After five long months, hockey is finally back in Montreal as the Habs hosted the New Jersey Devils for their first preseason game on Monday night at the Bell Centre. Few experts predict the Canadiens to be a playoff contending team this year as the club seems to be in a rebuild mode of sorts, even if general manager Marc Bergevin refuses to admit it. The excitement is not the same that we normally see in Montreal when the NHL season is on his way. However, there is one thing Habs fans should absolutely be excited about; the farm team of their beloved Canadiens, the Laval Rocket.
Last year, the Rocket had a disappointing first season as a lot of experts predicted them to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Rocket had a record of 24-42-7 while recording 58 points and finishing last in their perspective division standings. Needless to say that this is the worst way to establish a good relation with your new fans, especially since the Rocket also had the worst record at home with only 10 wins in 38 games.
Nonetheless, unlike the NHL, things can quickly turn around in the AHL. After all, a team success depends a lot on the players drafted by their NHL affiliate. Of course, there are some AHL veterans that general managers can go after to reinforce their club, but most of a team roster is build of upcoming prospects and injury calls player.
This year’s edition of the Rocket will feature a lot of new faces. As the final roster isn’t officially out yet, here are predictions for the 2018-2019 Laval Rocket forward and goalie cores.
This year’s edition of the Rocket will also present a very young team compared to last year’s squad. Of course, these are all speculations as I am just expressing my personal opinion on the matter. Here’s how I think the forward core will look in the first game of the season under the management of head coach Joel Bouchard.
Agostino – Vejdemo – Froese
Verbeek – Evans – Allain
Addison – Kotkaniemi – Bitten
Pezzetta – Chaput – Grenier
Lindgren – McNiven
Charlie Lindgren will be the starter in Laval, no surprise there. It will be interesting to see how Michael McNiven will do coming into his first AHL season. Last year, McNiven started the season in the ECHL before being called up to Laval when Lindgren had to replace Carey Price due to his injury.
McNiven had 6 wins in 25 games with Laval, averaging 4.19 goals per game with a saving percentage of 884. Those numbers can’t be taken in consideration as they reflect the overall season the team had and of course McNiven wasn’t the one responsible for the Rocket’s setbacks. However, with a brand new team, I believe this is an excellent goalie combination.
As for the first line, I’m pretty confident this is what it will look like. Agostino has proven in the past that he can produce at this level, tallying 53 points last year and 83 points the season before that. He’s been consistent at every level he’s played in, putting up a ton of points with his solid production had on the wing.
At center, Vejdemo is, in my opinion, the most interesting player on the roster. He already has three full professional seasons in his repertoire, therefore he will easily adapt to the AHL. Watching him play at the rookie showdown a couple of weeks ago gave me a good idea of what to expect from him.
He’s a two way player excelling in his own end and with good playmaking abilities. He was very agile on his skate and had a good high end top speed. I see him as the smartest centre on this roster and for those of you wondering, he didn’t seem to have difficulty adapting to the play on North American ice.
On his right side will be Byron Froese. If he has a good training camp, Froese might start the season in Montreal, but I don’t think he will. Being one of the oldest player of the team, he could make a good candidate to become captain, as he was last year.
Froese is a big winger who plays a very aggressive game. Like Agostino, he has been able to produce in the American Hockey League and will mix well with guys such as Vejdemo.
I put Evans as the second line center on my list, but that’s hoping he has completely recovered from his injury sustained at the rookie tournament against Ottawa. The American was hit entering the offensive zone, his head hitting hard on the ice. He looked unconscious after the play, but the Montreal Canadiens stated after the game that he was not seriously injured.
Evans had an amazing past two seasons with the University of Notre Dame, putting up 42 points two years ago in 40 games and 46 points in 40 games played last year. He was also the team captain and played a key role in his team’s road to the finals. Evans is a very flashy center with amazing skating abilities and a good understanding of the game.
On his right side should be Alexandre Alain. The Quebec native had a very productive season with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada of the QMJHL, tallying 87 points, including 44 goals, in 65 games played. Alain is pure goal scorer thanks to his deadly shot.
He always finds himself in good scoring positions and displays a smooth pair of hands. Lastly, Heyden Verbeek will complete this line. This might surprise a lot of people, but I think Verbeek will crack the line-up this year.
Just like Alain, he has a hard and precise shot, mixed with great speed. This line could, in my opinion, put up the most points for the Rocket this upcoming season.
It has not yet been decided if Kotkaniemi will start the season in Laval or if he will go back to Finland, but if he does stay with the Rocket, I think a third line center role would be perfect for him. Clearly, Kotkaniemi isn’t ready to play in the NHL and will need a season or two in the AHL to refine his game and adapt to the North American style of play. He doesn’t have as much time as he would playing in Europe and his skating abilities have room for improvement as well.
He did, however, showcase a good vision, seeing plays develop in front of him and a good defensive awareness as well. A good line mate for Kotkaniemi could be William Bitten. Bitten is an energetic right winger who can also play at center, playing a high pace game.
He had 64 points in 62 games last year with the OHL champion Hamilton Bulldogs. He displays an exemplary work ethic and a quick release. Overall, Bitten reminds me of Brandon Gallagher.
To complete this line, I would love to see Jeremiah Addison. Addison is your typical third line winger who plays a physical game, can create offense and plays well in the defensive zone too. Always finishing his checks, that does not prevent him from being the first forward back in his zone on the back-check.
He’s very active in his own end, cutting out passing and shooting lanes. In the offensive zone, he wins most of his battles along the boards and finds himself in prime scoring positions as well. He can also play on the PK and does well when placed there.
The fourth line is more a fantasy of mine than anything else. I love a rough, gritty style of play and a line concocted of Pezzetta, Chaput and Grenier would bring a lot of energy both for the team and in the building. Pezzetta plays a game very similar to Deslaurier’s.
He lands huge, crushing hits and can also drop the gloves. Meanwhile, he can bring offence to the table as well, having scored 52 points last year playing with both the Sudbury Wolves and the Sarnia Sting. Next to him at center, I see Michael Chaput as a good candidate.
Chaput always had good numbers in the AHL, but I think a fourth line role would be the best fit for him this year. On his right side, I think we could see Alexandre Grenier. At 6-foot-5 and 200 pounds, Grenier can also play a physical game.
It is still too early for me to predict what the defensive duos will look like as there still are a lot of question marks as to who will crack the Habs line-up (especially on the left side). I will provide you those predictions when the first cuts of training camp are made later this week.
Overall, the fans should be excited by what the Rocket will put on the table this year. A mix of young, skilled and energetic players should be enough to keep them on the edge of their seats at Place Bell all season long.