After Joseph Blandisi was left off of the Montreal Canadiens’ return-to-play camp roster, there was reason to wonder whether he had a future in the organization. Due to injuries, he was limited to just four games with the Laval Rocket after the trade that brought him to Montreal.
He would be a free agent at the end of the year, as well. The team signed Blandisi to a one-year, two-way contract for the 2020-21 season in September and he has solidified his spot in the organization.
In the first game of the 2020-21 season, Blandisi played centre with AHL rookies Jesse Ylönen and Joël Teasdale. He scored twice, and it was the start of a great season for himself, his linemates, and the team.
Blandisi has found himself on a line with Teasdale and Ryan Poehling, a line that has helped carry the Rocket during their current 11-0-1 stretch. Blandisi and Poehling are tied for the team scoring lead with Jordan Weal. They have 18 points in 22 games.
“He’s been so good to Ryan and to Joël Teasdale,” Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard said. “You put veterans who have played NHL games... and we have young guys who are playing top minutes. We’re exposing the young guys and he’s embraced it from day one. It doesn’t matter who you play him with, left wing, centre. He says ‘I’ll do what I can, coach’. He’s upbeat and he’s a guy we like a lot.”
During the long off-season, Blandisi would call Bouchard out of the blue saying how much he missed hockey and wanted to play. It set the tone for when the team did get back on the ice.
“Joe has been unreal. Joe is a passionate hockey player,” Bouchard said. “He’s got hockey in his blood. He’s a joy to be around. He’s been such a good presence for the young guys and the veterans. He’s a glue guy. I have a lot of time for Joe. A lot of passion for Joe. He’s one of the good guys and glad that he’s with us.”
“That’s the kind of veteran you want around the young guys.”
Blandisi is only 26 years old, and has played 101 NHL games over his career. He hopes to turn his leadership role with the Rocket into another opportunity at the next level with the Canadiens, like Byron Froese, Xavier Ouellet, and Karl Alzner have before him. Weal is another player who has played with young players and taken an increased leadership role this season.
With Brendan Gallagher potentially out for several weeks with a broken thumb, the Canadiens may look towards the high-flying Rocket for some reinforcements. With Alex Belzile, Ylönen, Lukas Vejdemo, and Brandon Baddock all injured right now, the Rocket are without four of their top 10 forward scorers. Blandisi may become a possible option should they want another body to join Michael Frolik and Jake Evans.
One name that may be on the lips of many Canadiens fans with Gallagher’s injury is Cole Caufield. The University of Wisconsin star will take to the ice for his first professional practice on Tuesday with the Rocket and is very unlikely to play in Tuesday night’s game.
More than likely he will make his AHL debut on Friday in Toronto when the Rocket take on the Toronto Marlies. Bouchard has said on multiple occasions that he wants to put Caufield (and all players) in a position to succeed which is why he wants him to have several practices before playing a game.
It is very unlikely he will be recalled to the NHL in the short-term, but if he performs well, it isn’t something that will be ruled out. At this point, however, stability is important.
Other young players who have been playing well for the Rocket are Teasdale and Rafaël Harvey-Pinard. If Harvey-Pinard is going to be an NHL option going forward, he will need to sign an NHL contract before he is eligible to be called up. The Canadiens have until the end of June to sign him before losing his rights after he was drafted.
The Rocket play Tuesday against the Stockton Heat at the Bell Centre.