One of the big problems that the Laval Rocket faced last season was the lack of a good organizational depth. When significant injuries and departures plagued the Montreal Canadiens organization as a whole very early in the season, the Rocket were unable to come to grasp with the issue and the season spun away from them.
This off-season that lack of personnel earned former General Manager Larry Carriere a demotion to AHL Director of Player Personnel. Carriere’s sole responsibility will be to scout the AHL and ECHL for talent, which is ironic, since this was the task that he failed to do the previous season with all the power of his position at his disposal. But that is beside the point.
Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin, pulling double duty in the GM seat, has signed 10 new players to AHL contracts. That brings the total number of contracts between the NHL and AHL to 59. Knowing that only 23 players can be on the NHL roster, that signifies that up to 36 players would necessarily need to be assigned to the Laval Rocket.
Injuries to Shea Weber, Paul Byron, and Andrew Shaw do mean that three players will be granted clemency to start the season in the NHL, but even then 33 players in the AHL will be too many for Joël Bouchard to juggle in and out of the lineup. Therefore an ECHL affiliation is imperative in order to optimize player deployment.
As it stands, the Canadiens have not renewed their affiliation with the Brampton Beast, and given the strained relationship stemming from the last two seasons worth of failing to provide Brampton with quality AHLers, it’s not a guarantee that a deal gets done between the two parties.
Which spells trouble for the Rocket.
Even in the event of a three-games-in-three-nights AHL weekend, that many players will be hard to manage, as 10 players would end up being scratched for every game. Keeping a handful of spares is doable, but generally speaking, carrying more than three spare players when an ECHL option is available is just risking their development and is not good roster management. It’s hardly fathomable that the Rocket will go with numerous Simon Bourque scenarios this season and compromise a prospect’s development.
So we can count seven players who could be assigned to the ECHL as a rough initial estimate. The goal of sending players to the ECHL is to give them more playing time than they would get in the AHL, helping them work on their skills in a competitive situation, and preparing them for AHL game action.
Who are the players most likely looking at an ECHL assignment?
An easy player to envision earmarked for the ECHL is goaltender Étienne Marcoux. With Charlie Lindgren and Michael McNiven safely positioned to man the crease in Laval, Marcoux would be best served playing big minutes in the ECHL while waiting for his turn. He did exceptionally well with the Indy Fuel last season, so there should be little concern for his capabilities at the ECHL level again this season.
☑️ Made the team off of a tryout contract— Indy Fuel (@IndyFuel) May 2, 2018
☑️ Named ECHL Rookie of the Month in December
☑️ ECHL All-Star
☑️ Three separate AHL call-ups
☑️ Set a new #IndyFuel season record with 22 wins
Not a bad year for Étienne Marcoux. pic.twitter.com/0YeiiusBkX
On the defensive side, two of the three AHL-contracted players, Ryan Culkin, Adam Plant, and T.J. Melancon, are losing the numbers game on defence with Matt Taormina, Brett Lernout, Rinat Valiev, Michal Moravčík, David Sklenička, and Maxim Lamarche ahead of them on the depth chart. Add to that a potential signing of Cale Fleury, and the tryout for Simon Despres, and there are definitely too many defencemen to reasonably carry. Culkin and Melancon spent the majority of last season in the ECHL already so they are familiar with the circuit.
At forward Alex Belisle, Morgan Adams-Moisan, and Phelix Martineau are candidates for an ECHL assignment. With so many NHL prospects needing minutes this season (Will Bitten, Michael Pezzetta, Jeremiah Addison, Hayden Verbeek, Jake Evans, Lukas Vejdemo, and Alexandre Alain) in addition to a potential cast of veteran players (Byron Froese, Kerby Rychel, Michael McCarron, Kenny Agostino, Daniel Audette, and Michael Chaput), it’s hard to see where these fringe players would fit.
Another player who might find his way to the ECHL is Antoine Waked, who struggled last season as a rookie in the AHL and could stand to re-find the confidence that got him noticed by the Canadiens while in Junior.
The names might slightly change come opening night, as will the numbers given injuries, trades, and waivers, but the argument will stand that the Laval Rocket will have bodies to offer an ECHL team in sufficient number to avoid the depth embarrassment of last season.
The question remains, will it be Brampton who will be willing to give Montreal another chance, or, in a “fool me once” type scenario, will Brampton look elsewhere, forcing the Canadiens to find a new affiliation? That situation would be a difficult one this close to the start of the 2018-19 season, but the worst-case scenario is having no ECHL affiliate at all.