While the Montreal Canadiens continue to solidify their playoff position, their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Laval Rocket find themselves sitting atop the Canadian Division with a 16-4-2 record in 22 games, 13 points clear of the second-place Toronto Marlies. Their 34 points also put them in a tie for first in the entire league with the Henderson Silver Knights and they have collected points in eleven straight games.
The Joël Bouchard Effect
When Canadiens’ general manager Marc Bergevin appointed Joël Bouchard head coach of the Rocket in 2018, many thought the move could be a game-changer for the franchise and so far they have been proven right.
Last season, Bouchard and his staff helped make Jake Evans a full-time NHL player and were instrumental in Jesperi Kotkaniemi rediscovering his form after a stint in the AHL. Like the Habs, this year’s improved Laval roster is deeper, and the team is flourishing as a result.
During their recent eight-game road trip through Western Canada, the Rocket collected 15 of a possible 16 points despite several key players suffering injuries on the trip. They returned home on Friday night and posted a 3-0 win over the Stockton Heat.
Not only is Bouchard a good coach, but he’s also a great quote and someone who is incredibly passionate about the game. It’s no surprise that he’s been able to rally and motivate his team during this unusual season.
“The guys that find solutions, the guys that have good attitudes, the guys that use ways to get better but also find solutions to those problems, have success. It’s the same thing in business, same thing in school, same thing in life, same thing in hockey,” Bouchard said.
His success is turning heads around the league and the Canadiens would do well to make sure he stays with the organization.
Contributions Throughout the Lineup
To say this season has been a full team effort would be a cliché, but it’s also the truth. Bouchard has managed to summon the best from all his players, from the rookies to the veterans.
Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Joël Teasdale, and Jesse Ylönen have made a strong first impression. Goaltender Cayden Primeau has won seven games in a row. Josh Brook, Cale Fleury, Otto Leskinen, Lukas Vejdemo and especially Ryan Poehling have taken important strides in their development.
Poehling, Montreal’s first-round pick in 2017, has been a man on a mission in 2020-21. He has 12 points in his last 11 games and 16 on the year which is good for second in team scoring behind Joseph Blandisi. The 22-year-old was dominant on the recent road trip. Plus, he’s doing all of this at the centre position which is music to the ears of the Canadiens.
“I love his effort level,” Bouchard said of Poehling. “It’s a process when it comes to Ryan, but he’s clearly going in the right direction, and we’re using him in every situation.”
The Rocket currently has eight players with 10 points or more on the year.
Cole Caufield’s Professional Debut
Laval is about to become even more formidable with the arrival of prized prospect and Hobey Baker finalist Cole Caufield into the fold.
The 20-year-old signed his entry-level contract with the Canadiens after his NCAA season with Wisconsin and will make his much-anticipated professional debut with the Rocket next week at the end of his mandatory seven-day quarantine.
While most would have liked for Caufield to make the immediate jump to the Habs, learning from Bouchard within the winning environment that he has created will only be beneficial for him. It also relieves some pressure of not being thrown into the NHL and the Montreal spotlight too quickly.
“I think it will help me a lot. Obviously, there’s a great coach down there — and they’ve got a great team too. They’re all going to help me out, and I’m just going to try to soak in all that I can,” Caufield said about playing in Laval. “I’m excited to get down there. It’s a great league, and a lot of great players have debuted there and gone on to have great NHL careers.”
It will be fascinating to see if Caufield can find the space to get off his world-class shot at the pro level playing against bigger and stronger opposition. If he can, he’ll be in a Canadiens uniform before long.
Until then, he can enjoy playing for the best Habs farm team in over a decade and for a coach who will undoubtedly make him a better player.