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Laval Rocket season reviews: Matt Petgrave, Luc-Olivier Blain, and a host of other ECHLers who got their shot at a higher level

Brampton Beast and beyond, the Rocket needed help this season just to ice a full roster.

Luc-Olivier Blain
Club de Hockey Canadien, Inc.

The Laval Rocket dealt with serious adversity this season due to call-ups to the NHL and injuries, and were forced to dig well beyond their depth to add players to their roster.

They did so by signing ECHL players to Professional Tryout contracts. The majority of these players were not brought in by the Rocket to be scouted or tested, but rather as emergency players due to a lack of options within the Canadiens organization. They would all quickly be returned to their ECHL teams.

A couple of these players stood out with some AHL potential, but for the most part this group of players does not have a future in the Canadiens organization.

Goaltending

Karel St-Laurent: The Rocket plucked St-Laurent from the Quebec-based LNAH's Sorel-Tracy Éperviers as a last-minute emergency PTO signing to back up Zachary Fucale with the Rocket after Charlie Lindgren was called up to Montreal due to Carey Price’s injury, while Michael McNiven was on the road with the Brampton Beast. A four-year veteran of the LNAH, St-Laurent last played in the AHL in the 2011-12 season with the Providence Bruins. This season he played 15 games with Sorel-Tracy, with a 3.10 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage. He was released immediately following the game, and McNiven was called up from Brampton.

Etienne Marcoux: A former starter for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, this three-year pro has played for both Joël Bouchard as well as Dominique Ducharme with the Montreal Juniors in his junior career. He was well-known to Marco Marciano, the Rocket goaltending coach, so when the team needed an emergency signing they reached out to Marcoux.

He was the starting goaltender with the ECHL's Indy Fuel, where he played 38 games, with a 2.94 GAA and .918 Sv% this season. He only suited up for a couple of games for the Rocket, backing up Michael McNiven in mid-November while Charlie Lindgren and Zachary Fucale were both with the Montreal Canadiens.

Besides the Rocket this season, he also had short stints with the Rockford IceHogs, Springfield Thunderbirds, and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He played a couple of games for the Penguins; his first in the AHL.

Given his familiarity with the AHL coaching staff, and being a Laval native, Marcoux has to be considered a strong candidate for an ECHL contract in the Canadiens organization to take a position on the goalie depth chart.

Andrew D’Agostini: A second-year veteran with the Beast, D’Agostini was signed as an emergency netminder because of yet another Lindgren/Fucale call-up, but he only managed to get one practice in with the team before Fucale was returned to the Rocket. D’Agostini was released back to the Beast before he was able to suit up for a single game.

This was D’Agostini’s second AHL PTO contract, signing the year prior with the Toronto Marlies, but he has yet to play at the AHL level.

Defence

Matt Petgrave: Petgrave was a Brampton Beast player almost entirely on paper this season, having signed eight professional tryouts throughout the AHL season. He signed twice with the Toronto Marlies, twice with the Belleville Senators, three times with the Laval Rocket, and once with the Syracuse Crunch.

All in all, he only played 44 games for the Beast this season, but nonetheless still played in the ECHL All-Star Game (where he won the fastest skater award) and was named the Brampton Beast rookie of the year with eight goals, 15 assists, and an even rating.

With the Rocket, he played in 12 games, without registering a point, but also maintaining an even plus/minus rating in an estimated 11 minutes played per game on a really bad team. The potential to become a regular in the AHL is definitely there, but it will be a question of getting the best offer in the case of this 26-year-old who is definitely not shying away from shopping his services.

Willie Corrin: Corrin signed his first PTO with the Rocket in late November and spent almost six weeks as a healthy scratch — 17 straight games — before being released. Corrin then had a six-game stint with the Belleville Senators, which ended on a scary boarding play that sent him to the hospital.

He returned to the Rocket in late February on a second PTO, and this time the Rocket had no choice but to use him regularly given their utterly decimated defensive core. Corrin managed to acquit himself reasonably well, scoring a goal and adding four assists in seven games played.

Once the amateur players started getting signed at the conclusion of their seasons, Corrin was quickly cast back to the Brampton Beast. He finished the season with the AHL's Utica Comets.

He’s a strong candidate to receive a two-way AHL/ECHL contract for next season with some team.

Etienne Boutet: Boutet was the first non-Brampton Beast skater to sign a PTO with the Rocket. He played the majority of his season with the ECHL's Wichita Thunder.

His rookie pro season was in 2013-14 with the Idaho Steelheads after taking part in the Dallas Stars' development camp, but part way through the season he chose to go to McGill University instead to complete a degree.

Boutet played two games for the Rocket before returning to the Steelheads. Interestingly, Boutet attended the Hamilton Bulldogs training camp on a tryout in 2012 when they were the Canadiens' farm team.

Rob Hamilton: Hamilton split the season between the ECHL's Manchester Monarchs and the AHL's Springfield Thunderbirds, and actually produced reasonable offence on both teams, scoring at about a 0.5 points-per-game pace.

With the Rocket, he didn’t manage to put up any points in three games, and left an indifferent impression, mainly playing on a third defensive pairing with Petgrave.

Tyson Wilson: In his second pro season after completing four years in the NCAA, Wilson was slated to be a top-four defender for the Beast this season, but an injury in the first game of the year derailed that. Wilson missed significant time as a result, and was just getting back into the swing of things in the ECHL when the Rocket came calling.

Wilson had previously played three games on a tryout with the AHL's Manitoba Moose during the 2015-16 season, but didn’t seem to fit the Rocket very well. He only played one game and was quickly released afterward.

For that one game, it was estimated that he played about 15 minutes on the ice as a forward because the team was short up front. Lefebvre preferred Wilson over fellow PTO Jackson Leef, who had played the night before.

Adam Plant: A bit of a deviation from the theme of ECHLers playing for the Rocket. Plant signed a PTO at the end of the season to go with the AHL contract that he signed with the Rocket for next year.

Capable of creating offence, but still a rookie coming off a four-year stint in the NCAA, he played seven games for the Rocket, registering 20 shots — nine in one game against Belleville — but not recording any points.

Small in stature but fast on his skates, Plant will be expected to carry the puck and open the ice with his speed next season, but there will still be plenty for him to learn.

Forwards

Luc-Olivier Blain: At 28 years old, Blain probably played the best hockey of his professional career this season. He only had two previous games of experience in the AHL, with the St. John’s IceCaps two seasons prior, but the third-year Beast showed extremely well with the Rocket. He put up two goals and added two assists in 12 games, while keeping a +1 plus/minus rating playing about 10 minutes per night centring the team’s fourth line.

Blain is a fast skater, capable of making some good moves. His future is uncertain with the Beast, as he is likely to pursue the best offer he can find during the off-season.

Chris Leveille: A proper feel-good story is the case of Leveille, who had all but given up on a hockey career when he decided to be a walk-on at the Brampton Beast free-agent camp in 2016. He impressed sufficiently to earn a contract and make the opening-day roster.

Fast forward one year, and he was one of the top scorers on the Beast, and earned a PTO with the Canadiens AHL team. He played six games for the Rocket — his first games ever at the AHL level — averaging under 10 minutes per contest, and earning one assist.

His relentless work ethic being one of his assets, it probably won’t be enough to earn a regular role in the AHL any time soon. He’s currently signed to play in Australia over the summer, with a return to the ECHL a likely probability next season.

Jackson Leef: Leef only played one game with the Rocket, and he was sparingly used by Sylvain Lefebvre. In his defence, he was put right into a game situation with the Rocket without so much as a team practice, so unfamiliarity probably hurt him. It was also his first ever AHL game.

It was a bit of a meteoric rise for Leef, who started the season in the SPHL, played his first ECHL game in November, was released by the Beast back to the SPHL, signed again in the ECHL in February, and signed with the Rocket in March. At no level did he particularly stand out, and if anything his case goes to exemplify the depth issues that the Rocket were experiencing.

Gabriel Desjardins: After the Canadiens had exclusively dipped into the depths of the Brampton Beast for call-ups, and not looking elsewhere for higher-calibre ECHL talent, they shot their shot by signing one of the leading scorers in the ECHL: Gabriel Desjardins of the Fort Wayne Komets.

The Montreal native was having a breakout season in the ECHL, and was rewarded by playing his first AHL game since the 2014-15 season with the Charlotte Checkers. The former captain of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies had his rookie professional season cut short with the Lake Erie Monsters in 2013 due to an injury, and had been unable to climb back into the AHL since.

He looked a bit slow in the limited time he got with the Rocket, averaging under 10 minutes in two games played on a line with Blain and Veilleux. He tended to work his way to the front of the net while Veilleux worked the boards.

He finished ninth in ECHL scoring with 33 goals and 34 assists. He currently leads all players in ECHL playoff scoring.

Certainly finding his offensive flair this season, at 25-year-old Desjardins would be a great addition as a depth player in the organization, capable of playing top-line minutes in the ECHL while lending a hand to the Rocket when called upon.

David Vallorani: Oops.