The latest Montreal Canadiens development camp was held in June 2019. There was no 2020 version because of the pandemic. Players can tend to take their time to produce at the professional level, but not even two years after that camp was held, a lot of those players are already making their mark.
There were 39 players invited to the camp, of which 29 were already drafted or signed by the organization. A 30th was added when the Laval Rocket signed Liam Hawel to an AHL contract last summer. Since the camp, Connor Lacouvee and Alexandre Alain have left the organization. Allan McShane, Cole Fonstad, and Samuel Houde were not signed before their rights expired.
Of the 25 remaining players, 15 have played a game for, or are currently on the roster of, the Laval Rocket this season (including Cole Caufield, signed on Saturday night). That doesn’t include Jake Evans or Nick Suzuki, who were at the camp but have been in the NHL all season. It also doesn’t include Jesperi Kotkaniemi or Alexander Romanov, who did not attend the camp. You can also add 2020 Draft picks Kaiden Guhle and Jan Myšàk to the list of players who played for the Rocket.
The pandemic led to that number being elevated. Gianni Fairbrother, as an example, would have not been in the AHL this season under normal circumstances. Same for Jacob Leguerrier, plus Guhle, and Myšàk.
For many, that 2019 group represented the future of the organization. Some players are still years away from making a professional impact, if they will at all. Others may never get to the NHL. After Caufield completes his quarantine, the last four years of first-round picks the Canadiens made will have made their NHL or AHL debuts — Ryan Poehling, Kotkaniemi, Caufield, and Guhle. The jewel of the team’s trade reset, Nick Suzuki, was also a 2017 first-round pick.
2018 second-round picks Romanov and Jesse Ylönen have started to make their impact after coming over from Europe. Other than Guhle and Fairbrother, the team’s best prospects outside the North American professional scope include Mattias Norlinder, Jordan Harris, Jayden Struble, and Luke Tuch.
The result is a group of young players already starting to get used to playing — and now winning — together. It is something that good teams have done to develop from within. It is mostly foreign to the Canadiens AHL team. Even when the team won the 2007 Calder Cup, the only future NHL regulars on the team were Carey Price, Kyle Chipchura, Matt D’Agostini, Maxim Lapierre, Mikhail Grabovski, and Ryan O’Byrne. Other than Price, those players made their mark outside the Canadiens organization or were not significant contributors.
It plays into the importance of the success the Laval Rocket are currently having. The Rocket are in the midst of a 6-0-1 road trip, and their 14-4-2 record is good for 4th in the entire AHL in points percentage, and tied for first in points. It is one of the best starts for an AHL team the Canadiens organization has ever had.
With Caufield joining the Rocket, he will join a group of players that includes several players he knows from that camp, as well as the coaching staff he worked with. It also gets him back in hockey shape after what will be a week without skating during his quarantine. The adjustment to the NHL would be hard enough, and there’s no issue with giving him some AHL games before making that jump.
Twenty-two months ago, it seemed like a distant reality but the future of the Canadiens organization has — for the most part — arrived at the professional level.