There’s no doubt about it, the Montreal Canadiens have a rather bright future. A significant portion of the players they’ve drafted project to be impact players. The team will need to add elite talent to the mix if they truly hope to become a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, but for now, it’s safe to say the Canadiens’ rebuild is on track.
The strong prospect pool should come into play as early as next season, with players such as Joshua Roy, Riley Kidney, Logan Mailloux, and others potentially making their professional hockey debut in earnest. Not to mention, players such as Sean Farrell and Emil Heineman will continue to build upon the momentum they generated toward the end of last season. This will give the Laval Rocket a potent lineup for 2023-24.
Rocket Ready to Take Next Step
Last season, the Rocket barely made their way into the playoffs. They needed help from a division rival to lose their last two games for them to get into the best-of-three play-in round, where they ended up being swept by the Utica Comets.
The fact they were able to make the playoffs, considering that a dozen of their top players ended up playing with the Canadiens due to all the injuries to the NHL roster, is a testament to the hard work of the players and the coaching staff led by head coach Jean-Francois Houle. The 2023-24 season however holds much more promise and because of that, there will be pressure to perform.
Canadiens Fresh Blood
According to Byron Bader, the Montreal Canadiens have one of the most well-rounded prospect pools, with talented players in every position. He ranks them as the second-best prospect pool, sitting behind only the Columbus Blue Jackets for the top spot. His rankings include some players who are already in the NHL, such as Kaiden Guhle and Juraj Slafkovsky. He suggests Montreal’s prospect pool has almost 30 players with NHL potential.
The Canadiens now have a legitimately strong prospect pool with most of the strength being added over the past three drafts. Some of whom are now taking their first steps into the professional game.
Canadiens Forward Prospects Help Rocket
Because of the log jam at forward on the Canadiens roster, several younger players will be sent down to join the Rocket as Hughes does what he can to remove some of the excess that no longer fit the Habs’ longer-term plans. Because of this, forwards who are waiver eligible will more than likely be sent down to the AHL after training camp is completed as it is the easiest method of asset management; Rafael Harvey-Pinard fits that category.
Rocket head coach JF Houle, who had the second-best scoring team in the AHL in 2022-23, will have an embarrassment of riches at forward for 2023-24 with players like Harvey-Pinard, along with former first-round pick Lias Andersson, Habs first-rounder Filip Mesar and two Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) stars in Joshua Roy and Riley Kidney who can all bring offensive punch to the AHL club. Add in some gifted offensive players like Farrell and Heineman, and Laval will have a potent offense filled with legitimate NHL skill.
Emil Heineman – Mitchell Stephens – Lias Andersson
Harvey-Pinard – Rem Pitlick – Filip Mesar
Sean Farrell – Philippe Maillet – Joshua Roy
Lucas Condotta – Jan Mysak – Gabriel Bourque
Players battling for ice-time: Riley Kidney, Jared Davidson, Xavier Simoneau, Jakov Novak
The name fans may not be familiar with is Maillet. The 30-year-old center is a QMJHL product who led the Victoriaville Tigres offensively in 2012-13. He played several seasons in the AHL and has just returned from two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) where he scored 22 goals and 53 points in 66 games as the top-line center for Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
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Houle will need to balance the roster with some veterans as well, to help mentor the youth, but also compete in a very fierce AHL North Division where only five points separated fifth from second place in 2022-23. The return of Mitchell Stevens will give Houle an ideal two-way center to rely on. There will also be players that Montreal waives that will clear; Rem Pitlick is a likely returnee. If he doesn’t clear, Houle has a plethora of skilled forwards who can step into a top-six role.
Rocket Blue Line Takes Next Step
While the NHL club boasts names like Guhle, Harris, Justin Barron, and Arber Xhekaj, like with the forward group, Laval will see an influx of defensive prospects entering the professional ranks as well. The first question that must be answered is whether Mailloux will be cleared to play professionally. The Canadiens have requested a meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to reinstate Mailloux after his indefinite suspension for his crime in Sweden, but it has yet to occur. His AHL eligibility is likely tied to this decision.
The next question will be about David Reinbacher, the fifth-overall pick at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. He is eligible to play for Laval next season but is more likely to return to EHC Kloten in Switzerland to progress his development and also complete his educational commitments.
Veteran AHL defenseman and former first-round pick Nicolas Beaudin has re-signed and will be relied on to provide offense and stabilize the left side. Jayden Struble is a returnee, even though he only played nine games last season. He will need to battle for a top-four role, and as a former second-round pick, will likely get plenty of opportunity to do so. Re-joining them is William Trudeau. His physical and steady defensive play stood out enough in the 2022 training camp to earn him a job in Laval. His reliable play, which rarely leads to any missteps or errors, makes him a coach’s dream on defense, which is likely why he ended up as one of Laval’s top-four defensemen last season.
There are too many left-handed defensemen, which means some may have to play on their off-side. There’s also the possibility that someone like Barron or even Harris may end up in the AHL. While highly unlikely, it needs to be said as there is a log jam of young defensemen in Montreal, especially on the left side.
Nicolas Beaudin – Logan Mailloux
William Trudeau – Jayden Struble
Mattias Norlinder – Miguel Tourigny
Players battling for ice-time: Tobie Paquette-Bisson, Olivier Galipeau, Brady Keeper
Miguel Tourigny was an overager selected in the seventh round in 2022. He played the 2022-23 season playing professionally in Slovakia and as a right-handed defenseman, has a legitimate chance at earning a regular role with Laval. At 5-foot-8, he is undersized, but it’s his offense that will earn him ice time.
The Puck Stoppers
The shallowest part of the Habs’ prospect pool is in goal, but that doesn’t mean there is no quality. Cayden Primeau is no longer exempt from waivers and will be hard-pressed to take an NHL job away from the current Canadiens tandem. Which means he is likely to be waived. The expectation is that he and his two remaining years under contract will clear and join Laval. Ideally, Primeau returns to play as one-half of a skilled AHL tandem.
Laval is ready for the possibility that Primeau is claimed. Jakub Dobes is ready to prove he is a legitimate NHL prospect and will compete for the starter’s role with the Rocket. But as a rookie, he will need some veteran support, which is why they signed Strauss Mann to an AHL contract. He has some professional and Olympic experience that he can lean on, and if Primeau returns, Mann can join the ECHL.
The Rocket have high expectations for 2023-24. Because of this, Houle will need to balance the need to play veterans with the need to provide rookies the roles and ice time they need to develop. There will be a balancing act on just how much leeway he’ll allow for the rookies to make mistakes before he will replace them for veterans. Those higher expectations for a playoff team will need to be tempered with the long-term needs of the organization, as they are there to develop the future Canadiens and not just try and win an AHL title. One thing is for certain, this is the most talented group of players Montreal’s AHL farm club has seen in many years.