocket after about a month in the ECHL and he would score two goals and four points in eight games with the Rocket. Then, on December 27th, the NHL reinstated taxi squads and Hillis was placed on the Canadiens list.
With injuries piling up and the Covid list growing on a daily basis, the Canadiens called up Hillis on an emergency basis to make his NHL debut on January 1st. The Habs only had 11 healthy forwards available to dress and lost Cedric Paquette early in the game after a nasty hit by Sam Bennett.
Hillis would play just over ten minutes in his NHL debut and played well. He made a couple of creative passes than led to decent chances, though he didn’t end up with any assists. He won a couple of defensive zone face-offs and didn’t get exposed like someone who started the year in the ECHL might when they are forced into an NHL lineup.
Hillis will be headed back to the Laval Rocket once the team starts to get healthy, but he showed well enough in his NHL game that he will likely earn a little more ice time at the AHL level.
However, before that can happen, Hillis will have to clear Covid protocol. Like just about everyone else on the team right now, Hillis entered Covid protocol last night in what is just another twist in an incredibly wild season for the young Canadiens prospect.
Hopefully when he returns he gets a prominent role with the Rocket and a chance to show off his terrific playmaking abilities.