Laval Rocket season review: Laurent Dauphin was the catalyst for change

Acquired in a deal in January, Dauphin found a new home quickly in Laval.

Laurent Dauphin joined the Laval Rocket in a trade that sent 2013 first-round pick Michael McCarron to the Milwaukee Admirals. It was the first in what became a chain of moves that cleaned house for the Rocket, bringing in an entirely new set of players who bought into Joël Bouchard’s message. Dauphin was the first, but helped to kickstart that movement and bring plenty more to the table than the player he was traded for. It was not the smoothest transition, but when Dauphin found his place in the Rocket lineup it was a complete 180 for his season, and he more than earned a new deal with the Montreal Canadiens at the end of it.

Dauphin joined the Rocket at an extremely difficult time. The team was struggling to build any sort of momentum in a highly competitive AHL North Division and wasn’t making the most out of what was a talented lineup on paper. Dauphin initially stepped into McCarron’s spot in the top six, then slid down the lineup to play on the fourth line for a stint. But injuries, recalls, and scratches of certain players led to Dauphin rising back to the top line between Jake Evans and Charles Hudon, and he never relinquished that role.

He remained a top-six fixture until the season went on pause, and made a pretty strong case for an NHL audition at some point had the season continued. He filled in a role left by McCarron as versatile forward, with penalty-killing prowess and some offensive touch, but did everything far more consistently and without the costly penalties. Just 16 of his 42 penalty minutes came in Laval. By comparison, McCarron had 50 PIMs before the trade, then tacked on another 50 in Milwaukee. For a team that sometimes struggled with its penalty-killing, McCarron’s lack of discipline hurt more than he helped.

To round out the comparison, McCarron had more goals (10) than Dauphi,n which makes sense considering Milwaukee’s status as one of the top teams in the league, but overall Dauphin had more had more points (15) in fewer games (25), and was instrumental in starting the team’s in-season rebirth.

Onto his on-ice play, it’s hard to simplify what Dauphin’s singular role was on the team as he was filling in all over the ice by the end of the season. Much like Evans and even Lukas Vejdemo to a degree, when Bouchard needed a trusted hand late in the game, he was tapping Dauphin on the shoulder. Dauphin’s ability to be a nuisance in all three zones helped to fuel his success. The goals that resulted weren’t always pretty, but he got to the places he needed to in order to make things happen.

That effort is something he showed each and every night, not quitting on plays or attempts if they didn’t work. That was the kind of message Bouchard wanted to instill in his team, and clearly Dauphin bought in and fit right into the system. While he scored plenty of greasy goals around the front of the net, he’s not without talent, keeping the puck away from defenders to follow up his own blocked shot, or even just ripping shots to the far corner from the slot.

Where he really began to shine late in the season was as a distributor for the rest of his teammates, using all sorts of passes and breakouts to free up his linemates for scoring chances. It wasn’t always flashy like Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s passing, but Dauphin put pucks into the right spots for his teammates to capitalize with regularity.

The goal above showcases that talent. He worked off the wall, driving a defender back before noticing Joe Cox cutting to the net. Cox had a step on his opponent, and a perfectly threaded pass by Dauphin landed right on Cox’s stick for him to direct past the goalie. Simple in theory, but harder to execute, and still done flawlessly.

The Rocket underwent a full metamorphosis this season, and it all started with a seemingly innocuous trade in early January. It ended up kick-starting a total team change, with Dauphin becoming a star player and directing the club into a heated playoff race in the AHL’s North Division.

His efforts earned him a new one-year deal for next season, and he’ll likely get a good chance at cracking the expanded NHL roster in the return to play scenario, given he’s been practising with other players since Phase Two began. If there’s one thing to take away from the Rocket and Laurent Dauphin’s season this year, it’s that a little extra effort can go a long way.

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