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Despite the youth movement, the Laval Rocket’s success will also depend on the veteran core

The Rocket are loaded with newly signed and graduated prospects, but they’ll also rely heavily on some well-known AHL veterans to guide them.

Club de hockey Canadien, Inc.

The hallmark of any successful AHL club is the ability to find that finely tuned balance between veterans of the league and young prospects. It’s not easy to find that balance, but when you look at the most recently successful teams in the AHL, they seem to have struck gold and found it.

For the Laval Rocket, a tumultuous debut season led to an overhaul not only of the coaching staff but the roster as well. There aren’t many holdovers from last year’s squad, but the few veterans who do remain are there for a very important purpose: to help guide the young prospects breaking into the professional ranks, while also being statistical leaders on the ice.

Chris Terry had been that player in the past — in fact, he owns an AHL scoring title and numerous accolades from his time in the Canadiens organization. Before him came Bud Holloway and T.J. Hensick. All of these players were able to score goals and help the youth adjust to a new league, and all did so well.

Terry has since departed for the Detroit Red Wings, and while defenceman Matt Taormina will return to the Rocket, he needed a hand to help this club finally achieve lift off. The Canadiens, not taking the disastrous first season lightly, responded in spades with a full load of veteran AHL standouts to supplement the numerous CHL and NCAA graduates.

The advantage is two-fold for the team. While having players capable of piling up points is great, the ability to rotate them through and keep players rested and healthy throughout the season is a key tactic in the AHL. That is where things truly went wrong for the Rocket last year, as the injuries and lack of depth led to disasters such as ECHL tryout defencemen playing fourth-line wing, or barely having enough players to ice a full lineup on a given night.

So who are these vets that Marc Bergevin signed in the off-season? Three big names were added in the off-season.

Almost immediately after the free agent window opened, the Canadiens added former AHL MVP and all-star Kenny Agostino, who will almost assuredly step into the role held by Terry. It didn’t stop there, as they also added Alexandre Grenier on an AHL deal and Michael Chaput on a two-way contract. Those three veteran forwards will be major pieces for Joël Bouchard this year.

Agostino’s credentials speak for themselves. He’s been among the AHL’s best scoring forwards for the past three seasons, and he’ll be a great addition to help mentor some of the incoming rookies. Both Chaput and Grenier have had great success as everyday players during their AHL tenures. Grenier finished his fourth straight 40-point season, this time for the Springfield Thunderbirds, while Chaput himself wrapped up his third since turning pro.

They don’t have to be superstars, but their presence will be instrumental in ensuring the team is going in the right direction. Through recalls or injuries, the Rocket lost much of its veteran presence last season, and what remained was a team lacking a rudder to stabilize it the club plummeted down the standings.

There was also the recent addition of Hunter Shinkaruk, who at 23 years old also has a wealth of experience in the AHL. He came up through the CHL like many of the new players joining the team, and he’s the perfect player to aid some rookies as they break into the lineup. His addition just comes with an added benefit of being young, which makes a candidate for bigger plans down the road should he make the NHL roster for any period of time.

While fans are excited to see what players like Jake Evans and Will Bitten can do, their veteran counterparts are going to be just as crucial to the success of the team. Their presence on and off the ice (in addition to the more statistical contribution) is paramount to a team’s success. Having a stable presence night in and night out in a league as hectic as the AHL is a big deal, and thankfully for Laval they’ve done an incredible job of addressing that this off-season.