The Montreal Canadiens have been heavily critiqued over the last decade for having a subpar minor league system that did very little to develop NHL-ready talent for the Canadiens, but it looks like they’re finally turned the corner.
The Canadiens haven’t had their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate make it to the AHL Conference Finals since 2010-2011, and have only developed a handful of players into regular NHLers in that span. In those ten years, Only Jarred Tinordi, Nathan Beaulieu, Jacob De La Rose, Sven Andrighetto, Michael McCarron, Charles Hudon and Jake Evans have come in and played over 100 games in the NHL after spending over a season in the Montreal Canadiens’ minor league system, with none holding down major roles for the Canadiens other than Evans.
Between 2000 and 2010, the Canadiens’ affiliate was much better at funnelling up prospects to the big club that went on to have an impact on the team. Players like Mike Komisarek, Tomas Plekanec, Chris Higgins, Andrei Kostitsyn, Maxim Lapierre, Jaroslav Halak, Mikhail Grabovski, Yannick Weber, Max Pacioretty, PK Subban and more were able to grow in the minors and play over 300 games in the NHL. Many of them played multiple seasons in the minors and most had the benefit of testing their might over full seasons and also in the AHL playoffs. The Hamilton Bulldogs, the Montreal Canadiens’ affiliate between 1996 and 2015, qualified for the AHL playoffs seven times between the 2001-2002 and 2010-2011 seasons and won the Calder Cup in 2007. That kind of experience was invaluable.
The Laval Rocket became the first Canadiens AHL affiliate to qualify for the AHL Playoffs since the 2015-2016 St. John’s IceCaps back in 2016-2017. In their first taste of AHL post-season action, certain Montreal Canadiens prospects are already taking in the experience and growing from it as Laval continues its push toward the Calder Cup.
The Resurgence of Cayden Primeau
Cayden Primeau‘s inspiring play for the Laval Rocket since being inserted into the lineup in Game 2 against the Syracuse Crunch has been nothing short of reassuring. The 22-year-old has been the backbone of this team, posting a 1.93 GAA and a 0.936 save percentage, while being the busiest goaltender during these AHL playoffs with 236 shots against. Primeau has come up clutch for the Rocket, having had only two games where he’s given up three goals or more, one of which ended in triple overtime. He’s stopped two of the stronger and more offensive teams in the AHL, the Syracuse Crunch (Tampa Bay) and the Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabres), and looks to be gaining in confidence as the playoffs continue.
Cayden Primeau with absolute larceny on the penalty kill pic.twitter.com/FqrAiuGKG6
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 24, 2022
Jesse Ylönen Settling In
Ylönen hasn’t necessarily put up the offensive numbers that many would have hoped for in these AHL playoffs, but his 200-ft game was very useful for the Rocket, especially in their three games against the Rochester Americans. Posting two goals and two assists for four points in eight games, Ylönen was especially effective in getting shots on net and generating scoring chances, but simply wasn’t very lucky in the outcome. He’s been great for the Rocket in terms of possession and controlling the puck on the rush and was tasked with shutting down some of the most dangerous players in the AHL this past season in Charles Hudon, Peyton Krebs and Jack Quinn.
The longer these AHL Playoffs go, the more Ylönen will continue to get acclimatized the the reality of North American playoff hockey and it’ll give him even more confidence and momentum heading into training camp next season.
Jesse Ylönen tasoittaa ottelun ajassa 58:53. Mahdollisesti hänen uransa isoin maali.
— Heikki Mannonen (@HMannone) May 26, 2022
Mattias Norlinder Earning His Stripes
When it was announced that Mattias Norlinder would be joining the Laval Rocket on their playoff run, many were skeptical about where he’d fit on Laval’s defensive brigade. Having six established defencemen in their lineup, it seemed unlikely that head coach JF Houle would pull any of them out in favour of the 22-year-old defenceman, but an injury to forward Danick Martel opened the door for him. Houle decided to go with an “11-7” formation, allowing Norlinder to slot in. He was shaky in his first few games against the Syracuse Crunch, getting used to the smaller ice, the tougher checking and the more intense forecheck. He seemed to find his step as the first series went on with Syracuse and was gaining the confidence of coach Houle as he continued to show quick progress on the ice. Houle rewarded him with extra ice time in key moments of a do-or-die Game 5 against the Crunch, where Norlinder played more and more in the third period and overtime, en route to a series-clinching win over the Crunch.
Mattias Norlinder with his first point of the playoffs as Nate Schnarr makes it 6-1! pic.twitter.com/dcIpJsOdP6
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 23, 2022
It looked like he took that momentum with him in the early moments of the Laval Rocket’s series with the Rochester Americans, and the coaching staff had noticed. Instead of scratching Norlinder once Martel was ready to return for Game 1 against the Americans, he opted to scratch Kevin Roy instead, maintaining the “11-7” formation and showing confidence in his rookie defenceman. Norlinder responded with a very solid and sound game for the Rocket, even making slick plays in the offensive zone which earned him an assist, his first point in the AHL Playoffs. Unfortunately, he was the victim of a blindsided hit from Rochester’s Ben Holmstrom at the end of Game 1 and is listed as day-to-day at this time.
Ben Holmstrom with the blindside hit to the head of Mattias Norlinder in a 6-1 game.
Good news is, Norlinder appears to be okay on the bench pic.twitter.com/45rxBG55FU
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) May 23, 2022