Just 11 minutes into his first game with the Laval Rocket, Joseph Blandisi went to the locker room and didn’t return to the Rocket lineup for over two weeks.
The 25-year-old had just moved to his fourth professional organization when he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens with Jake Lucchini for Riley Barber and Phil Varone on February 20. He was tasked with helping the team in their stretch run.
He ended up playing four games with Laval, scoring a goal and adding three assists. Three of the four points came in the final game before the season was suspended. He scored into an empty net and assisted on the two other goals in Laval’s 3-0 win over the division-leading Belleville Senators.
Every contending AHL team needs several forwards like Blandisi who are on the bubble of the NHL and AHL, and able to play every forward position with two-way success. In 30 games with Laval and Wilkes-Barre in the AHL, he had seven goals and 11 assists. He also played 21 games in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins, scoring two goals and adding three assists.
Blandisi played in every kind of role for the Rocket. It was a small sample size, but he played his final two games in a top-six role. He piled up seven shots in those two games. On a Rocket team that had Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Ryan Poehling out with injury, and Jake Evans with the Canadiens, Blandisi was playing a critical role on a team that was playing some of its best hockey.
Joseph Blandisi gets his first point in a Rocket uniform as he sets up Yannick Veilleux for his 12th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/UsVTIvCF7Z— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 7, 2020
It’s hard to say exactly where Blandisi fits in with the Canadiens going forward. His NHL experience will put him in the running for their 28-player roster should the NHL play-ins go forward. The fact they are playing his former team puts him in a more favourable spot as well.
He is a restricted free agent at the end of the season and he will have arbitration rights. In 101 career NHL games, he has 10 goals and 21 assists. In 188 career AHL games, he has 49 goals and 89 points for 138 points. The team has not qualified players with arbitration rights in similar situations.
The Rocket have had trouble finding the right veterans to fit into their lineup, as evidenced by the trade that brought the Ontario native to the team in the first place. He was only on the ice with the team for a short time, but the team’s familiarity with him will be helpful when deciding whether to bring him back, or to choose someone else to fill that same role.
Blandisi can be a key player on an AHL team that has had trouble finding players to be a difference-maker. It is a role that they have signed players constantly to try to fill. Chris Terry, Kenny Agostino, Michael Chaput, Byron Froese, Alexandre Grenier, Phil Varone, Matthew Peca, and Riley Barber have had varying degrees of success trying to fill that role since the team came to Laval.
The contract limit of 50 is always a concern when it comes to forecasting the future of players caught between the two leagues, but players with NHL experience and AHL success are necessary in every organization.