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Lions Bites: Trois-Rivières’ season-opening roster

The Canadiens’ new ECHL affiliate makes its debut.

It’s been three seasons since the Montreal Canadiens had an ECHL affiliate, but it may be worth the wait, as the Lions de Trois-Rivières are ready to pounce for their inaugural 2021-22 season. They will play on Thursday in front of a sold-out crowd at the Colisée Vidéotron against the Newfoundland Growlers.

Here’s a breakdown of the personnel who make up the inaugural lineup for the Lions to help you gain familiarity with the team.

NHL-contracted players

The primary purpose of the ECHL affiliation is to give a platform for players struggling to develop their pro game. The top of the pecking order would be NHL-contracted forwards Cam Hillis and Arsen Khisamutdinov who just need to play, and Trois-Rivières is probably the best thing for them.

In their rookie AHL seasons last year, both struggled to play with any regularity on the Rocket in the pandemic-shortened season. Hillis only got to play in half of Laval’s games, often in a fourth-line role. Khisamutdinov only played 15 games in a similar spot. Neither could make a case to deserve to be ahead of 18-year-old Jan Mysak or tough guy Brandon Baddock on the depth chart, and with no ECHL assignments, they spent the season looking at the game from above.

Going to the Lions will be an opportunity for regular play in much bigger roles, with the hope that the experience helps develop their overall skill set. A mid-season recall to the Rocket to test progress is not out of the question.

AHL-contracted players

No other NHL-contracted player is expected to come to Trois-Rivières, but there is no shortage of AHL-contracted players, starting with goaltender Kevin Poulin. The 31-year-old has 50 games of NHL experience along with 192 games in the AHL and 111 games across European leagues. His previous connection to Canadiens’ Director of Goaltending Sean Burke, who picked him for the Spengler Cup and Canadian Olympic Team in his role as General Manager of Team Canada, probably facilitated the signing. Poulin is currently sixth on the Habs’ depth chart with the acquisition of Samuel Montembeault.

The Lions’ other goaltender is Philippe Desrosiers, who was loaned to Trois-Rivières from the AHL’s Manitoba Moose. Desrosiers is in a similar position as Poulin, being fifth on the Jets’ goalie depth chart and needing a rash of injuries to occur for a return to the NHL this year. Desrosiers spent the entire 2020-21 season on the Florida Panthers’ taxi squad, but was not called to action. His last non-exhibition game goes back to March 8, 2020 with the Springfield Thunderbirds.

Other AHL-contracted players with the Lions are forwards Peter Abbandonato, Shawn St-Amant, Cédric Desruisseaux, and Justin Ducharme, and defenceman Charles-David Beaudoin.

After leading the QMJHL in scoring in 2018-19 and conquering the Memorial Cup, Abbandonato signed a two-year with the Syracuse Crunch, but failed to establish himself, bouncing between the Crunch and their ECHL affiliate, the Orlando Solar Bears. He will most likely be a top-six centreman on the team, if not the top centre.

St-Amant could be the key to shutting down opposing teams’ best lines. He’s a five-year veteran, with two Kelly Cup championships with the Colorado Eagles in 2017 and 2018. Since then he’s bounced around teams, and spent last season playing in Romania.

NHL: SEP 20 Canadiens Rookie Camp
Cédric Desruisseaux at Canadiens Rookie Camp
Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Desruisseaux dominated the QMJHL last season in scoring with the Charlottetown Islanders, and is an interesting project to follow. The sudden explosion of points could be a product of being on a very strong team, or could be as a result of the 5’8” forward putting it all together. Progression throughout the ECHL season should yield an answer to that question, and if anyone can put together a fairy-tale story like David Desharnais, it’s Desruisseaux.

Ducharme won the QMJHL championship with Acadie-Bathurst in 2018, but was then traded twice in the Q to Chicoutimi and Val d’Or, so he’s moved around a lot already. He’s capable of putting up some points, but will probably play in a third-line capacity.

Charles-David Beaudoin is another QMJHL champion, having won with Rimouski in 2015. After his Junior career, he spent two years playing for UQTR in the university circuit, then played three seasons for the Manitoba Moose. He spent last season in Austria when ECHL jobs became scarce.

These are all players who will add a lot to the team while they are there. The nature of a three-tier development system is that as injuries or trades occur, these players are quick to thin out on the ECHL team.

Other AHL-contracted players who may alternate between the Rocket and the Lions include forwards Alexandre Fortin and Brandon Gignac, as well as defencemen Terrance Amorosa and Carl Neill. All four are currently with the Rocket.

The Captain

The rest of the players making up this team are the ECHL-contracted players who will provide the backbone and continuity for this team, starting with newly-minted captain Cédric Montminy. Montminy has the honour of being the first player in franchise history to be acquired via trade, as the Lions bought the rights to the forward from the Rapid City Rush for financial compensation.

Never drafted in Junior or in pro, Montminy spent three seasons with the Rush, earning the reputation of a tenacious competitor who never gives up on a play. “He was irritating to play against, but he’s also pretty good,” was how he was described, capturing the desired team identity in a single sentence.

You might recognize them

A name that Canadiens fans may recognize is Olivier Archambault, who was a fourth-round draft pick for them in 2011, but was never signed to an NHL contract. Since then he spent time in the Minnesota and Tampa Bay organizations, generally shopping his wares across various AHL and ECHL teams. He did not play at all last season, but was an interesting addition to the Lions, who will count on him in a top-six scoring role.

Another name you may recall, depending how deep your Habs lore goes, is Mathieu Gagnon. Gagnon signed an AHL contract with the St. John’s IceCaps back in 2016-17, but remained on loan to the ECHL’s Brampton Beast the entire season. Gagnon will most definitely play the role of enforcer for the Lions, as he’s a tough-as-nails player with a propensity for pugilism. Often alternating between forward and defence throughout his career, he’s been used as blue-line protector for the Lions thus far.

The Frenchmen of Fort Wayne

Last season’s ECHL champion, the Fort Wayne Komets, counted on a core group of five Francophone players. Of that group, defencemen Olivier Galipeau and Mathieu Brodeur and forward Anthony Nellis all found their way to Trois-Rivières.

Galipeau spurned the Canadiens organization a few years ago, rejecting an offer from the Rocket to accept a contract from the Boston Bruins, but was not able to establish himself at that level. With Fort Wayne, Galipeau developed into a puck-moving defenceman who put up points from the back end, and will be expected to do the same with the Lions, and potentially act as a power-play quarterback. He does struggle at times defensively, which is something that kept him from staying in the AHL. He’s a multiple-time QMJHL champion, and a Memorial Cup champion.

On the other end of the spectrum is Brodeur, who the elder statesman of the Lions at 31 years old and 567 professional games of experience. He’s more of a ‘stay-at-home’ defenceman, which is code for ‘won’t produce much offense, but is reliable in his own end.’ Despite his towering 6’6” frame, he doesn’t really get all that physical. A mean streak could be something that he could stand to add to his game, but it’s unlikely he makes any radical changes at this stage.

The biggest loss of the three for the Komets would be Nellis. The Lions traded for him, offering financial compensation and future considerations to pry him loose. He was described to me as “a high-energy player who can do a bit of everything. Can be a top-line guy who can score, or a third-line grinder.” It’s this versatility that is key for any ECHL team as NHL/AHL players can come and go. Nellis should play a big role for the Lions this year.

The Ringers

With all the players on loan with NHL/AHL contracts, the Lions were able to afford a couple of ringers to help them along. Julien Nantel and Alexis D’Aoust are two experienced players with plenty of AHL experience. Nantel is a QMJHL champion with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in 2016, who followed that up with two consecutive Kelly Cup championships with the Colorado Eagles. He’s not a major point-producer, but can most certainly hold his own at either level. He’s coming off of a sabbatical year, where he chose not to play during the pandemic.

D’Aoust is coming off a tryout with the Belleville Senators, and I wouldn’t be overly surprised if they come calling for him during the season. Last year he played in Slovakia for Banska Bystrica, which is a high level for players signed to ECHL contracts. Described as an “explosive player,” D’Aoust is capable of scoring goals, but perhaps it’s the lack of consistently doing so that is hurting his chances to solidify a permanent move up to the AHL.

The local kid

Rookie defenceman Guillaume Beaudoin never really left home. He played his early years for his hometown Escades in Trois-Rivières, then played his entire Junior career just up the road with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, captaining the team in its final season. Once his Junior career was complete, he played three full seasons with UQTR, and finally made his pro debut as the pandemic started with the Florida Everblades in early 2020. Last season he played in the top French division, but he returns to Trois-Rivières to play for a third local team. The rookie is sure to be a fan favourite and be a regular fixture at community events.

The others

It’s the ECHL. Not everybody is going to have an exciting back story to bring up, but you never know who could step out of the pack. Rounding out the team are three players who came to Lions camp on a tryout basis and earned themselves a contract: forward Jonathan Joannette and defencemen Alexandre Perron-Fontaine and Darick Louis-Jean.

Joannette took part in the pre-camp tryouts in September, and earned himself a second look at the main camp. He has played the majority of his professional career in the French second division where he led the league in scoring one year. He’s an offensive-minded 27-year-old centre, but will technically count as a rookie by ECHL standards, as he will be playing at the highest level of his career.

Perron-Fontaine is also a returnee from France, and also will be playing at the highest level of his career at 28 years of age. He put up points at nearly a point-per-game pace overseas, but certainly will be hard-pressed to continue that pace with the Lions. He too will count as a rookie. He is a three-time NCAA conference champion with RIT, so he carries the same championship pedigree as a lot of players on the roster.

  • At 20 years old, Louis-Jean will be the youngest player on the Lions. He has an SPHL contract in his pocket with the Vermilion County Bobcats, who were excited to get their hands on the young defender. “Darick is a pretty electric player,” said Bobcats head coach Mike Watt for the team’s official press release. “He stands out on the ice with his creativity. He’s dangerous on the power play. We’re going to look to him on the offence.” With praise like that, Louis-Jean risks becoming a fan favourite if he can bring that same energy to the ECHL level.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

Here is the inaugural season-opening 21-player roster for the Lions de Trois-Rivières

Goaltenders

  • Philippe Desrosiers
  • Kevin Poulin

Defencemen

  • Charles-David Beaudoin
  • Guillaume Beaudoin
  • Mathieu Brodeur
  • Mathieu Gagnon
  • Olivier Galipeau
  • Darick Louis-Jean
  • Alexandre Perron-Fontaine

Forwards

  • Peter Abbandonato
  • Olivier Archambault
  • Alexis D’Aoust
  • Cédric Desruisseaux
  • Justin Ducharme
  • Cam Hillis
  • Jonathan Joannette
  • Arsen Khisamutdinov
  • Cédric Montminy
  • Julien Nantel
  • Anthony Nellis
  • Shawn St-Amant