The Montreal Canadiens organization is in full preparation for the 2018-19 season at this point with the playoffs out of the picture at both the NHL and AHL levels for 2017-18.
The Laval Rocket have seen a lot of recent activity, signing college and junior overagers to tryout contracts to test their mettle, essentially starting training camp for next season early. Unfamiliar names such as Johnny Austin, Terry Owens, Bailey Webster, Anthony Beauregard, Adam Plant and Nikita Korostelev have found their place among the Rocket line-up. The score of the games no longer matters at this point, and the team in last place in its division. It is evident that Sylvain Lefebvre’s team has shifted entirely towards player evaluation for next season.
Meanwhile the Canadiens have begun their own training camp of sorts. Although unable to sign players to tryout contracts during the course of the regular season, they have begun to dip deep into the Rocket to pluck out certain players they deem worthy of testing at the NHL level. First they recalled Noah Juulsen and Nikita Scherbak prior to trade deadline day. Afterwards the collective bargaining agreement rules allow for four regular recalls after the trade deadline, of which they have exercised three so far for Rinat Valiev, Michael McCarron, and Kerby Rychel. In addition, Brett Lernout is gaining some experience on a emergency recall with the Canadiens, covering for an injured Valiev.
Who should the Canadiens use the fourth regular recall on? Here are some options:
A fierce soldier in the third year of his entry-level contract, Gregoire is currently playing arguably the best hockey of his pro career with 11 goals so far this season. He was never able to translate the points he accumulated for Baie-Comeau in his junior career to the pro ranks, but he made up for it with his tenaciousness as a no-nonsense bottom-six forward capable of playing all three positions. His ceiling is rather limited at the NHL level, but in the mould of Nicolas Deslauriers he is a player who will give you his body and heart on every shift. Penalties have plagued him this season for the Rocket, but the Canadiens are at a crossroads with him and need to decide whether to re-sign him for next season or not. Might as well see what he can do.
It’s amazing what a change of scenery can do for a player. Cracknell has taken full advantage of the top line role he was given in Laval after being acquired for Peter Holland early on into the season, becoming one of the few consistent offensive threats on the Rocket. He only had three points in 12 games with the Hartford Wolf Pack prior to the trade, but exploded for 42 points in 48 games in Laval since. He has fully embraced the culture in Montreal and has expressed definitive interest in remaining in the organization next season, although he will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.
Calling him one of the best players in the AHL would not be an exaggeration. He’s currently one point behind the top scorer in the league, and three goals off the pace for most goals. He also has the best points per game average of anyone who has played 50 games or more this season. His slap shot from the face-off dot on the powerplay is lethal. So with so many accolades piling up, what’s stopping Terry from graduating to an NHL career? Well a lot has to do with his foot speed that affects his ability for a quick defensive turnaround. The question for the Canadiens is whether his game at the AHL level has improved enough to allow him to be a decent NHL substitute. Maybe a recall at the end of this season will show them.
Taormina was the AHL defensive player of the year last season for the Syracuse Crunch, and he is definitely making the case again this season with the Laval Rocket, leading all defencemen with 44 assists and only three points off of the overall defender points lead. Taormina had a very heavy load for the team, being the only senior defenceman on a squad made up mostly of rookies and AHL-contracted players. As a result the team leaned heavily on him to play big minutes in all situations. Taormina’s size has always held him back from breaking through to the NHL, unable to play the physical style demanded on the blue line. A recall for Taormina would be more of reward for a veteran who was left on his own on most nights to defend him team.
Parisi was a sought-after undrafted free agent in 2016 when he completed his NCAA years and he chose to sign a two-year entry level contract with Montreal. He had a rough 2016-17 rookie season being a frequent healthy scratch for the St. John’s IceCaps. Expectations were low this season, but he has truly surprised with his development and play, earning a regular spot in the line-up and becoming the team’s iron man this season. He has looked good on numerous occasions as a capable puck-handling defenceman, and represents a very intriguing prospect who might develop into a defender for the Canadiens yet. It might be a bit early to recall him, but at this point might as well put him to test to see how he handles the pressure of the NHL as he heads towards arbitration-eligible restricted free agent.
Daniel Audette would have made this list had he not had a season-ending ankle injury, as would have AHL-contracted Eric Gélinas had he not had an inconsistent season in his back-end. Then there is the case of Zachary Fucale, and whether the team will ever trust him at the NHL level. That’s about it for potential call-ups from the Rocket. The list is rather short. Players like Simon Bourque, Antoine Waked, and Jeremiah Addison are still in their rookie seasons and need more seasoning before they get an NHL recall.