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Laval Rocket reaping benefits of in-season trades

While the moves have been few, they have had a profound impact on the Rocket’s playoff push.

AHL: FEB 05 Utica Comets at Laval Rocket Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Laval Rocket haven’t made many moves in 2019-20, but the few they have have drastically changed the course of their season.

The additions of proven AHL stars Phil Varone, Riley Barber, and Matthew Peca, complementing players like Michael McCarron and Charles Hudon, should have set the team up for success. Things never quite seemed to click into place for the Rocket, however. They floundered around just outside the playoffs and failed to find much consistency outside of the reliable play of Hudon and Jake Evans.

On January 7, the moves started to happen. McCarron was sent to Milwaukee in exchange for Laurent Dauphin. McCarron’s final days with the Rocket were highlighted by multiple games where he was more involved with extracurricular work than with goal-scoring, including an ejection against Utica where he had to be physically restrained from going after an official.

Dauphin came in with a quiet start, and seemed to be lost in the shuffle, spending some games on the Rocket fourth line as Joël Bouchard tried to work his team out of a slump. Then the trade of Barber and Varone forced Dauphin to be thrust into a big role by default. Since that point, he’s established himself as the Rocket’s most trusted forward, contributing 15 points in 25 games, one short of his production in Milwaukee in eight fewer games played.

McCarron joined an Admirals team that ranks as one of the best in the AHL, has compiled 13 points in 27 games. Dauphin jumped onto a Rocket side that was still in the midst of a skid, and he’s become one of the key pieces in pulling Laval right back into the thick of things.

While the McCarron for Dauphin swap represented a fresh start for both players involved, the trade that sent Barber and Varone out of town was one that seemed to involve more than just on-ice impact, with Bouchard often stating during the slide that he wasn’t getting enough commitment from his players. Both Barber and Varone were sent to the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, On the return flight came Joseph Blandisi and Jake Lucchini.

The trade at first seemed poor on paper. Barber was a major offensive contributor and Varone was one of the AHL’s premier stars. Since joining the Penguins’ AHL club in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Barber has three goals and three assists in seven games, and Varone himself has five total assists in six games. On the Rocket side fo the ledger, Blandisi was injured in his first game for Laval, but in the four games he’s played has scored three goals and one assist, with a three-point effort in his last game before AHL play was suspended. As for Lucchini, a quiet but effort-filled start with the Rocket has begun to pay dividends with four goals and one assist in eight games, including a two-goal effort last weekend.

With the production being slightly in the Penguins’ favour, one thing has become abundantly clear: Since both Barber and Varone were traded, the Rocket have won seven of eight games, all but one of which against a divisional opponent. They’ve enjoyed a margin of victory of at least three goals in six of them, matching the total from the first 54 contests of the year.

Both Lucchini and Blandisi are noticeable in the right ways, putting in high-energy shifts that have often led to goals, with plenty of help from Dauphin as well. They battle hard, and while it may not always be pretty, all goals count the same in the end. In a playoff push after a disappointing start to the year, the Rocket will take them whichever way they come.

Laval arguably lost the more talented players in the swaps, but there’s something to be said for changing the culture of the team. It isn’t a coincidence that since two malcontented players were shipped out the team has seen major strides in its play. The trio of additions has set the Rocket on the right path toward a potential playoff berth, should they get a chance to continue pushing the team up the standings after the break in league play.