For the Montreal Canadiens to one day become Stanley Cup contenders, they’ll need a constant influx of young talent from their AHL affiliate.
Picking Juraj Slafkovsky first overall was a great first step toward making the Canadiens perennial Stanley Cup contenders, but to truly put them over the top, they’ll must be a constant influx of talent knocking at the door, primarily from their AHL affiliate.
That’s where the Laval Rocket comes into play.
You won’t find a bevy of elite talent in the AHL, the cream of the crop tends to skip the developmental league and head straight for the NHL, but for the rest of the players who happen to make up the bulk of most NHL rosters, there’s no doubt the AHL is the best place to hone their talent.
Take Jake Evans, for example. The 207th overall pick (2014) defied the odds to become an important cog in the Canadiens’ organizational wheel, and for a club that has struggled to produce much, if any talent via their AHL affiliate, Evans represents the blueprint the Canadiens and Rocket must use when evaluating and developing talent outside of the first round of the NHL Draft.
As some of the older Canadiens prospects prepare to hit the ice at the Prospect Challenge in Buffalo, a few will be vying for NHL jobs, but for the vast majority of the rest, Laval is where they’ll call home.
Players such as Jan Mysak, Jordan Harris, Mattias Norlinder, Kaiden Guhle, Justin Barron and the mustachioed menace, Arber Xhekaj, can use the tournament to not only find their rhythm against high-tier competition, but to impress the most important person they’ll be working with in the near future: Rocket head coach Jean-Francois Houle.
It’s worth noting that despite the lack of fanfare surrounding Houle’s performance last season, which was clearly driven by the juxtaposition between his calming presence and his predecessor’s rather…loud approach, Houle quickly established himself as one of the best coaches in the league, focusing on individual growth as well as producing fantastic team-driven results, something very few, if any, AHL coaches have managed to do in the Montreal Canadiens’ organization over the last couple of decades, save perhaps for Guy Boucher.
And there will be plenty of opportunities to earn ice time in Laval. It took a long time, but the team has shifted from a hired-gun approach, relying on veteran mercenaries to eat up minutes, to a much more sensible, prospect-driven club.
That’s not to say previous coaches went out of their way to rely on free-agent veterans. There simply weren’t enough quality prospects in the organization to fill the ranks.
But now that the team has acquired a bevy of draft picks in recent trades, for the first time in a long time, they can finally afford to fill the team with quality players that also have a future in the NHL.
Players like Mysak, who should not only provide a reliable source of offence, but leadership as well. Players like Guhle, who will surely end up in the NHL, but can afford to learn (i.e.: make mistakes) in the AHL in the meantime. Players like Xhekaj, who fights trees in his spare time because he’s freakishly strong…wait, I forgot where I was going with this.
Ah yes, the future of the Montreal Canadiens.
It goes through Laval, and before these players make their mark in Laval, they’ll get a chance to make a great impression in Buffalo with the person who will decide their fate in the near future.