The 2020-21 AHL season officially got underway on Friday without the league’s Canadian division whose teams are still awaiting a game schedule while certain logistics are being sorted out. Despite the delay, the Laval Rocket continue to run their training camp so while we wait along with them, here are five players to keep an eye on in Laval this year.
Since scoring a hat trick in his NHL debut against the Toronto Maple Leafs in April of 2019, Ryan Poehling’s career has been stuck in neutral and big things are expected of him this season with the Rocket to show that his game has progressed to the point where he could eventually find a permanent place in the Montreal Canadiens’ lineup someday soon.
The 22-year-old former first-round pick still has time to prove his worth and a dominant season in the AHL would go a long way in helping his cause. Last year in Laval, he put up five goals and 13 points in 36 games. It will be interesting to see if Poehling can also cement his position as centreman at the pro level or if he appears destined to play as a winger.
Poehling is currently a member of the Habs’ taxi squad and has spent many practices playing between Michael Frolik and Corey Perry. Learning from those two accomplished NHL veterans certainly won’t hamper his development.
“You always have to take advantage of what you can, and I think for us, there are so many good players on our team and a lot of older guys, so just learning from them and kind of watching how they play, and even in practice, learning a few things can go a long way so when your time does come or when I play a game, you can just be ready for that,” Poehling said about his experience on the taxi squad.
Like Poehling, Cale Fleury is on Montreal’s taxi squad to start the season after impressing in training camp, particularly during the intra-squad scrimmages. He may eventually end up as the Habs’ seventh defenseman depending on what happens with Victor Mete and the trade rumors surrounding him as the season progresses.
Fleury accumulated 41 games of NHL experience last year after making the Canadiens’ opening night roster out of training camp and is on the cusp of being a full-time NHL player. His aggressive and physical style of play serves him well.
The Canadiens will surely want both Fleury and Poehling to see game action as soon as possible so they should be in the Rocket lineup once their season gets underway.
Goalie Cayden Primeau wants to be “the guy” in net for Laval after an impressive rookie campaign in 2019-20 that saw him post a 17-11-3 record despite the Rocket being out of a playoff position. His 2.45 goals-against average led all AHL rookies. He also had a .908 save percentage, recorded four shutouts, and was named to the AHL’s all-rookie team.
Selected 199th overall by the Canadiens in 2017, the 21-year-old earned his first NHL victory last year thanks to a 35-save effort against the Ottawa Senators.
“We’ll have a plan again to put him in winning situations,” Laval Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard said. “The goal is to have him play and give him the mileage he didn’t have in the last months.” (from ‘Cayden Primeau strives to become Laval Rocket’s go-to goalie’, Montreal Gazette – 1/29/21).
Jesse Ylönen, a 2018 second-round draft pick of the Canadiens, will be getting his first taste of North American hockey with the Rocket this season after signing his entry-level contract a few months ago.
The 21-year-old, who is known to be an agile forward with great speed, has spent the past two years playing professionally in the Finnish Liiga, scoring 25 goals and 49 points in 106 games. He also represented Finland at the World Juniors in 2018-19 and posted six points in seven games.
Ylönen was loaned to the Finnish Liiga before the start of Rocket training camp. He appeared in 21 games and potted five goals. Ylönen is one of several Habs’ prospects who will be integrating the Laval lineup for the first time this season along with Vasili Demchenko, Cameron Hillis, Arsen Khisamutdinov, and Joël Teasdale.
“For Ylönen, he’s one of the lucky ones that got to play before Christmas. He’s a young guy though you have to remember, it’s his first year in North America, so obviously there’s going to be an adaptation, but we’re excited to work with all of them,” Bouchard said.
Teasdale signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Canadiens as an undrafted free agent but has yet to play a game for the organization. That’s because he was forced to miss the entire 2019-20 season after suffering tears in both his ACL and MCL during an on-ice session in the offseason. Surgery was required to repair the ligaments.
With the injury and the COVID-19 pause finally behind him, he’s hoping to make a strong first impression as a pro all while reuniting with Bouchard who coached him with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in the QMJHL.
During the 2018-19 season, Teasdale, who plays a physical, 200-foot game, put up 43 goals and 80 points in 66 games with the Armada and the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. He led the Huskies to the Memorial Cup Championship and was named tournament MVP after putting up five points in five games.
The Canadiens’ improved depth this season has had a positive impact on the Rocket who are better on paper this year as well. Plus, it’s nice to see players from the organization’s strong prospect pool graduating to the pro ranks. It will be fun to watch Bouchard develop them, just like he did with Jake Evans who is now Montreal’s full-time fourth-line centre.