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Canadiens AHL Outlook: A Fresh Start For Many Key Prospects

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Montreal Canadiens defenceman David Reinbacher

The fact that the Montreal Canadiens lost their AHL head coach a few weeks after he signed a three-year contract extension is less than ideal, but it does present the team with a good opportunity for a fresh start.

There’s a bevy of changes on the docket, and they go beyond the need to find a new head coach for the organization’s AHL affiliate.

Before we discuss the potential AHL lineup for the Laval Rocket, we have to acknowledge that there are still a few matters left to resolve, which will likely impact any projected roster. In other words, the situation will almost assuredly change in the near future.

Arber Xhekaj, Justin Barron, Jesse Ylonen, and Mattias Norlidner are in need of a contract extension, while Rocket players Mitchell Stephens (alternate captain), Gabriel Bourque (captain), and Philippe Maillet are currently slated to become unrestricted free agents. At the very least, we have confirmation that Filip Cederqvist, Nolan Yaremko, Lias Andersson, Strauss Mann, and Olivier Galipeau will head to Europe in an attempt to find greener pastures.

Laval Rocket Forwards

The two biggest names that may appear in the lineup next season also have a legitimate chance to earn a job in the NHL, which muddies the waters further. Given that Joshua Roy has already shown he can make a positive impact on a nightly basis in the Canadiens lineup, it’s best to assume he won’t be available to the Rocket. If the situation changes, we will modify our projections, but the Habs simply do not have enough offensive talent in their lineup at this time to ignore an offensively gifted player such as Roy.

As for Owen Beck, the road to the NHL will be a little more difficult, especially since he does not have any professional experience. However, if history has taught us anything, it’s that Beck tends to show up to camp and quickly steal the spotlight, just as he did in 2022 when he convinced the Habs to sign him to an early entry-level contract. In all likelihood, he’ll spend some time in the AHL, but how long he stays in the league remains to be seen.

MUST READ: Canadiens Interview – Top Prospect Owen Beck Excited For Future Of Franchise

Even though Oliver Kapanen signed an entry-level contract recently, do not expect him to spend much time with the Rocket if he should fail to earn a roster spot in the NHL. His father, Kimmo, is the general manager for Timrå IK (SHL), a situation that should lead to a healthy dose of minutes in important situations for the 2021 second-round pick.

Florian Xhekaj will be given a look at camp, but all signs point to him returning to the Brampton Bulldogs for a third season in the OHL. That leaves the Rocket with very few incoming players that have significant talent, though we should note that Filip Mesar is expected to make his North American professional debut in earnest. His play in the OHL was fairly encouraging, but there are still doubts whether he’ll be able to translate his game to the AHL, where there’s much less time and space in the offensive zone. We don’t know who will end up taking the coaching reins in Laval, but a new coach will probably work in Mesar’s favour, as Jean-Francois Houle had a relatively spotty track record when it came to young, talented players who had been drafted by the team.

QMJHL product Israel Mianscum is the wild card in play for the Rocket. The late bloomer enjoyed a very solid year as an overager with the Sherbrooke Phoenix, a season that led to 35 goals and 52 assists in 61 games. Mianscum has an excellent shot, good anticipation, and solid work ethic, everything you want to see from a young player attempting to take the biggest step in his hockey career.

Mianscum, along with Luke Tuch, Sean Farrell, Riley Kidney, and Jared Davidson will be counted upon to play an important role for the Rocket this season, seeing as the team will be looking for a handful of players to standout from the crowd. They will be bolstered by veterans Xavier Simoneau, Emil Heineman, Lucas Condotta, and Brandon Gignac.

Laval Rocket Defencemen

The situation on defence is a little more encouraging from a rebuild standpoint. The Rocket could potentially end up with two top prospects joining the blue line, as both David Reinbacher and Adam Engstrom have signed their entry-level contracts and could feature prominently in the AHL lineup. There’s a chance that Reinbacher could end up starting the year with the Canadiens, and it’s not guaranteed Lane Hutson will earn an NHL job at camp, but for now we can safely assume at least one of the top defensive prospects will play the bulk of their games in the AHL.

The same can be said about Logan Mailloux and Jayden Struble. Mailloux looked excellent in his one game in the NHL last year, and Struble gained a lot of important experience throughout the 2023-24 season, but both players still have to work on their defensive positioning and their rush defence before they’re truly ready for full-time NHL action. In Struble’s case, it was rather evident that the play in the NHL was going a little too fast for him last season. That’s perfectly normal when we consider he had less than 25 games of AHL experience under his belt before he was recalled by the Canadiens.

Seeing as the defensive logjam in Montreal will lead to very few chances for inexperienced defencemen, it’s probably safe to say William Trudeau is also bound for the farm. He started the 2023-24 season on the wrong foot, but had finally turned a corner by the time the season ended. Trudeau, along with Tobie Paquette-Bisson, are two defencemen that should end up playing a crucial role for the team. They have more than enough talent to set the tone for a young group of defencemen, and unlike some of the players we recently mentioned, they’re likely to remain with the team for the entire season. Paquette-Bisson is signed to an AHL contract, connoting that he’s poised to take on more leadership responsibilities in the lineup.

Laval Rocket Goaltending Situation

There was also turnover among goaltenders, as Connor Hughes will replace Kasimir Kaskisuo as the team’s backup. There’s not much different in terms of their numbers, but the mere fact that general manager John Sedgwick took care of the goaltender situation in the summer is a good sign.

You’ll remember the Canadiens only added some goaltending insurance to the mix at the halfway point of the season last year, and by then it was already too late. The team eventually missed the playoffs by a handful of points. Hughes’ presence should do wonders for Jacob Dobes, as it will give the young goaltender a little more breathing room and some respite when he needs it most.

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David

Last year Brandon Gignac was the best player on Laval and was also better than several Canadien players such as Tanner Pearson, Colin White and about two other Canadien players. So unless there are 12 forwards who are better than him, he should play with the big club, not Laval.

Greg

Agreed. When Hughes did a favor for his old buddy and client White, it shafted Gignac out of what was likely his last shot at a regular NHL job. White is far below replacement level, and he better not get another chance, he was terrible. It was a rotten thing to do to Gignac imo, who did everything asked of him, and did it better than White.

vachacker

White was brought in so Gignac could be sent down to Laval for a playoff push that failed.

mikeysl

That is one way of looking at it. Another is to consider their situation when White was signed, Hughes wont send a guy like pearson to AHL. Laval was battling for the playoffs and they needed Gignac more than Mtl did. Same for Roy, except he was hurt.

Greg

It’s odd that they’d re-sign Houle but then part ways with him a few weeks later. Probably never find out why.

vachacker

Pay attention, JF left to coach Clarkson University, more money and less work, his choice ! Sedgwick would understand that making him stay would not work out well !

mikeysl

Less pressure, more money, easier schedule, closer to family… easy for JF. As for the habs, why keep a guy who doesnt want to be here AND in Marc’s vernacular… has a spotty record…with young players.

1967

The next Rocket coach should be someone with a lot of experience who understands that development is the prime directive. This person should not be someone who still has a learning curve. Montreal is about to invest millions in newly drafted talent- talent that could ultimately represent as much as 40% of the Canadiens’ roster in the next few years. Now is not the time to hire a young QMJL coach with a learning curve to deal with. 3 years from now, yes. But not now.

mikeysl

Ya but who. Im not sure Vincent is the best at developing players. The other candidates mentioned would be rookie HC at AHL level.

habbernack

Listening to a pod cast on the next Laval coach, Julien I forget his first name the coach of Detroit’s AHL team came highly recommended. The Hab would need permission to offer him the job I assume . His credentials are excellent and they said he works very well with Europeans which they also said Houle didn’t. Good Jr record too

Last edited 27 days ago by habbernack
mikeysl

that would be a sideways move ?