The Laval Rocket are a quarter of the way into their second regular season, with a new coaching staff and a majorly revamped roster. In this article we look at this roster and grade each player based on their individual expectations headed into the season, not relative to one another.
In 19 games, the team’s record is less than ideal, with seven wins, two losses in extra time, and 10 regulation losses, for a points percentage of 0.421, putting them in sixth place in the North Division. Their record does not truly represent their performance, as the team lost games which they dominated, but lacked finish.
It’s this lack of finish that gives the forward group as a whole an unsatisfactory grade. The Rocket should not be in the hole in which they find themselves right now. Controlling the pace of numerous games and shutting down opponents defensively is very good, but being unable to put the puck in the net is the core purpose of the forwards. This group will have to work hard to find the missing killer instinct. Even the power play is among the worst in the league.
Jake Evans (A+): Model student performing well above expectations, especially so early into his professional career. Rose quickly to top-line centre.
Kenny Agostino (A): A reason for the team’s early success, and voted by EOTP as the player of the month for October. Recall to Montreal was fully merited.
Alex Belzile (A): A relentless firebrand on the team, constantly bringing energy on every shift. Currently leads team in points. Best AHL-contracted player by far.
Lukas Vejdemo (B+): Struggling initially, the rookie forward has really picked up his game in the second half of the quarter, with points in five of the last seven games. Growth curve is intriguing.
Michael Chaput (B): Originally the top-line centre for the team, Chaput struggled a bit and dropped down the lineup. Slowly but surely began producing, now leading the team in goals and game-winning goals. Remains a player who is relied on in every situation, and a smart recall choice to Montreal given his pre-season performance.
Michael McCarron (B): A pleasant surprise, looking rejuvenated early on in the season after a difficult previous year. Must maintain this pace, and watch out for early signs of regression that are already showing.
Byron Froese (B): Meets expectation. The team captain has been a solid player for the Rocket, regardless of whether in a bottom-six or an occasional top-six role. Currently team’s top shutdown centre.
Nikita Jevpalovs (B-): Capable of being an offensive threat, but also a defensive liability. Far from a complete player, but his chemistry with rookie forward Vejdemo is probably a lifeline that keeps him in the lineup on a regular basis.
Alexandre Alain (B-): Performing well in his rookie season. Was given a wake-up call by coach Joël Bouchard when he was made a healthy scratch. Has performed well since.
Hayden Verbeek (C): Is kind of there. His strongest skill is his speed, but the hands can’t follow. Room to develop his game, and some more time in the ECHL might be beneficial.
Michael Pezzetta (C-): Struggling to establish himself in the AHL in his rookie year, he played a few games in the ECHL to get going, but is gradually finding a spot on the regular forward rotation on a slightly depleted Laval roster. Limited offensively, his prime skill is his physicality.
Daniel Audette (C-): One of the few returning players from last season, has struggled with consistency, and has been a healthy scratch on numerous occasions as a third-year pro. Playing below expectation, but can still contribute given the right effort levels.
Alexandre Grenier (C-): Fails to meet expectation. Was brought in to be a primary offensive threat, but has failed to keep a top line role, and was quickly shunted down the lineup. Leads the team in penalties.
Antoine Waked (D): Has only played three games in the AHL, and a handful in the ECHL with the Maine Mariners. Struggling to establish an identity and earn a spot on the Rocket. As a second-year pro it should be concerning.
Hunter Shinkaruk (D): Was expected to provide offensive support for the team given past performances, but has struggled heavily all season long. Well below expectations.
Phélix Martineau (B+): Playing in a top-six role with the ECHL’s Fort Wayne Komets, provides ample offensive support despite his smaller stature. Represents an interesting call-up option for the Rocket should they need a centre or simply a boost of energy.
Morgan Adams-Moisan (D): A bottom-six player for the ECHL’s Maine Mariners, has only one assist and leads the team in penalty minutes. Only a call-up option for the Rocket if they are looking for muscle.
As mentioned above, the defensive game of the Rocket has been quite remarkable in their ability to limit shots on goal. The players have bought into the way the coaching staff wants them to play, and as a result have given the Rocket a chance to win in almost every game. The penalty kill is among the top in the league.
Cale Fleury (A): Above expectation. Still eligible for a Junior season, Fleury earned himself an early contract at 19 years of age.
Brett Kulak (A-): The burden of carrying the offence for the entire blue-line squad might have been a big ask, but he has performed very well as a top-pairing defenceman, and deserved his look in the NHL. Leads the team in power-play points, and third overall in scoring.
Maxim Lamarche (B): Not especially known for offence, has already surpassed his previous season’s totals. The sixth-year veteran might be headed towards his best season yet. Provides a solid second-pairing option.
Brett Lernout (B-): Slightly above expectation. Not known for having any offensive contribution, his primary contribution is as the team’s top shutdown defenceman, and he has certainly become difficult to play against. Limited upward potential however.
Michal Moravcik (B-): Struggling with consistency, the bruising defenceman has been a healthy scratch numerous times this season. If he can find the next gear in his game, he might be a terrifying defender to play against, but not there yet.
David Sklenicka (C): Slow to adapt the North American game, has gradually improved as a puck-moving defenceman, but long-term outlook is unknown at this point. Was a healthy scratch several times.
Ryan Sproul (C): Currently playing out a PTO contract, his confidence has wavered at times, causing him to be a healthy scratch. Brought in to help out the power play, his contribution in that regard has been below expectation. Overall meets expectation, but team should be on the lookout for better options.
Adam Plant (C-): The team’s seventh defenceman, which is pretty much his ceiling at this point. Has the team’s worst +/- rating when he does get into the lineup.
Gustav Olofsson (—): Re-injured his shoulder shortly after returning, and is probably lost for the majority of the season. Major loss for the team.
Ryan Culkin (B): Plays well for the Maine Mariners, and he’s the team’s top scoring defenceman, while remaining honest with his defensive responsibilities. AHL ceiling is probably limited.
T.J. Melancon (B-): Top-pairing defenceman for the Norfolk Admirals, he has struggled defensively despite the team’s overall success. Will struggle to be more than a third-pairing defenceman in a pinch for the Rocket, but could be useful on the power play.
Charlie Lindgren and Michael McNiven were viewed by some as the most promising tandem that the Canadiens had in the AHL in a very long time, so much so that the team decided against bringing on a veteran goaltender on an AHL deal as they usually have in the past.
Lindgren was entering his third professional season, and was expected to be a solid workhorse for the Rocket, teetering on stealing the backup role in the NHL from Antti Niemi. However, Lindgren has struggled this season, despite a very competitive defensive squad that limits the amount of shots he faces. Regression is a serious concern.
McNiven, in his second pro season has also struggled, and was even pulled during a game because he lost the confidence of head coach Bouchard.
On most nights, the Rocket were facing 20 or fewer shots, yet the team still ended up on the losing end more often than not as the goalies were unable to make the big save when needed. Lindgren, in 15 games, has a save percentage of .894; McNiven, .854. Neither one is even close to satisfactory.
Etienne Marcoux completes the goaltending depth, playing for the Brampton Beast of the ECHL. In seven starts he has a save percentage of .940.
Charlie Lindgren (C-): Below expectation.
Michael McNiven (C): Worse than expected, but still needs more pro games to develop properly. A short stint in the ECHL would not be overly bad in order to play some games and gain in confidence.
Etienne Marcoux (B): Playing very well in the ECHL, and offers promising support to the Rocket should a depth goaltender be needed.