Lernout Looking to Seize Opportunity With the Habs

With the announcement that assistant captain Shea Weber would be shut down for a while due to a foot injury, the Montreal Canadiens re-called defenceman Brett Lernout from the Laval Rocket of the American Hockey League on Wednesday. He was not in the lineup against the Calgary Flames on Friday, but there is a chance he could suit up against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.

Lernout Ready to Make an Impression

Lernout, who played two games for the Canadiens last season, is excited to get another opportunity in the National Hockey League, and he believes he is much more prepared this time around.

“I’m skating a lot better this year, and my defensive game has gotten better since the beginning of the season,” said Lernout, speaking to the media in French following Thursday’s morning practice.

The 22-year old defenceman who was drafted by the Canadiens 73rd overall in the 2014 entry draft has made major strides in Laval this season. Playing over 20 minutes per game, Lernout has gained confidence in his third full season in professional hockey. He credits playing with Matt Taormina -who was signed by the Canadiens as an unrestricted free-agent on July 1- for his development this season.

“He’s got a lot of games pro, and he’s been around the league a lot,” said Lernout. “He’s a leader. He takes me under his wing and he’s a really easy player to play with. He makes it a lot easier on me.”

Montreal Canadiens defenseman Brett Lernout
Montreal Canadiens defenseman Brett Lernout (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

In 30 games with the Rocket this season, Lernout has scored one goal and four assists, while registering 20 penalty minutes. Known for his stay-at-home style of play, the Winnipeg native has shown an ability to be a point-producer. In his final season with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League, Lernout scored 14 goals and 42 points, only 10 points behind former Canadiens’ first-round selection Noah Juulsen, who is known more for his offensive abilities than Lernout. While Claude Julien will not count on Lernout to be a point-producer for now, Montreal’s head coach definitely has high expectations.

“He’s a defensive-defenceman who’s big, strong, physical, and makes the simple plays,” said Julien. “That’s his strength. When he plays within his strengths, he’s a good defenceman.”

The transition from the minors can sometimes be a tough one for players with little-to-no experience in the NHL. For Lernout, however, there is already a sense of familiarity playing with the big club.

“I played with [Jakub Jerabek] for several games [in the AHL,] so I know him pretty well,” said Lernout. “It won’t be hard playing with him.”

Opportunity to be a Full-Time NHLer

With Weber away from the lineup for the foreseeable future, along with the less-than-stellar play from the defense this season, Lernout has a chance to make an impact as he returns to the Canadiens. Last year when he was called up near the end of the season, he was still in the early stages of his development. This time around, with more confidence in himself and his abilities, he is ready for his latest audition in Montreal.

Following back-to-back games in Alberta, the Canadiens will return to Montreal for Christmas until the 26th when they depart on a trip to the Southern United States to face the Carolina Hurricanes, the Tampa Bay Lighting, and the Florida Panthers. With the New Year just around the corner, the Canadiens hope that 2018 will bring more success than in the final months of 2017. For Lernout, his New Year’s resolution will be to stick in the NHL long after Weber’s return, and with his play of late, it isn’t farfetched to think he could.

“You need grit, size, and strength in your lineup,” said Julien. “He was the next guy in Laval to be called up because he was the best guy there.”