Antoine Waked came into his first professional season looking to make an impact for the Laval Rocket, and to say he failed to do that is being extremely generous.
Whether it was hype surrounding his last season in the QMJHL, or the flashy moves he showcased before joining the Rocket, Waked never seemed to hit his stride at any point this year. Waked, at this best, looked like a potential star in the making for the Rocket with great speed, nifty hands and a laser of a shot. The problem with that is those moments were few and far between, and 11 points in 63 games is a disappointment for a player who is capable of much more.
When he was on his game, Waked was a great compliment on the middle six lines in Laval, and allowed the top line to get a bit of a breather away from top defensive units. His ability to get past defenders with his speed and then utilize his soft hands around was impressive, and something that he needed to do more often.
Antoine Waked with the timely steal and great finish on a breakaway for his sixth of the year. pic.twitter.com/iaXqGaNVaA— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 1, 2018
In the above clip, Waked pokes the puck loose, accelerates by the defence, and picks a corner on the breakaway with what looks like relative ease. The tools are there for Waked to become that threat down the wings in Laval, in fact most of his goals this year came on an odd man rush or breakaway, proving he’s got a knack for finding the space to make plays happen.
There were also glimpses at his playmaking ability when he was given quality linemates this year as well, but with the injuries piling up those opportunities became few and far between. He reads the play well, and keeps his head up and is able to look off the opposing goalie while threading a perfect pass to a teammate. He doesn’t have to create highlight real assists every time, but he’s capable doing amazing things with the puck on his stick on any given night.
Antoine Waked with the slick feed to Kyle Baun, who one-times home his 4th goal of the year. pic.twitter.com/JyKHv1ivj5— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 15, 2018
Therein lies the biggest issue with Waked in his rookie season, when the roster started to thin out, he couldn’t fill the void for the departed players. With his lack of points, and most nights lack of presence on the ice he soon found himself on the fourth line, or even a healthy scratch in some games. Going into next year, Waked needs to find that consistency in his game. He’s capable of more than 11 points, and hopefully with better team health he’ll be able to see better quality in his linemates and take the next step in his second pro season.
Speaking of health, part of Waked’s struggles this year are related to the unfortunate health issues that he suffered over the course of this season. More than once he was hit high, or elbowed in the head, and would then spend some time on the sidelines recuperating from a concussion or other injury. Part of that comes from adjusting to the speed of the professional game. Even top prospects like Nikita Scherbak had struggled with a similar issue in their first year of AHL hockey. That’s an adjustment that will come with more time in the league, just hopefully sooner rather than later as Waked piling up too many concussions so early in his career isn’t going to bode well for his long term health.
It was a disappointing year all around for Waked, but that is a statement that stands true for nearly every player on the Rocket this year, it isn’t just applicable to the rookie. It’s a bit too soon to possibly write him off as a prospect too. He just finished his first year, and he’s shown flashes of what he’s capable of doing when he’s on his game. Going into next year Waked has a chance to rebound alongside a fresh crop of CHL talent coming in like Will Bitten, who is a dynamic playmaker and could mesh extremely will with the French-Canadian winger. Beyond that, a healthier team overall will allow for Waked to be insulated with talent on a line, as opposed to being forced to try and carry ECHL level players to respectability night in and night out.
It wasn’t the debut season Antoine Waked hoped for, but there’s plenty of optimism ahead for both himself and the Rocket next year.