The Montreal Canadiens may not be doing much winning this season, but the Laval Rocket, their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, are in playoff contention at the halfway point of the season and could use some help, in the form of Cole Caufield and Cayden Primeau, to finish the 2021-22 campaign on a high note.
Winning While Shorthanded
Just like the Habs, the Rocket have been playing with a depleted roster for most of the season thanks to injuries, COVID-19 outbreaks, and call-ups to the NHL. They have been without their captain Xavier Ouellet and leading scorer Laurent Dauphin for an extended period. Not to mention that they’re currently without their no. 1 and no. 2 goaltenders. Needless to say, it hasn’t been the ideal situation for new head coach Jean-François Houle.
Still, the team sits three games above .500 in fourth place in the North Division and has won seven of its last 10 games. Now, reinforcements are on the way at just the right time. Ouellet and Gianni Fairbrother have returned, Joël Teasdale played his first game of the season on Friday after recovering from a second major knee injury, and Josh Brook is on the verge of getting back in the lineup for the first time this year as well. Meanwhile, Alex Belzile, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Corey Schueneman, and Jesse Ylönen have all been sent down following a stint with the Canadiens.
After lending a hand to the Habs, it’s time for the big club to return the favour and send additional assistance to Laval.
In Need of a Confidence Boost
It’s no secret that Caufield’s second year as a pro has not gone as hoped. Pegged as the favourite to win the Calder Trophy, the 21-year-old has managed just one goal and eight points in 29 games. His confidence needs a boost in a big way to get his scoring touch back which is why he should spend the remainder of the 2021-22 campaign with the Rocket.
Not only would it be beneficial for his development and to the Habs in the long run, but it would help Laval’s playoff chances in the short term. Caufield spent some time in the AHL earlier this season and scored five points in six games before heading back to Montreal in what was probably a premature recall due to injuries. He was just starting to get his groove back and should have had the chance to dominate at that level getting another chance in the NHL.
Houle deserves a lot of credit not only for how the Rocket have played this season but also for how admirably his players have performed with the Habs. He is doing his job getting them ready for the highest level and Caufield needs to take advantage of that important tutelage to become the player both he and the Canadiens want him to be.
In Need of More Time
The situation is similar for Primeau. While he has shown some very promising flashes during his stint with the Habs, he’s not yet ready to be a full-time player in the NHL and needs more seasoning in the AHL. Goaltenders need time to reach their pinnacle, especially ones drafted in the seventh round, and the 22-year-old should be afforded that time no matter how dire things are in Montreal with both Carey Price and Jake Allen on the sidelines for the foreseeable future.
Canadiens’ coach Dominique Ducharme is the first to admit that the team is in a tough spot when it comes to their young netminder and doesn’t have much choice right now but to play him. It will be interesting to see if management decides to claim Aaron Dell off waivers from the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday to send Primeau back to Laval.
The pandemic has limited him to just 32 games with the Rocket over the past two seasons, not optimal for a goalie in the prime years of his development. He needs to be in the net and often at a level where, just like Caufield, he can dominate.
There is also something to be said for putting them in a winning environment and playing meaningful games to close out the season instead of continuing to endure the losing in Montreal and running the risk that bad habits creep into their games. In the present, the Canadiens have 39 games left to play this season, but their focus should be on the future, especially when it comes to their most promising young players.
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Melissa has been covering the Montreal Canadiens for The Hockey Writers since March of 2020. She is also THW’s Social Media & Marketing Manager as well as co-host of Chicks & Sticks, a weekly show produced by THW. In 2006, she spearheaded the social media initiatives for Tennis Canada and Rogers Cup and was the primary person responsible for their upkeep for over 10 years. She has written articles for multiple tennis websites and interviewed the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams. While her career in sports started in tennis, her first love has always been hockey. She has a journalism degree from Concordia University.