The Laval Rocket were in the midst of a playoff push, and their most successful season of their three at Place Bell. Due to the injuries faced by them and their parent team, the Montreal Canadiens, players on AHL contracts played a large role under Joël Bouchard.
Of the five major players under AHL contracts, Yannick Veilleux has already signed another AHL contract for 2020-21 while the others are now free agents. Laval has signed five players for 2021-21: Veilleux, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, Liam Hawel, and recently added Samuel Vigneault and Corey Schueneman signed last week.
Yannick Veilleux — 26 GP, 12G-8A—20P
When Veilleux was signed to a tryout contract, not much was expected of him. He was a veteran body who would get a chance to play due to the organization’s injury troubles. After all, he had 15 points over his last 102 AHL games the two previous seasons.
Veilleux decided to sign in Laval after Bouchard promised him an opportunity, and he delivered. He was one of the best players on the team after signing, scoring almost a point per game. He made an impression, and if the season not been suspended may have gotten his first NHL contract and a call-up.
Your game winning goal from Laval comes courtesy of Yannick Veilleux on the power play. pic.twitter.com/tWa9GKyZd0— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 23, 2020
In the end, he turned his production into a full-time AHL contract for the 2020-21 season, where he has some security and gets to stay close to home.
He is not the most talented player, but like so many who have excelled under Bouchard, earns his ice time and is productive when given their chance. In the 2017-18 season, as a member of the original Rocket under Sylvain Lefebvre, he had three goals and four assists in 52 games.
Nikita Jevpalovs — 53 GP, 9G-13-A—22P
If you were to tune into a Rocket game, there’s a non-zero chance that Jevpalovs would make a play that would make you think he’s one of the top prospects on the ice. There’s no denying his skill which is why he has been a depth contributor for the last two years in Laval.
Laval goes up 1-0 early on Belleville thanks to Nikita Jevpalovs! pic.twitter.com/VWvw9qyQSF— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 11, 2020
His versatility at the AHL level is such that he can play on the penalty kill, on the power play, and on any of the four lines, which makes him similar to everyone else on this list. He played Junior hockey under Bouchard for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.
His inconsistency is what drops him from a top-end player to a player on an AHL contract. While he does put up points and his contributions without the puck have improved, his occasional bright spots leave you wanting more.
Nikita Jevpalovs undresses Andreas Englund as he sets up Kevin Lynch's sixth goal of the season. pic.twitter.com/bnkEM7iv8t— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 1, 2020
Kevin Lynch — 54 GP, 7G-14A—21P
When Rocket training camp started, Kevin Lynch was a tryout playing a pre-season game. By the first game of the regular season, he became a mainstay in the lineup.
He earned his first NHL contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 2018-19 season after 26 points in 57 games for the Syracuse Crunch in 2017-18. However, an injury forced him to miss all of 2018-19.
He used the training camp invite to show he had recovered and was a solid, versatile piece for the Rocket, proving once again that the organization has a real knack for finding that type of player to surround their prospects.
A leader for the team, Lynch was one of the centres on the club with the most defensive responsibility, and was also forced into top-six duty when injuries hit the team hard down the stretch.
Lukas Vejdemo attacks aggressively on the PK and forces a turnover, Kevin Lynch snipes a shorthanded goal as a result.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 14, 2019
1-0 Rocket! pic.twitter.com/21X6msgiyT
Joe Cox — 46GP, 5G-10A—15P
The rise of Joe Cox from tryout to top-line player with Charles Hudon and Jesperi Kotkaniemi has already been documented, but that once more speaks to the team’s ability to find versatile players.
Cox is just a player who works harder than most, and uses that to gain an advantage on the ice. Whether it’s a forecheck, a backcheck, or a loose puck, you know Cox will give it his all, and that’s something that every hockey team needs.
Laurent Dauphin threads a perfect pass for Joe Cox.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 7, 2020
Laval leads 1-0! pic.twitter.com/OpAS1JJjPO
If it weren’t for injuries, Cox’s role on the Rocket would have likely been even greater. His overall numbers may not have matched some of the others on this list, but he may have had the most impact on games that he played.
Ralph Cuddemi: 11GP, 2G, 3A—5P
Cuddemi was one of the top scorers in the ECHL when the Rocket gave him a tryout contract to fill in for injured players. He was productive before suffering a season-ending injury of his own. After 237 ECHL games over five seasons, he finally got a chance in the AHL and made the most of it.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if he gets another opportunity with the team.
Ralph Cuddemi gets his first in the AHL, and it's 5-1 Laval. pic.twitter.com/nUpnB9OAJY— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) December 29, 2019
Evan McEneny: 21GP, 2G, 1A—3P
Like Lynch, McEneny was brought into the team as a tryout while he was still recovering from an injury that ended his previous season. He ended up being a good depth defenceman for the Rocket but dealt with more injury issues throughout the season.
Maxim Lamarche: 32GP, 0G, 1A—1P
After signing a two-year contract with the team prior to the 2018-19 season, Lamarche saw his role decrease in his second year. After playing 73 games (3G, 16A) last year, Lamarche was a victim of the added organizational depth and relative health of the unit in the first half of the season.
He went long stretches without playing in a game, and was often forced into action with that rust. His inconsistent performance in the challenging situation didn’t help his bid to force the situation, either.