In the AHL where three games in three nights is a regular occurrence, depth is the name of the game. If there’s one thing the Laval Rocket have this year, it’s depth. Even with the trade of the speedy Will Bitten, the Rocket currently have 18 contracted forwards on their roster, many of whom play more than one of the forward positions.
2018-19 Laval Rocket forwards
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Left Wing||Centre||Right Wing|
|Kenny Agostino||Byron Froese||Alexandre Grenier|
|Hunter Shinkaruk||Michael Chaput||Alex Belzile|
|Jeremiah Addison||Lukas Vejdemo||Antoine Waked|
|Nikita Jevpalovs||Jake Evans||Morgan Adams-Moisan|
|Michael Pezzetta||Michael McCarron|
Note that the above table is not a lineup, but a best guess at how the roster may shake out, but it does not take into account who may be sent to the ECHL for more playing time.
What stands out almost immediately is the massive amount of options down the middle, and the best part of that is how many of them are also legitimate prospects that the Montreal Canadiens are developing. Michael McCarron, Jake Evans, Lukas Vejdemo, and Daniel Audette are all players the Canadiens have drafted. Better yet is that they don’t have to be thrown to the wolves either, as in the lineup most nights will be team captain Byron Froese and Michael Chaput, both of whom are established AHL forwards and good offensive contributors.
Down the left side, the Rocket are led by one of the AHL’s perennial top scorers in Kenny Agostino, and behind him is a lot of youth looking to claim a spot for their own. Agostino has led the league in scoring previously, and has consistently produced points for whichever team he has played for.
Also on the left side (but capable of playing either wing) is the newly acquired Hunter Shinkaruk. This is a huge chance for Shinkaruk to make a name for himself after being traded to the Canadiens from Calgary, and with his speed and experience he’ll be a huge boon for the young forwards on the team.
Behind them are three young players looking to carve out a spot. Given that both Michael Pezzetta and Jeremiah Addison are not on the opening road trip of the season, it’s clear that the coaches trust Nikita Jevpalovs and want the two rookies to gain some experience at practice first. This could mean time in the AHL, or simply being the extra forwards for long weekends. It also certainly means that some of the players listed at centre will be shifting to the left side for games, to create the strongest possible lineup.
Much like the left side, the right-wing depth of the Rocket isn’t overly deep, but again there are plenty of centres who have experience on that side of the ice. The group is headed by AHL veteran Alexandre Grenier. At 6’5”, he is a massive presence on the ice, and loves to bring the physicality as well. He’s more than just a tough guy, though: Grenier has posted four consecutive 40-point seasons, and is the perfect guy to insulate rookies on any given night.
Behind Grenier in the lineup is minor-league journeyman Alex Belzile and a pair of young players, Antoine Waked and Morgan Adams-Moisan. Belzile isn’t someone who posts gaudy numbers, but can be a trusted piece in the lineup when needed. Waked will be looking to improve on what was a dismal rookie season, when he had just 11 points in 63 games. He showed flashes of his talent for the Rocket, but will need to lock in the consistency to find a full-time spot this year.
Adams-Moisan is a physical player, and loves to take the body and drop the gloves when called upon. He may very well be ECHL-bound due to his contract situation alone, but with Bouchard wanting players who stick up for teammates, it’s possible we’ll see Adams-Moisan a few times this year.
There’s shuffling to be done in the lineup, and the best part is that there are no guaranteed spots. Lines can easily be shuffled into something new in the blink of an eye, and that will be a common occurrence as well since the AHL’s veteran rule will limit some of the team’s lineup choices on a given night.
In the forward group alone, there are three veterans who fit the rule (320 professional games), and two who are veteran exempt (between 261 and 320 games). Grenier, Froese, and Chaput are the veterans, while Agostino and Shinkaruk are the exemptions. By AHL rules, you can only dress five veteran players, and one veteran-exempt player a night.
That is where the cache of young prospects comes in handy for the club, as they can easily fill in the spots with prospects they’re working on developing, while also keeping several veterans dressed for guidance.
The Rocket leaned almost entirely on their top line for production last year, and while that line was nothing short of incredible, the reliance on three players was a major team flaw. This year they can roll multiple lines with ease, with AHL standouts and rising prospects on each line as well. The offence should be explosive, and, if all goes according to plan, should be the guiding force for Laval’s first playoff appearance.