The NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone, and the Montreal Canadiens were among the busiest teams as they launched full-scale into Kent Hughes’ vision of a rebuild. Traded away were Tyler Toffoli and Ben Chiarot in pre-deadline moves, and also out the door were Andrew Hammond, Artturi Lehkonen, and Brett Kulak.
The Toffoli and Chiarot trades focused heavily on bringing back futures in the form of draft capital (namely two first-round picks), and a pair of prospects. Those two prospects in the form of Emil Heinemann and Ty Smilanic are not meant to be immediate impact pieces but future additions in a couple of years when they’re ready for the NHL.
However, the Canadiens were not the only team looking to add pieces on Monday. Their AHL affiliate, the Laval Rocket, also received a sizable chunk of good news thanks to the moves from Hughes. In all, the team added three pieces to the Rocket roster, at least for the hopeful Calder Cup playoff run in the near future. Let’s start with a player who will be in uniform for the Rocket as soon as Wednesday this week.
A trade that likely came the most out of left field for the Canadiens sent sudden cult hero Andrew Hammond to the New Jersey Devils for current AHL forward Nate Schnarr. The 23-year-old centre was part of the trade that sent Taylor Hall from the Devils to the Arizona Coyotes back in 2019.
With the Binghamton Devils in the AHL, Schnarr struggled to find regular footing, putting up eight-point and 15-point seasons with the club. However, after the club moved shop to Utica, Schnarr found his game. With 26 points (13 goals, 13 assists) in 43 games, Schnarr sits seventh on the team in scoring. He’s trailing top prospects such as Alexander Holtz and Fabian Zetterlund, but also established veterans like AJ Greer and Chase De Leo.
Schnarr was assigned directly to the Rocket, and his presence will be warmly received by head coach Jean-François Houle, who has been operating shorthanded for what feels like the majority of this season. Schnarr provides a strong defensive pivot in the second-line role, which can allow Houle to utilize his top line in a more offensive-oriented way. And with Cedric Paquette joining the club after clearing waivers and Brandon Gignac returning from injury, the centre depth has improved greatly.
When factoring in the future returns of Alex Belzile and Lukas Vejdemo, Schnarr gives the Rocket a really nice group of versatile forwards to utilize inside their top six when the team is fully healthy. As it stands now though, look for Schnarr to be a big minute eater on a line with Paquette and potentially a player like Gignac on the penalty kill as well.
Arguably the biggest move of the day happened when the Canadiens sent their stalwart defensive wizard Artturi Lehkonen to the Colorado Avalanche. In return, the club received a 2024 second-round pick and 20-year-old defenceman Justin Barron.
While Barron was on the AHL roster to end Monday, the Canadiens appear set to call him up to the NHL roster right away ahead of Thursday’s game with the Florida Panthers. Even with Barron starting with the Habs right now, he was on the Rocket roster at the deadline, making him post-season eligible. Whenever he does return to the team this season, his presence is one that will be warmly welcomed by the coaching staff.
Currently, the Rocket are without seven of their regular defencemen: Louie Belpedio, Josh Brook, Gianni Fairbrother, Tory Dello, Tobie Paquette-Bisson, Sami Niku, and Corey Schueneman, who is on recall with the Canadiens. Barron should step right into this lineup on the top pair and likely will take over Niku’s spot on the power play.
Justin Barron, acquired by the #GoHabsGo in the Artturi Lehkonen deal, is having a great DY+2 campaign.— Jacob Stoller (@JLStoller) March 21, 2022
A strong skater and confident puck carrier who possesses a lot of poise, he isn't afraid to creep into the home plate area to generate chances. pic.twitter.com/cwZekA8pPb
What stands out the most about Barron is not only that he looks to be a budding offensive producer, he did so without sacrificing his defensive responsibilities when in Colorado. Scouting reports highlight his strong skating and ability to carry the puck, and for a Rocket team that loves to cycle and carry the puck, that’s a blessing.
Time will tell how long Barron will remain a Rocket after this season, but for right now he’s an absolute godsend. Much like Schnarr.
Corey Schueneman papered to Laval
The final Laval move of the day was the most expected one, with Schueneman being sent down on a paper transaction to the AHL. Schueneman was, of course, playing against the Boston Bruins at the time this article was being written, and will likely stay in the NHL until the end of the Habs’ season.
When that moment comes, he is still available to the Rocket when the Calder Cup playoffs begin. Schueneman, similar to Barron, provides them with some serious mobility on the blue-line in addition to a solid power-play presence as well. While the Rocket should hopefully be much healthier at that point in time, having the ability to add Schueneman to their lineup in the post-season and at the end of the regular season is a huge boost that allows Houle to keep his defence fresh.
While the NHL Trade Deadline is usually for shedding contracts and adding future picks for a team in the Canadiens situation, Hughes took the opportunity to also reinforce his AHL club as the Rocket push to make the playoffs. It wasn’t a lot of moves, and he didn’t just trade away pieces for the heck of, but the few moves he did make left the Rocket in a much better spot to compete than they were in last week.