Given the recent flood of players added to the injured list, the Montreal Canadiens suddenly lost all semblance of depth in their lineup.
However, the misfortune of some players has led to timely opportunities for others.
And for players such as Rafael Harvey-Pinard, Jesse Ylonen, and Rem Pitlick, it’s not just a great chance to prove their worth.
Due to the lack of warm bodies available, it should also lead to a situation that’s conducive to excelling, rather than the typical recall, which involves minimal minutes and sheltered usage.
As a bonus, the aforementioned players won’t have to deal with the usual nerves that come with an NHL audition.
“It’s a great opportunity,” said Ylonen. “When I got here last year, everything was new. Now I know what to expect, I’m more comfortable.”
But the opportunity extends beyond their individual performances and an elevated comfort level.
Ylonen and Harvey-Pinard are in the last year of their current contracts, and at 23 and 24 years old respectively, their developmental runway is quickly running out.
They’re set to be restricted free agents this summer, which does mitigate some of the worry involved in extending an older prospect, but there’s another issue at play.
The Laval Rocket could feature players such as Owen Beck, Joshua Roy, Filip Mesar, Riley Kidney and even Emil Heineman next season, a clear signal there’s an elevated level of competition on its way.
In other words, it’s time to see what the holdovers from the last administration can do in the NHL.
Both Pitlick and Harvey-Pinard pick up their fourth point of the night on Jesse Ylönen's power play goal!
6-2 Laval! pic.twitter.com/NxjEtEhOA1
— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 5, 2023
For players like Harvey-Pinard, there’s a specific awareness regarding the importance of this emergency recall.
“The required mentality in this situation is to take a spot in the lineup, full-time,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity for me. There aren’t 40 opportunities like this.”
Harvey-Pinard doesn’t have to look far in the Rocket locker room to get a better understanding of his situation. Anthony Richard had to wait for three years before another NHL organization gave him a chance to shine, and that necessitated a trade.
Simply put, the players want to avoid being labelled as AHL tweeners, as was the case with Charles Hudon a few years ago, and to do that, they’ll need to convince the coaching staff that not only can they survive in the NHL, but they have the potential to thrive.
“These are the opportunities for young players,” said head coach Martin St-Louis. “Those guys have an opportunity here to have an impact. Maybe they can steal a chair, so to speak. And sometimes that opportunity comes from an injury to someone else.”
With the NHL Trade Deadline quickly approaching, the emergency call-ups will also serve as a gauge to evaluate which players should receive the first call once the Canadiens require reinforcements.
In addition, it will give Hughes a better appreciation of how many contracts he’s willing to absorb in upcoming trades.
The Canadiens are about to embark on the next chapter of their rebuild. And while the blueprint can change, the next step involves much less leniency when it comes to individual performances and fewer opportunities for mid-tier prospects.
As harsh as it may seem, Harvey-Pinard is correct, there will not be 40 more opportunities.
This may even be the last one they receive with this organization.
But thankfully, given the availability of ice time, it should be the best opportunity they could ever pin their hopes on.