The Montreal Canadiens are not just suffering losses, they are also suffering man-games lost to injury. They are one of the top teams in the NHL in that category. If the goal of the 2022-23 season was to be as competitive and entertaining as possible, the number of injuries — nine players are on injured lists as of Jan. 31 — make that an almost impossible task.
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The injuries have provided one silver lining. Management has been able to assess the development of their prospects and offer those prospects an opportunity to prove themselves NHL capable. Raphael Harvey-Pinard is one of those players, and he has done everything possible to prove that he has earned an NHL roster spot, even if it’s just for the rest of this season.
Called up on an emergency recall on Jan. 17, Harvey-Pinard will need to be returned to the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Laval Rocket before he can be returned to the NHL roster permanently. When, not if, that happens, Canadiens fans will be given a rare good news story.
The 5-foot-9, 183-pound forward plays a style that Habs fans are familiar with and love, which is eerily similar to Brendan Gallagher. His game also provides far more than just points; he brings an energy and work ethic that is inspiring. Even though he is at a size disadvantage in every puck battle, he still finds a way to win most of them. He proves that hard work beats skill if skill doesn’t work hard. The similarities to Gallagher are so striking that the fan base and even local media have found humour as the younger player gains popularity, while Gallagher is out injured, and have even nicknamed him “Lavallagher.”
The 23-year-old’s path to the NHL is also very similar to Gallagher’s. Pinard was a late-round pick (seventh round in 2019) after he had a season of impressive offensive statistics, scoring 40 goals and 85 points in 66 regular-season games and putting up 27 points in 20 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) playoff games.
The way he scores goals and plays his game using skill, excellent positioning and a relentless motor in pursuit of the puck has everyone rooting for the underdog. His game developed well in Laval, where he led the Rocket in points in the 2021-22 season. His determination grew out of necessity as he has always been overlooked due to his size. “I’ve had to prove myself all my life,” Harvey-Pinard said. “I played Midget Espoir, and I was drafted in the eighth round of the Q (QMJHL) draft.”
Canadiens’ Next Gallagher
Pinard has taken advantage of this opportunity. In his current call-up, he’s showing that he has no intention of being returned to Laval this season. In his seven games before the All-Star Break, he has five goals and six points. He has been rewarded by the hockey gods with the right bounces because of the way he plays; he never cheats or takes shortcuts, and when someone plays that way, they get rewarded more often than not.
He has also won over head coach Martin St. Louis. His energy and effort have made him more versatile than any veteran winger in the lineup. He began with limited fourth-line minutes at 5-on-5, but then began to earn time on the penalty kill and eventually was used up the lineup on the top line with Nick Suzuki.
Relentless effort, coupled with good vision; after his team gains the zone, he wins possession long enough to shoot, but his work doesn’t stop there. He follows that shot to the net, gets the rebound before anyone else figures out where it is, and scores. These are things that high-quality role players do on good teams. He’s doing these things regularly on a Canadiens roster that doesn’t even have four full lines.
He has earned his roster spot for this season by outworking not only his opponents, but also some of the veterans in the lineup who have become even more expendable as he has moved ahead of them on the depth chart. Having inexpensive contracts in place for useful players is a necessity in the NHL, and in a market like Montreal, being a local is always a welcome bonus. These are all positive signs of things to come from Harvey-Pinard, who is close to realizing the dream of every young Quebecois, to become a Montreal Canadiens.