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Laval Rocket season review: A year to build on for Alexandre Alain

Growing pains and flashes of what is still to come highlighted Alain’s rookie season in the AHL.

Club de hockey Canadien, Inc.

Alexandre Alain joined the Montreal Canadiens organization last spring in the midst of an incredible QMJHL playoff run with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. While he finished second on the Armada in scoring behind Drake Batherson with 30 points, he led the team as their captain with 16 goals.

His head coach during all of this was none other than current Laval Rocket bench boss Joël Bouchard, setting the stage for an easier adjustment to the professional level of hockey. While it wasn’t a monumental rookie season, Alain laid a great foundation to build on going into next year.

At first glance, Alain’s stats are not anything incredible or noteworthy. He tallied eight goals and 20 assists in a 72-game rookie season, but they requires a bit of context. That points total placed him sixth on the Rocket in total scoring, which is very respectable, though does highlight a major issue with the team this year. The team didn’t give up many offensive chances or goals, but they had problems generating offence of their own throughout the lineup.

Much of this offensive shortage could be traced to a power play that struggled badly over the season, but that was a situation that Alain was able to shine in for brief moments. Out of his 20 assists, six of them came on the man advantage, using the extra space and time to find his teammates and put crisp passes on their sticks. He was trusted to jump on with the man advantage at various points throughout the year

Even when slumping offensively, Bouchard had the confidence to put him on the ice in crucial situations. It wasn’t hard to see why. Alain reads the play well, and usually picks the safest option for a pass on his half of the ice while getting the puck into dangerous areas for scoring chances at the other end..

His skill around the net was a welcome addition to the team. Standing at 6’2”, he gets to the front of the net to make the most of the chances that end up there. It isn’t always pretty, but his ability to finish up plays in a scramble around opposing goalies is valuable to any lineup.

Just because he mucks and grinds around the net doesn’t mean he’s the old-school archetype of the grinding forward. He plays with skill, and has the hands to finish plays in style when he needs to.

In the play above, Alain crashes to the net for a loose puck and shifts his body to block out the incoming defender. While doing that he is able to lift the puck over the goalie in the same swift movement. It’s a little thing, but there is skill to be had with him, and while he isn’t likely to be a superstar, he can still find a lineup spot by doing these little things right.

As most of the lineup was shuffled around on a regular basis as players were injured or recalled, part of Bouchard’s plan was to promote players who played well on a given night and roll with the hot hand. For Alain that meant sometimes being the top-line centre, and at others part of a makeshift fourth line; not exactly the easiest way to gain traction as a rookie.

It is hard to blame Bouchard for shuffling his lineup so often when you consider how decimated his roster depth was. Going into next year, with possible reinforcements coming in the form of high-level prospects Nick Suzuki and Ryan Poehling, Alain may not have to worry about the constant shuffle up and down the lineup.

It should be an interesting case to see where Alain fits next year, with a multitude of higher-ceiling forwards ahead of him, but without the same professional experience. Based on the names that could be coming in, it seems that Alain is fit for a bottom-six role next year, giving him some stability.

As with many rookies, there were slumps and growing pains. It was a building-block season for Alexandre Alain, something he can use to grow and expand on next year in his second professional season.