Normally, a player review would break down a player’s full season: the good, the bad, and everything in between. However, for Antoine Waked there isn’t much of anything to write about for a second straight year as a member of the Laval Rocket.
Last year it was understandable. The team was a disaster under Sylvain Lefebvre, and as a rookie it would be unfair to expect him to carry the team. But with an entirely new staff and a revamped lineup, a rebound season was a reasonable expectation.
His game is simple: driving the net with speed, cashing in on loose pucks to create goals, or chipping them to open teammates around the net. Playing mainly in a fourth-line role for Joël Bouchard, Waked posted two goals and three assists in 27 games. This isn’t to say that he was expected to be a breakout megastar, but it seemed like a regression even after a poor start to his professional career.
While at the AHL level Waked looked ineffective, or not ready yet, the same could not be said for his stint in the ECHL with the Maine Mariners. With four points in seven games, he seemed to be far more at home in the ECHL as opposed to the AHL, and it might be time for the Montreal Canadiens to begin taking the third-tier league seriously as a developmental step.
Part of Montreal’s off-season planning should be securing their own affiliate for the upcoming season. This past year they recalled players under contract from Maine, Fort Wayne, Brampton, and Norfolk. That’s four separate clubs that their AHL-contracted and a few entry-level players like Waked were assigned to. While perhaps less necessary for players on AHL deals, having their prospects all in one place, with a singular coaching staff to communicate with, will help streamline prospect development.
Clubs like the Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes centralized their ECHL clubs, and use them as a place to allow some prospects to adjust to the pro game. This year, the Maple Leafs’ ECHL club in Newfoundland advanced to their conference final, facing Carolina’s, which finished with an astounding 108-point campaign.
Highlighting these teams are some draft picks and undrafted free agents who couldn’t crack the deeper AHL lineups ahead of them. While the Laval Rocket thinned out heavily over the season, a fully healthy team leaves little to no room for players like Waked, which is where an affiliated ECHL club would come in handy.
With potential additional of Ryan Poehling, Nick Suzuki, Joël Teasdale, and whichever off-season signings the Canadiens make joining the fold, prospects currently under contract need a stable place to play. Loading up an ECHL club, and giving Waked and others a place to grow and play regularly is a big deal in modern player development.
The ECHL is no longer just a league for face-punching castoffs. It houses some legitimately talented prospects for teams, and now the Canadiens need to get on board with that or risk stagnating development of the prospect pool they’ve filled in recent years.
It hasn’t been a great two years for Waked at the AHL level, and this year seemed to be an entire step back for the young prospect. He has far more talent than his stats suggest, but it seems like he is lost on the ice in Laval. Montreal needs a place for some struggling players to get their game sorted out properly, and gain confidence in their abilities. Waked performed well in a short stint there this year, and it would be reasonable to expect that a longer stay could yield better results in the future.