The Laval Rocket started their training camp on Friday, but the group of players in camp who were with the Montreal Canadiens never stopped skating. Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard continued to work with that group, and they were joined by the other players for Rocket camp.
The AHL camp is split into two groups: the main group working to keep NHL pace and the second group which is an integration group to ease players back on the ice after their quarantine. Players are looked at closely by the team’s medical staff and have programs to try to limit the risk of injuries from going too fast too early. Bouchard said on Saturday that three players remain in quarantine after coming from outside Canada: Arsen Khisamutdinov, Jesse Ylönen, and Corey Schueneman.
The main group will play a controlled scrimmage on Monday to try and keep their pace up. It is the first of three scrimmages scheduled. There is one scheduled for Thursday morning, and the final one on Sunday night which will include a morning skate and full game day routine.
A plan for Primeau
Cayden Primeau had a very good rookie season in the AHL, even seeing two NHL games in his first professional season. Throughout most of the season, Bouchard alternated Primeau with the other goaltender with the team, first Charlie Lindgren and then Keith Kinkaid. However, by the end of the season Primeau started nine of the team’s final 12 games.
Bouchard left no doubt that Primeau will be the primary goaltender this season alongside Michael McNiven and Vasili Demchenko.
“I remember last year when people were asking ‘why were you alternating him, why isn’t he playing more’, I had a plan with Marco Marciano and the organization. I said when I feel he’s where he should be, I’ll turn him loose,” Bouchard said. “I was not going to change my plan because it was [about] the big picture with Cayden. At the end of the year, he played a lot more and he was very successful. The plan is to keep going with Cayden and making sure he gets the workload and experience.”
With a condensed schedule that is yet to be announced, Bouchard made sure to not commit to anything specifically. It would be safe to assume Primeau wouldn’t play back-to-back games but the alternating every game seems to be something of the past.
“That doesn’t mean McNiven and Demchenko aren’t going to play,” Bouchard said. “We have a plan long and short term. McNiven’s attitude has been unbelievable. He’s come such a long way, I’m so proud of him and he pushes in practice. he’s becoming a good goalie and had a good performance last year. You can’t count out [Demchenko] because he’s coming from the KHL. He’s seen some hockey. But we have to be realistic here. We want to give a bit of a workload with Cayden to make sure we go forward with that progression.”
The ups and downs of the shutdown
It may surprise people, but the final regular season goal scored by the Montreal Canadiens in 2019-20 was scored by Lukas Vejdemo. That goal was also his first NHL marker. Within 24 hours, he was back in Laval taking part in a 3-0 win over the Belleville Senators in what would be their last game of the 2019-20 season.
“It was [unfortunate],” Vejdemo said. “It was fun to score in the NHL and then we were up to something good in the AHL. I thought we played really well at the end. We were disappointed of course but we didn’t know then what it really was.”
The Swedish forward played 16 games in his native country this season before coming back to North America for camp with the Montreal Canadiens. He had two goals and eight assists in those games with Södertälje SK.
Perhaps an even more unfortunate story is that of Laurent Dauphin. The forward acquired mid-season for Michael McCarron was brought into Bouchard’s office after the Rocket’s win over Belleville to get the news that he would be called up and joining the NHL team.
However, the recall never came because the next night the Canadiens game against the Buffalo Sabres was cancelled.
“It was mixed feelings,” Dauphin said. “We came off a big win against Belleville and then Joël called me in the office to tell me I was called up but then when I got out of the office, I heard that the NBA had cancelled their games for the night so I knew that there was a possibility that the NHL would cancel their games the next night too. I was still very happy to get the call even though I didn’t play that night.”
Dauphin is one of many players in AHL camp whose path to the NHL got harder thanks to the additions Marc Bergevin made at the NHL level. Dauphin, Alex Belzile, Xavier Ouellet, and Jordan Weal — among others — know it is their job to stay ready in case that call comes again.
Bouchard, for his part, said on Sunday that he feels that there are players who are ready to step up to the taxi squad or NHL should they be called upon.