While the Canadiens have had their roster locked in place for a little while now, the status of the Laval Rocket has been a bit more up in the air. Simon Despres was released from his PTO in Montreal and was assumed that he might be heading for Laval after he was offered an AHL contract. He however remains unsigned.
Brett Lernout cleared waivers earlier last week, and was assigned to the team alongside Rinat Valiev, David Sklenička and Michal Moravčík to make up a chunk of the Rocket roster. The bottom part of the grouping was made up of T.J. Melancon, Adam Plant, Matt Taormina and Maxim Lamarche. With that depth, the competition for spots was heavy, especially factoring in the 19-year-old Cale Fleury who was also part of the Rocket preseason camp and games.
So the Canadiens went out and made moves to create space across the roster, including almost entirely revamping their defensive group heading into their opening game of the season. They shipped both Valiev and Taormina to Calgary for Brett Kulak, and due to Kulak already clearing waivers he would join the team in Laval right away.
While losing the offensive presence of Taormina stings at the AHL, Kulak is not only younger, but with a much better defensive game and NHL potential. Compared to both Valiev and Taormina, the 24-year-old has more NHL experience. That is a crucial piece for a team that is currently centered around rebuilding with youth.
That wouldn’t be the end of the moves this week either, as Marc Bergevin had two more transactions hidden up his sleeves. Heading into their season debut speedy rookie Will Bitten was traded to Minnesota for Gustav Olofsson in a bit of a surprising move for many. Bitten had a solid showing in the rookie showcase, while Olofsson had been waived by the Wild earlier that week.
Olofsson is not a super flashy player, his scouting report from Elite Prospects says that he “Skates well and plays the body, quite unspectacular and prefers to make the easy play.”
Despite this, he has some decent numbers at the AHL level in terms of production and at just 23 years old has room to grow further as a player. He’s battled some injuries since turning pro and thanks to the depth in Minnesota he was boxed out of a regular spot, so much like Mike Reilly last year he could blossom a bit in Montreal with regular playing time going forward.
The result of these moves is an insanely deep left side of the defence in Laval, with Kulak, Olofsson, Sklenička,and Moravčík all shooting from the same side. For comparison on the right side, the only player locked into a spot was Brett Lernout, potentially leaving Lamarche and Melancon to fill in the other two spots. Melancon had great success in the ECHL last year, and is familiar with head coach Joel Bouchard, while Lamarche bounced between the ECHL and AHL in the Flyers organization. Not exactly a surefire group, so to supplement this group the Canadiens signed 2017 draft pick Cale Fleury to an entry level contract.
It’s a major chance for Fleury to step up after a successful year in the WHL last year where he was a huge part of the Regina Pats season, and their Memorial Cup final appearance. While the Canadiens right side is also loaded up right now, any injuries could provide a fantastic chance for him to maybe make an impact at the next level as well.
That leaves the group on defence looking something like this, though this is not in any particular order, and things will likely change nightly as they so often do in the AHL.
2018-19 Laval Rocket Defence
|Left Defence||Right Defence|
|Left Defence||Right Defence|
|Brett Kulak||Brett Lernout|
|Michal Moravcik||Cale Fleury|
|Gustav Olofsson||T.J. Melancon|
|David Sklenicka||Maxim Lamarche|
The defensive group as a whole is fairly young as a whole, with the oldest player in the group being Lamarche who is just 26. Overall, they have an average age of just under 23 years old, and in a hockey world that’s leaning more on developing young players this is a great sign.
They aren’t the flashiest group, but many of them are players who are also looking to make the full time NHL jump in the future. Kulak, Olofsson, Lernout and Fleury could all realistically be in the NHL at any point this year, and the same goes for Sklenička,and Moravčík.
It’s a new staff that has a very good track record in the CHL of developing young players, and that is great for a group looking to find that next level in their game and try to become a full-time NHL players.