Because I am a little bit insane, I decided to look more in depth at the players that will play for the Laval Rocket in 2020-21. As I did with the Canadiens predictions this is purely focused on the players currently slated to play for the team, and I won't address any trade proposals. The purpose is to gauge where the areas of need are for the team, and better understand who might be brought back for another season amongst the pending free agents. With that being said, let's get started with the forwards.
(Italics indicates pending RFAs likely to be re-signed)
Centre: Poehling, Vejdemo/Evans, Dauphin, Hillis, Hawel, Vignault Belzile
LW: Veillieux, Teasdale, Harvey-Pinard, Khisamutdinov, Pezzetta
RW: Belzile, Ylönen, Alain
Pending Free Agents: Charles Hudon, Jacob Lucchini, Antoine Waked, Joseph Blandisi, Aaron Luchuk, Andrew Sturtz
For Laval, there are a few areas that obviously need to be addressed. Without signing any of the pending RFA/UFA forwards, there is a clear need at both winger positions. If re-signed, Charles Hudon immediately slots into the top 6. Even if Hudon isn't seen as an NHL player in management's eyes, he still served an important role for Laval, and if he is not brought back, a player of similar status would be needed to help the young centres. Joël Bouchard often used Hudon at RW, which would shift everyone else down one line. That still leaves a hole at LW which will need to be addressed in some regard. Jacob Lucchini and Joseph Blandisi each had success after coming over via trade in short stints and may be brought back to fill that role.
Similar to the Keith Kinkaid signing, Bergevin attempted to help Laval by signing Phil Varone and Riley Barber but they clearly did not fit what Joël Bouchard demanded. Look for Bergevin to try once more this offseason by signing veteran AHLers. It is important to note that many of the depth positions can likely be filled with players playing on their off wing, or a centre playing wing. Joël Bouchard seems to worry less about LW/RW designation and is more focused on the skillset the player has.
The Canadiens are finally starting to assemble an AHL roster that consists of drafted prospects, and the priority for Laval moving forward is surrounding these prospects that put them in a position to succeed. The success of Ryan Poehling, Jesse Ylönen, Cam Hillis, Jake Evans, Lukas Vejdemo, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, and Arsen Khisamutdinov should be the principal focus of Bouchard when looking at the forward group.
Pending Free Agents: Xavier Oullet, Christian Folin
The Rocket defence as it stands currently can bring back a number of players for the 2020-21 season. Otto Leskinen and Gustav Olofsson seem likely to return on the left side, while Josh Brook should return to the right. One or both of Cale Fleury and Noah Juulsen should line up on the right side, and their development will be a huge focus for Bouchard and staff. Alex Romanov could potentially spend some time in the AHL, which would force the Canadiens to make a decision on the left side. Karl Alzner seems like the most likely player to leave (bought out), however Joël Bouchard liked the veteran presence he brought and his ability to help Josh Brook transition to the pros. I can't foresee the Canadiens bringing in many young players on defence as at least three of: Jordan Harris, Mattias Norlinder, Jayden Struble, Arvid Henrikson, and Gianni Fairbrother are likely to turn pro in the coming years.
Pending free agents: Michael McNiven, Keith Kinkaid
The biggest questions for goaltending beyond addressing the backup position, is what to do with Charlie Lindgren and Michael McNiven? Lindgren is likely to find himself playing elsewhere if the Canadiens sign a veteran goaltender behind Price. No matter if Lindgren is Price's backup or playing elsewhere, that still leaves Cayden Primeau and Vasili Demchenko in Laval. Primeau is the primary goaltender the Canadiens hope to develop, so it is important that he get his necessary starts, and Demchenko is coming from the KHL, only a few seasons removed from splitting starts with Avalanche goaltender Pavel Francouz. Logic says this leaves McNiven as the odd man out, however I don't think the Canadiens want to lose him. His inclusion on the 30-man roster in Toronto was somewhat surprising, but I believe Canadiens management wants to get a strong look at how he practices. I certainly hope the Canadiens find a way to keep McNiven, but at the very least I hope he plays 2020-21 in the AHL, as he has earned that role. He had to endure a lot this past season, so a stable environment could prove beneficial.
When Joël Bouchard took over, the hope was for the Canadiens to finally ice an AHL team capable of both competing night in and night out, while still developing the young pieces. It has taken some time, but the strengthened prospect pool has allowed the Canadiens to put together a Rocket team that should be able to compete night in and night out, and the players that will be asked to play big roles will all be in the Canadiens plans moving forward. 2020-21 is a big season for the Rocket, as many new faces are set to make their professional debuts in North America. The best part? Canadiens fans finally have the right AHL head coach in charge.