Kerby Rychel joined the Montreal Canadiens organization along with Rinat Valiev in the trade that sent Tomas Plekanec to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and in Laval he did all he could to show that he belonged to stay with his new club.
The big concern over Rychel was that his skating ability would hinder his ability to be an effective player overall, but in the 20 games he played between the AHL and NHL he looked more than capable.
Rychel came to Laval the weekend of the trade deadline, and in his first games made an immediate impact for his team, notching two goals in his first two games including a late tying goal to force overtime against the Syracuse Crunch. Being placed in a top line role alongside Chris Terry and Adam Cracknell seemed to bring out the best in his game, allowing him to be part of one of the highest scoring lines in the AHL. With Toronto’s depth, Rychel could play anywhere from the fourth line to the top line on a game to game basis. Being able to have consistent linemates allowed Rychel to focus on the parts of his game he excels at, and that is getting the puck on net constantly.
Eight goals in 16 games on the worst team in the AHL isn’t anything to scoff at, especially when you consider the Rocket were a one line team for nearly the last two months of the season. Rychel is at his best when he’s physically engaged and around the net. He has good hands in close and created plenty of chaos when he’s around the opposing goalies. He’s got a habit of finding the soft spot in defences and grabbing a loose puck to score in close as well, he was a threat to put up points anytime he’s around the net.
Make that four goals in four games in a Rocket sweater for Kerby Rychel now.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 8, 2018
Laval trails 5-3 late against Providence. pic.twitter.com/P952xU88EF
That’s not to say that he’s just a net front presence with no other discernible qualities. Rychel can really hammer the puck home, and pick his corners with his shot, something Laval sorely missed outside of Chris Terry this year.
Chris Terry sets up Kerby Rychel for his 17th goal of the year.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 24, 2018
Terry is still sitting just three points off the AHL scoring leader Phil Varone, despite playing far less games. pic.twitter.com/5j0roa0VGM
When he has the time, Rychel can really pick corners with his shots. Since he is averaging just over two shots a game, sooner or later they’re going to start find the back of the net. Even during his NHL call up to end the year he looked motivated and involved in the game. He tallied two points in four games while primarily playing a limited bottom six role. It’s pretty clear that at this point Rychel very easily fits the mold of a top AHL scorer, but likely won’t light up scoresheets in the NHL. That’s just fine for Montreal too. A player that has scoring talent that can play fourth line minutes is crucial in the modern NHL. Combining a mix of scoring ability and defensively responsible players on your fourth line can unlock a major advantage for teams. The Canadiens will have open spots now, which they can use to overhaul a fourth line that was lacking punch for quite some time.
Things aren’t all so rosy, however. Rychel does have flaws to his game that might limit his overall effectiveness. He’ll turn 24 right as the regular season begins, and it’s becoming clear where his ceiling is as a player. He’s a very reliable AHL player, but has yet to consistently find his game at the NHL level, and being with his third club since being drafted he knows he’s got to make the most of his time in Montreal. His skating still needs work, but that is always something that can be worked on with coaches during the offseason and even in season to try and improve it overall.
He’s going to be pushed next year in Montreal for one of the few spots available, guys like Nikita Scherbak and assuming he’s re-signed, Michael McCarron will be looking to carve out their own spot as they look to impress the NHL brass. Even if he starts the year in the AHL there isn’t going to be much time to rest, as players like Will Bitten, Jake Evans and a healthy Jeremiah Addison will join the fold and give the Rocket a multitude of options. If Rychel can’t keep up he could very well be lost in the shuffle much like he was in Toronto with the Marlies where he moved up and down the lineup on a regular basis, and eventually fell victim to younger prospects making their name in the AHL.
His time in the Canadiens organization has been short, and one would assume he’ll likely have a chance to continue it next year, but Kerby Rychel did everything in his power to force Marc Bargevin and his staff to take notice of him. He scored goals, got involved in plays all over the ice, and in varying roles at both levels he looked right at home, there isn’t much more that could be asked of him to end this year. If he can bring that same fire and drive next year, then the Tomas Plekanec trade will continue to look more and more like a win for the Canadiens franchise.