“Youth” and “prospects” are two of the most common words in the mouths of Montreal Canadiens fans these days, and for good reason. The team has done an exemplary job of collecting draft picks, and turning some of those late picks into bona fide, top-flight prospects.
Among them is 2017 seventh-round selection Cayden Primeau, who despite some struggles has taken back the net in Laval in the past month, and he’s a big part of why the Rocket are back in the playoff hunt.
“We’re a really young team in a very tough division, and I thought the guys played extremely well,” said head coach Joël Bouchard following a difficult 4-2 loss in Rochester on Friday. “Some nights we work hard and weren’t good enough to win, tonight I thought we worked hard and were the better team, but a couple bounces here or there decide the game.”
Bouchard isn’t lying when he says he’s got a young side as well, as the lineup that took the ice on Friday night had just one veteran as defined by the AHL rulebook, and that lineup featured multiple players in just their first or second year of professional hockey. Yet in the eyes of their coach, these young players are doing all the right things, and the process is going to pay off soon.
“I look at these guys, and they’re young, but they’re mature on and off the ice. They’ve got swagger, and I thought they’ve handled the games really well,” said Bouchard.
That swagger is a big thing, especially for a young goalie like Primeau who was making a fourth consecutive start for the Rocket, having won his previous three. His streak came to an end in Rochester, but he was at his best making a dazzling array of big saves in all three periods to keep his team in the game.
“There’s nothing you can do about a bad start you know?” said Primeau. “You just have to get back out there and be prepared knowing anything can happen, and, hey, we came back in the game, proving that.”
While Primeau was a bit down following the loss, his coach had nothing but praise for his rookie netminder who had shouldered a huge load in the past two weeks, helping get the Rocket out of a major rut.
“We’ve been giving the net to Cayden a lot lately,” Bouchard said. “We’ve been giving him the starts and trying to give him the rest, but he’s been managing the game so well. And he’s just 20 years old, which we have to remember.”
Primeau is part of a roster that has close to two dozen players under the age of 25, and just one player aged 30 or older in Keith Kinkaid. To say it’s a trial by fire is putting it lightly. Yet Bouchard isn’t using that as an excuse, noting that his team goes out and battles hard every single night, and even injuries or illness aren’t slowing the team down.
The coach noted that Jesperi Kotkaniemi might not be the only player battling some illness or minor injuries, but it’s all a wait-and-see situation as the team heads to Utica for a match with the Comets.
With the regular season rapidly approaching its end, the news broke that Jesse Ylönen will be joining the team. While Bouchard could not say when the young Finn would officially join, he had plenty of positive words to share about him.
“Officially I cannot say anything, but he’s drafted by us, I played with his father, and I know him quite well,” explained Bouchard. “He’s a great professional. I see he has a lot of potential as someone we’ve drafted, and that fits with our young guys, our Poehlings, Brook, Flower [Cale Fleury], Alain.... He’s gonna jump in with a lot of young guys just like him.”
While there’s no official date for Ylonen’s arrival, it’s clear that Bouchard will be happy to have him, and he’s going to find a perfect home in Laval’s youth movement, one spearheaded by a 20-year-old kid between the pipes.