One of two players acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Tomas Plekanec trade, Kerby Rychel debuts in the top 20 in his first off-season in Montreal.
For Rychel, the move is his best chance at carving out an NHL spot before he’s too far into his prime as a player. While he was putting together a solid, albeit unspectacular season for the Toronto Marlies in the AHL, his offensive game exploded upon joining the Laval Rocket.
On a team that struggled to do much of anything positive in the AHL last year, Rychel helped form a dynamic line with Chris Terry and Adam Cracknell that was capable of piling up goals in quick succession. The trio was the primary source of offence in Laval as the rest of the squad was comprised of ECHL call-ups, AHL rookies, and tryouts struggling to keep pace.
Rychel’s standout play, in addition to a decent showing in four NHL games late in the season, suggested that he still may find himself an NHL spot in the Montreal Canadiens organization. He will need to keep the consistency and effort level he showed upon joining the club last winter to take it, as there will be some tough competition among his fellow wingers.
With under 50 NHL games to his credit, despite being a first-round pick, Rychel will be looking to find a home in Montreal, his third NHL club since being drafted in 2013.
He’s been a consistent point-producer in the AHL, though one who doesn’t always wow with his skill like other prospects. He’s an efficient offensive contributor and a solid addition to the lineup on a regular basis. In the previous season with the Marlies, his lack of discipline was hurting his team, but he cut down his penalty minutes in a big way, which helped him greatly in Laval last year.
There is quite a range of opinion on Rychel’s overall value among the panel of voters, with myself having seen the most of him over the course of this AHL season ranking him highest at 12th. While the other end of the spectrum is a rank of 31, most panellists had him among their top 25 players.
Top 25 Under 25 History
This is his first year on our list, clocking in at a respectable 19th. Our frenemies over at Pension Plan Puppets had previously ranked Rychel at 18th in 2017, and 11th in 2016 in their own T25U25 series.
While in Toronto and Columbus, Rychel garnered the reputation of a gritty winger, one who piled up the penalty minutes, and a suspension. He plays with an edge, something that can serve him well, and he’s never one to let a hard check go unanswered.
Outside of all the physical play is a solid offensive winger who is capable of being a good AHL contributor with an NHL ceiling that seems to max out somewhere in the bottom six.
He’s not on the same skill level as someone like Nikita Scherbak, who has a ton of flash when he sets up goals for himself or teammates. Rychel does things in a very direct manner. He goes to the net with purpose to create his goals. He’ll drive hard to the crease looking for rebounds, or to set himself up in a scoring position close to the net.
Kerby Rychel gets his third goal in his fourth game with the Rocket, cashing in on Stefan Leblanc shot. pic.twitter.com/XZGbAgSbZA— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) March 8, 2018
It’s not flashy, but it was highly effective after he joined the Rocket. His addition to the top line gave Terry space to operate further away from the net to utilize his laser-guided shot.
Rychel tallied 12 points in 16 games for a team that ended up with the worst record in the AHL. With a deeper or more talented roster, he should likely improve on his short time with the organization last year.
The main issue for Rychel to overcome in order to fully realize his potential as a prospect is his skating technique. While it’s not that he is immobile, his overall speed and agility is lacking compared to many of his peers. He can’t pull away from defenders, but that is something that can be improved upon with training. The question is: at Rychel’s age, can he improve enough to get it to an NHL-calibre level?
Out of all the positions at the professional levels in the Canadiens organization, his is jam-packed with talented players already. Down the left side and ahead of Rychel on the depth chart are: Max Pacioretty, Max Domi, Artturi Lehkonen, Charles Hudon, and Nicolas Deslauriers.
While some of these players may swap wings, or may be traded before the season starts, it’s clear that Rychel has an uphill battle to try to grab an NHL spot. He’s more offensively inclined than Deslauriers, which could help him in a bid for a fourth-line role. The hard part is that he won’t post the same metrics as Hudon or Lehkonen to steal a larger role, so that limits his options for a role.
While he’s a solid player, Rychel might not be good enough to grab a regular NHL spot unless bodies are moved out in Montreal. He will have the chance this pre-season with Paul Byron and Andrew Shaw still recovering from surgery.
Rychel knows where the strengths in his game are. He can play his physical style so long as he can continue to back it up with offence like he did last year. In fact, how he played is something Michael McCarron should look to emulate given their similarities; they’re both physical forwards, capable of being good offensive contributors who have some skating issues. The difference is that even when Rychel piled up penalty minutes, he could still produce offence at a good clip.
His short time with the organization last year was a great first impression. He scored, played a physical game, and made you notice him when he was on the ice. He’ll have to perform similarly to find an NHL role this year in Montreal.
Assuming he signs a new deal with the club before training camp starts, he will more than likely spend some time in the AHL again this year. Given how that team is shaking out, it won’t a bad thing, as he’ll be playing with a great mix of proven veterans, talented prospects, and a few players in a similar spot to him.
Much like it will be for McCarron, this is a pivotal year for Rychel, who will be looking to finally find a home. It’s on him to force the Canadiens’ hand and make the hard choices at the end of the pre-season.
Oh, and completely unrelated to anything, here is hockey’s number one feline fan in Templeton J. Rychel, whose arrival in the organization may force EOTP’s staff to do a Top 25 of Habs pets.