The Montreal Canadiens are heading into this season with a pretty solid lineup. The weakest part of the team is at the center position, and the strongest part is on the wings. The Canadiens should have a successful season if they stay healthy; if they don’t, they must look to their AHL team, the Laval Rocket, to fill some holes. Here is a look at five Rocket players that could play for the Canadiens this season.
Ryan Poehling will undoubtedly play for the Canadiens this season, and likely start with them. Poehling had a rough start to his career, bouncing between Laval and Montreal, and not providing much offence in either place. After his stunning debut scoring a hat trick against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Canadiens’ final game in 2018-19, Poehling stumbled mightily in his first professional season in 2019-20. Poehling didn’t make the Canadiens out of training camp that season and was disappointed; he struggled in Laval, scoring only 13 points in 36 games. When he was recalled to the Habs, he did even worse, scoring only two points in 27 games.
Poehling turned it all around last season, as he played at a point-per-game pace and ended with 25 points in 28 games. He not only played well offensively, but also was a solid two-way center who helped Laval finish as the top team in their division. He could be the Canadiens’ third-line center if he has a good training camp, but a late-season wrist injury could hamper things if it’s not fully healed. Finally, he is waiver exempt, so he could bounce between Laval and Montreal due to roster limitations.
Xavier Ouellet has been a fill-in defenceman for the Canadiens for the past couple of seasons. He is currently the captain of the Rocket, but is also the most NHL-experienced player on the team. If an injury happens on the blue line for the Canadiens, Ouellet will probably be called up to fill in on the bottom pairing. He isn’t going to wrestle any positions from anyone on the Canadiens roster, but can be a steady replacement if needed, especially as a sixth defenceman.
Ouellet will not provide much offence, as he has only scored five career goals in 178 games. Ouellet will provide solid stay-at-home defence, and he is a hell of a shot-blocker; he has played 37 games with the Canadiens and has 53 blocks. In the 2019-20 playoffs, he played 10 games and led the team with 21 blocks and was a solid defender on the bottom pairing. Expect Ouellet to be an injury replacement for anyone on the left side of the defence.
Jean-Sebastien Dea is a 20-goal scorer in the American Hockey League (AHL), and last season was a point-per-game player with the Rochester Americans, scoring 15 points in 15 games. Dea will have a hard time cracking the Canadiens lineup out of training camp but could easily be an injury replacement as the season goes on.
Dea has yet to transfer his AHL success to the NHL, and at 27 years old, it seems unlikely he will become a regular NHL player. Dea will, however, provide the Canadiens with a solid fourth line injury replacement. He is primarily a center but could play the wing, however, with the Habs’ significant depth at wing, he would most likely be called an injury replacement at center. Dea has only seven career NHL points in 33 games but provides puck pressure at both ends of the ice and is solid along the boards.
Rafael Harvey-Pinard had a very successful first season of professional hockey with the Rocket. He scored 20 points in 36 games, and was a huge factor in the teams’ success playing a solid two-way game. Harvey-Pinard is a natural leader: he was captain of two different Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) teams, and served as an alternate captain for the Rocket in his first season.
His 20 points may not seem like much, but it’s his style of play that could get him into the NHL. Nicknamed “Lavallagher” due to his hard-nosed play style and net-front presence, he is the Rocket’s version of Canadiens star Brendan Gallagher. His skating may not be fast enough for the NHL, but if there are injuries, he could find himself playing a game or two with the big club on the bottom six. Can you imagine two Gallagher’s on the Canadiens!?
In the offseason, Louis Belpedio was signed by the Canadiens to add defensive depth to both the Rocket and the Canadiens. Originally drafted by the Minnesota Wild in 2014, he only managed to play four NHL games putting up two assists over four seasons. He was, however, a strong top-four defenceman for the Iowa Wild in the AHL, scoring 51 points in 165 games.
Belpedio is a former alternate captain of the USA World Junior Championship team and is a strong offensive-minded right-handed shot. He was buried in Minnesota, who had a wealth of depth on defence. He played well for the Wild’s AHL team until injuries hampered him last season. The Canadiens currently lack depth on the right side of their blueline, and Belpedio provides something the Canadiens lack in their lineup, and that’s a puck-moving defenceman. Don’t be surprised if any defenceman on the right side get injured and Belpedio gets the call. He could still succeed at the NHL level if given a chance.
As with every list, there will be players that weren’t mentioned, and the Canadiens have a few in their system that very easily could see some NHL ice time. Alex Belzile, who has already had a handful of games, could get some time with the Habs. If Carey Price goes down injured, Cayden Primeau could see some action. Josh Brook is another defenceman that could see some time in the NHL. Forwards Lukas Vejdemo and Jesse Ylonen could also get some time with the Canadiens. Vejdemo has had a handful of games already, and Ylonen falls in that “could use more time in the AHL” category. Hopefully there are not too many injuries, and these guys get to play full seasons with the Rocket.