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Laval Rocket notebook: Plenty of storylines highlight the team’s first weekend

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From debuts to returns, the Rocket season opening weekend had something for everyone.

AHL: FEB 12 Belleville Senators at Laval Rocket Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jesse Ylönen, Joseph Blandisi, and Joël Teasdale were on the Laval Rocket AHL roster for a combined 191 days during the 2020-21 season. Ylönen was signed to an AHL contract on March 2, Blandisi was acquired by the Montreal Canadiens on February 20 in a trade, and Teasdale started the year with the Rocket.

Together, they missed a grand total of 69 games with injuries. They played a combined four games, all by Blandisi.

On Friday, that line was electric. Blandisi scored twice, Teasdale had a two-point game, and Ylönen had a performance that had Blandisi excitedly say that he didn’t remember the last game where had that many scoring chances.

They represent three different pillars of what makes a good AHL team. Ylönen is the second-round pick making his North American debut after playing professionally in Finland since he was drafted. Blandisi is the veteran (despite being only 26, he calls the other two players on his line, both 21 years old, “kids”) who has NHL experience. Teasdale is the undrafted player who exceeded all expectations and earned himself an NHL contract.

Together they make up one of the reasons why the Laval Rocket are 2-0, and why there is so much excitement surrounding the team.

AHL Gallagher?

After two AHL games, there was a lot of buzz about the player wearing #11 for the Laval Rocket: Rafaël Harvey-Pinard. The Canadiens’ seventh-round pick in 2019 and is currently signed to an AHL contract. The team still has until next year to sign him to an NHL contract.

The 22-year-old played top line minutes with Jordan Weal and Yannick Veilleux. That line had tons of scoring chances through two games. Harvey-Pinard scored his first professional goal on Saturday, and his relentless play earned comparisons to another #11 in the Canadiens organization: Brendan Gallagher.

“Every time I watch the Canadiens, I watch [Gallagher] work,” Harvey-Pinard said after Saturday’s game. “He’s always in the face of the other team and he’s an inspiration for me, and I try to do the same things as him.”

Harvey-Pinard is listed as 5’9” and 173lbs and never had the offensive numbers in the CHL like Gallagher did, but the energy he provides makes him an intriguing prospect on a team seemingly full of them.

Stability for McNiven

Michael McNiven had a crazy season a year ago. From playing 22 ECHL games for three different teams, to going 3-0 in his three AHL starts once he was finally recalled by the Rocket it was full of ups and downs.

The ultimate high came this off-season when on October 3 his daughter Chloe Jamie was born.

It is his daughter that is behind the #3 jersey he is wearing this season. McNiven used to wear 40 because his grandfather Jim’s favourite player was Bobby Orr. He added a zero to the number to make it look “half-decent,” he said.

There was no adding a zero this time.

“I think I have to play for myself, my own family,” McNiven said. “My daughter is my world now.”

McNiven now knows his spot in Laval and while he is behind Cayden Primeau on the depth chart, he should have opportunity to play.

“Last year he didn’t have it easy,” Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard said. “Michael, from the day I showed up to today, we are so happy for him, we are proud of him. The way he matured.. It’s such a great story. It’s one of the best stories I’ve seen in hockey. He was a guy not sure what to do with himself, but we had one discussion it lasted 22 seconds and he’s been great since then.”

Looking ahead

You wouldn’t normally expect lineup changes after back-to-back 5-1 wins, but as we all know this is not a normal year.

The Rocket have 35 skaters (with Michael Frolik) and players need to play. Bouchard told his players that he wanted to lean on the returning players this season as a nod to their work and unfinished business from a year ago.

He hinted that Tuesday night’s game will see a lot of youngsters enter the lineup and that some veterans will only play one of the team’s two games this week.

Three players missed games this weekend due to injuries. Ryan Poehling missed Saturday’s game after suffering an injury on Friday. He returned to full practice on Monday and the team will re-evaluate him on Tuesday to make sure he recovered well and is good to go in that night’s game.

Alex Belzile and Kaiden Guhle missed both games last weekend, and while they are still day-to-day, they are not expected to play on Tuesday. Bouchard was practically giddy when asked whether Guhle will be in the lineup when he’s healthy, saying that he’s not here to be a healthy scratch.

The game will be at 7:00 p.m. in snowy Montreal and will be broadcast on RDS, TSN Radio 690, and streamed on AHL TV.