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Laval Rocket season review: Daniel Audette had an up-and-down performance in a contract year

We saw some magical displays of his offensive skills, but also a few disappearing acts.

Club de hockey Canadian, Inc.

The 2018-19 AHL season wasn’t particularly kind to Daniel Audette. From the outset, he wasn’t producing as much as was expected of him in his third year in the pros. A big leap forward was needed in the last year of his contract, to prove that he was worth keeping around for the organization.

His place in the lineup changed from third to first-line centre, with stops at first-line wing and a drop to the bottom trio. Audette was basically all over the place as the call-ups and injuries came, and his numbers took a bit of a hit. He had to work his way up from the fourth line to be a respectable second-line player.

That’s not to say Audette didn’t perform well at all. He started picking up his pace in late December and went on to become a go-to player for Joël Bouchard. But it took time for the coach to start trusting Audette, and part of that was due to his inconsistency early on.

As is far too often the case with Audette’s professional career so far, he went on red-hot streaks where he was one of the best scorers on his team, but then experienced slumps that went on for extended periods. It’s more than just bad luck; he often gets outworked and by a lot of other players on the team who seem to have more drive than he can muster.

While in one of his funks, Audette is a non-factor on the ice, and will see a spike in his penalty minutes as frustration mounts. When things don’t go his way, he tends to take selfish penalties and often doesn’t participate enough in the plays developing in front of him.

When Audette is on his game, boy is he hard to play against. Locked in on his game, he can pull off moves such as the one in the clip below:

Even after getting tripped, he still pushed his game to the next level and sent a pass toward the front of the net, hoping someone would be there to get an opportunity to score. It turns out Byron Froese was right there and was able to finish off the highlight.

When fully committed to the play and the system, and willing to go above his normal style to give the team a chance to score, Audette can be an incredible talent. Using his vision and handling to open up a lane for a teammate, he is at his best. He can really dictate plays when he commits to playing hard and fast.

The good news is he did end up outproducing his last two years in the AHL. His 39 points in 71 games ranked him third on the team, behind Alex Belzile (54) and Jake Evans (45). When you start digging through the numbers of Audette’s career in the minors, you can actually see steady progress in the AHL:

2016-17: 0.40 Pts/GP
2017-18: 0.52 Pts/GP
2018-19: 0.59 Pts/GP

Those aren’t record-breaking seasons by any stretch, but you can clearly see improvement and a better use of his toolkit.

See how he fakes a shot up close to bring it to his left and make sure the goaltender commits to a low shot, then shoots up high and scores? He has a lot of speed and a good set of hands to handle pucks in-close or use his accurate shot to score. He has great coordination when it comes to his stickhandling and he can often cash in on opportunities if given the time and space to do it.

What will that organization do with Audette as he heads into restricted free agency? That’s a tough call. He progressed throughout his time with the Habs organization, with ups and downs that evened out somewhat later this season as he finally committed to the system Laval was playing.

So far, for 2019-20 the Habs have 36 of their 50 NHL contract slots used. Did Audette showed enough throughout his time in the organization to warrant a contract extension? With the influx of new players, and many of them potentially being centres (Nick Suzuki, Joël Teasdale, and Ryan Poehling to name a few), and having Michael McCarron also up for a new contract, it will be interesting to see who the Habs believe can still bring something to their organization.

I believe Audette would be worth a one-year show-me-what-you-have type of contract. Being 23 years old, he needs to show that he still has a chance of making the NHL, even if it is in a small offensive role. Time is getting short for Audette to show he has the means to reach the NHL, even if it isn’t in the third- or second-line role once envisioned.

His skills, IQ, and vision (when he’s on his game) could be beneficial for a line focused on offence. He could yet add substantial skills to a bottom-six unit used smartly.