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Laval Rocket season review: Nikita Jevpalovs was a breath of fresh air

The AHL free agent was a solid contributor to the Rocket.

Club de hockey Canadien, Inc.

Nikita Jevpalovs is, quite frankly, a really fun player to watch. If you watch him play, and knew nothing about any players on the ice, there’s a good chance he does something that made you think he was a top prospect with a no-doubt NHL future.

Case in point, the final game of the Laval Rocket season. Jevpalovs had two goals and an assist in the overtime win. He scored the overtime winner, and it wasn’t just that he scored it. It was how he scored it.

That goal wasn’t even the first time he scored a highlight reel goal last season. And in fact, his first goal of the night (to tie the game) provided another reason why Jevpalovs was well received in his first season with the Rocket: the celebration.

He’s shown himself as someone who just encompasses the fun that comes with the hustle of professional hockey (another example here).

Jevpalovs was one of the several players signed by Laval on July 1. He had experience with Joël Bouchard as a member of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Jevpalovs is 24, and had 193 points in 185 QMJHL games. That earned him a minor league contract with the San Jose Sharks organization. He spent two years in the American Hockey League before returning home to Latvia last season, and then came back to North America.

He signed a one-year one-way AHL contract and will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Jevpalovs had 13 goals and 12 assists in 69 games as injuries cost him some time this season, but his season-long numbers don’t tell the whole story. He started the year with only one goal in his first 11 games and finished with 10 points in his last 19 games. Twenty-one of his 25 points were primary points as well.

His best action came while playing with Lukas Vejdemo. The duo was a solid pair on the penalty kill, and they filled similar roles at five on five.

Jevpalovs will never be a player who will lead your team but he’s an absolute asset to have in your bottom six and he has enough skill to fill in to your top six in a pinch - which the Rocket needed, especially down the stretch. He’s responsible defensively, and has really developed that part of the game and it’s a skill that allows his scoring to not be necessary for him to be a contributor.

Expectations are a big thing when it comes to Jevpalovs. He may never become a contributor at the NHL level. But that doesn’t mean he’s not an asset to an organization. He should get a long look at being brought back next season, but with the influx of potential forwards to the organization, the team may err on the side of not bringing back the Latvian.

As the team goes forward, they will likely move away from players with previous experience with Bouchard so that isn’t as much of an asset in Jevpalovs’s favour.

Jevpalovs’s skillset is one you’ll find in a bottom-six forward with upside. He has speed, hockey sense, and an intriguing amount of offensive ability. All of that plays really well in the AHL and was a significant contribution to the Rocket, where he finished ninth in team scoring. As mentioned, he was a solid contributor to a much-improved penalty kill as well.

The Latvian may be best remembered for some of the biggest moments of his season, and where he showcased his entire skillset. It’s remarkable how many of his points could be classified as highlight-reel plays, and it’s easy for you to see that and think he could be something more. But that may be expecting too much.

Jevpalovs is what he has shown to be so far: A player who can contribute offensively and be an asset to your AHL team. As the Laval Rocket have shown the last two years, there’s absolutely room for players like that.