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Laval Rocket season preview: The defence will rely heavily on its returning players

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It’s a mix of vets and prospects on the rise, but the returning players will be key for this group’s success.

Club de Hockey Canadien

When we previewed the Laval Rocket forwards, it was clear that this is where the strength in the team would be found. There is a strong mix of returning veterans, young prospects, and new signings across the board. On the defensive side of things, the group is a little less solidified, but still has a strong group of vets and prospects who return to the fold this season.

The New Guys

While Marc Bergevin added a ton of proven AHL depth and brought some new prospects into the fold with the forward group, he did slightly less with the defensive group in the off-season. The three new names joining the club are Corey Schueneman, Tobie Paquette-Bisson, and Nathanael Halbert. Halbert isn’t truly a new signing as he played five games on a tryout for the Rocket last year, registering one assist, but looked like a stable depth option for the team.

The other two additions do have professional experience at the very least, as Paquette-Bisson spent the last two seasons with Cincinnati in the ECHL, and has also played for Joël Bouchard in the past in Blainville-Boisbriand in the QMJHL. In 62 games for the Cyclones last year, Paquette-Bisson piled up eight goals and 14 assists in 62 games; a respectable production clip for a defender in the league.

Schueneman comes to Laval after one full season with the Stockton Heat in the AHL, and he’ll likely be thrilled to see his old club several times this year. In 44 games for the Heat, Schueneman scored three goals and added 18 assists, making him the second-leading scorer among defenders on the Heat. Out of the three news pieces, it’s likely that we’ll see Schueneman playing the most.

The Returning Players

While the new arrivals aren’t going to wow many people, the returning core is a strong mix of proven veterans and drafted players who have already established themselves at the professional level.

Cale Fleury and Josh Brook will more than likely anchor the right side of the defence once more, and while Fleury has shown he can easily handle the AHL level of play, the Rocket are hoping for another step forward from Brook, whose rookie season was full of ups and downs. On the left side is the trio of Otto Leskinen, Gustav Olofsson, and captain Xavier Ouellet, all three of whom played huge roles for Joël Bouchard’s team last year. Olofsson has become the jack of all trades, playing in pretty much any situation for the Rocket, while Leskinen has developed into a slick puck-distributor in his own right.

Ouellet wi’ll be the obvious leader in every situation. He piled up 24 points in 39 games for Laval before earning a late-season call-up to the Canadiens, and played in 10 playoff games as well. His offensive game has no questions for Laval, but it might be worthwhile for someone like Olofsson to take over the defensive duties to free him up for more offensive zone starts.

The CHL Guys

Joining the Rocket, at least for the time being, is the trio of Jacob LeGuerrier, Gianni Fairbrother, and 2020 first-round pick Kaiden Guhle. LeGuerrier is a real throwback sort of defender from the Soo Greyhounds; a defence-first, no-nonsense type of defender who has no problem staying home to keep the net-front area clear. His offensive totals aren’t going to impress anyone, but his defence-first approach is a unique piece to add to the Rocket group.

Fairbrother brings much of the same defensive awareness in his own end, but brings a much smoother skating game and higher offensive upside to Rocket camp. His WHL season in Everett was cut short due to injury, but he still finished top-10 in scoring on the team with 25 points in 37 games. He’ll be looking to earn his spot and potentially an entry-level contract with his play in the AHL this season.

Finally there’s Guhle, the most recent first-round pick in the organization who joined the Rocket after an efficient showing at the World Juniors in Edmonton. Guhle combines much of what makes Fairbrother and LeGuerrier effective, but does so at a much higher level. He’s got fluid skating that allows him to close off gaps extremely quickly at the blue line and push the play back in the other direction.

With his polished game being what it is, it’s not crazy to think that Guhle will be suiting up regularly for the Rocket this season, especially in its condensed nature. The question for Bouchard now is figuring out which veteran on the left side can move to slot Guhle into the lineup. There’s also the matter of seeing if they can work Fairbrother and LeGuerrier into the lineup until they can return to their CHL teams.

The Rocket defensive group is going to rely heavily on all of their returning players this year, not only on the ice but to also help acclimate the arrival of three draftees as well. A strong showing from the vets in the lineup not only helps the stable of goalies, but should see the Rocket offence click into gear a lot quicker than it did last year.