There will soon be opportunities for some of the Montreal Canadiens’ prospects playing at the American Hockey League (AHL) level. As injuries are mounting, with David Savard and Sean Monahan joining the list of wounded players, roster spots become available. Also, with the trade deadline approaching, there is no doubt that general manager (GM) Kent Hughes has several deals in the works which will create even more need for call-ups.
Laval Rocket Crashing
At the 25-game mark, Laval holds an 8-13-3-1 record, good for a .400 points percentage. This places them in the cellar of the North Division, five points out of a playoff spot. They have shown an ability to play a wide-open offensive style, like their parent club, scoring 83 goals, placing them eighth in the AHL. That wide-open style does cause defensive issues as they have allowed an AHL-worst 100 goals against. Averaging 3.32 goals per game and 4 goals against per game is not a recipe for success at any level.
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Their power play (PP) is the envy of their NHL club. The seventh-placed AHL PP is scoring at a 24% rate, which has made them a very dangerous team to take penalties against. As good as their PP is, their penalty-killing unit however is a league-worst 69.1%. This has helped the Rocket to fall to the bottom third of the standings. There are issues leading to Laval’s problems in earning points in the standings, and, some may point to goaltending. More specifically, some may point to Cayden Primeau and his .893 save percentage, not progressing his game as the issue. Yet, Primeau is the top performer in net with a 4-6-2 record, which is slightly better than that of his tandem partner Kevin Poulin’s .882 save percentage and 3-7-2 record. Yet goaltending isn’t the real problem, if anything, it’s the number of shots allowed against, as well as the sheer number of high-quality high danger chances allowed, making the lives of the goaltenders more difficult than they should be. Despite the Rockets’ poor showing, there are still some players who have shown themselves ready to fill an NHL role, even if only temporarily.
Honourable Mention – Rafael Harvey-Pinard – LW
The name Rafael Harvey-Pinard is on the lips of any Canadiens fan. The undersized 23-year-old left-winger is a little ball of effort in the same mould as Brendan Gallagher. Based just on that, he should earn a call-up. His 16 points in 25 games while filling in as one of the top forechecking options for the Rocket support that option.
Justin Barron – D
Corey Schueneman is an experienced defender and is known to be capable of playing a bottom-pairing role on the left side. The goal of any call-up should be to reward their play as well as assess a defender’s progression in their development. Justin Barron’s development into a top-four right-handed puck-moving defenceman is an important part of the team’s plans. The need for puck-movers at the NHL level could make fans want to call up Nicholas Beaudin; however, he is left-handed, and there is a log jam on the left side in the Habs’ system, while the right side is wide open.
Related: Canadiens’ Rookie Defensemen Take Over
After being cut at the end of the Canadiens’ main camp, Barron’s play dipped, seemingly due to his disappointment. After a few games, however, his level of play rose significantly as he began to take on a top-pairing role at five-on-five, and as the quarterback on the top PP unit. His 12 points in 22 games lead all Laval defenders offensively, and his five goals and one assist on the PP is the kind of production the Canadiens desperately need. It’s a role Barron could be given an opportunity to fill.
Jesse Ylonen – RW
The Canadiens’ 2018 second-round pick, Jesse Ylonen, has shown steady progress, improving every facet of his game while still taking advantage of his NHL calibre shot. His 21 points in 25 games, including four PP goals, prove he has the offensive instincts that could help him at the next level.
Ylonen may be the most NHL-ready prospect in the system. His ability to be deployed anywhere in the lineup and his proven penchant for two-way play should give him a leg up on receiving the call to the NHL.
Anthony Richard – C/LW
At 25 years of age, Trois-Rivières native Anthony Richard is the elder statesman of this group. The Nashville Predators draft pick also has six full professional seasons under his belt, and this season, his seventh, he has shown progression in his game, scoring 17 goals and 25 points, putting him on pace for a 49-goal, 78-point season, which would smash his previous career AHL highs of 24 goals and 47 points.
He has also been a leader on the PP, scoring a team-high five goals and nine points. His ability to put up points on the PP would be a welcome addition to the Habs roster. Granted, it’s the NHL, not the AHL, and granted, Richard only has two games of NHL experience, but there are more reasons to call him up. First, he has shown consistency in his game, not just in production, but in his work ethic and leadership, leading by example. Second, what Habs fan wouldn’t want to see the name Richard on a Canadiens sweater? Anthony “the space age rocket” Richard, anyone?
Despite a lack of team success so far this season, the Rocket have been successful in helping prospects progress, while others need more time. Young players need to play in a winning atmosphere, but the Canadiens have shown that it is possible to create that environment, even in a non-playoff season.