Rocket de Laval: younger, but with the same DNA
The Laval Rocket qualified for the playoffs for the first time in club history last season. Jean-François Houle's team even went one win away from taking part in the Calder Cup final. An encouraging performance for the organization of the Canadiens.
However, everything has to be started again. Like the big club, the Rocket has undergone several changes since June 15, the date of its elimination in the semi-finals against the Thunderbirds in Springfield.
The Laval team has lost several big pieces during summer time. This is standard for an American Hockey League (AHL) team.
“We will be a lot younger in defense. On offense, it will look a lot like what we had last year, said Jean-François Houle during an interview with Le Journal. Our philosophy remains the same: to develop in a winning environment.
“At the start of the season, there will be a lot of adjustments with all the young players we will have. Last year, we built a good culture.
“We still want to be a team that is difficult to play against. It will still be part of our DNA,” he warns.
A hole in defense
When you look at the Rocket's squad, one thing stands out. The defense suffered several major losses.
Xavier Ouellet, who was the team captain, Louie Belpedio, Sami Niku and Tobie Paquette-Bisson decided to try their luck elsewhere. They formed the first two pairs of the Rocket in the last series.
This means that a young defender could have several minutes of play if he started the season in Laval. Precious time that could help him refine certain aspects of his game.
“The AHL is a very good league, specifies Houle. Some young people think they will come and burn the league, but it does not work like that.
“Our young defenders are expected to make mistakes. We will live with them and it will be up to us to correct them so that they become better. Young people always need to adapt,” he adds.
Despite the many departures, Houle can count on a group of solid veterans. We can think of a core made up of Gabriel Bourque, Danick Martel, Alex Belzile and Brandon Gignac.
“We have good veterans, mentions the Rocket driver. Their chances of playing in the NHL are less, but they know they have to take responsibility with our young people. »
Competing in the playoffs for the second year in a row is not an unachievable goal despite the organization's youthful shift.
“Last season, the Rochester Americans made the playoffs despite a very young roster . It's possible. On the other hand, it will be necessary to play with consistency despite the recalls and the injuries
A crucial communication
The Rocket and the Canadiens want to be on the same page at the level of development
The Canadiens will be rebuilding this year. It will be a development season with the big club, but also with the Rocket.
Several young players will get auditions with the Montreal squad. The orange metro line could be very busy during the winter.
For operations to be efficient, it will be important that the coaches of both teams work in unison.
“It will be important to have good communication, explains Jean-François Houle. We need to know the things he needs to work on to get back into the NHL.“We also have to have the vision of the organization for this player. We are going to work closely with the members of the player development department who will be very present in Laval this season,” he said.
Nick Carrière, Francis Bouillon, Rob Ramage, Scott Pellerin and Adam Nicholas have already displayed their colors in this sense. They intend to offer a personalized service to the hopefuls of the Canadiens.
When they met for the first time, Jean-François Houle and Martin St-Louis didn't need an introduction.
The two coaches have known each other for several years and they have several things in common .
First, they competed at the midget AAA level in the 1991-92 season. St-Louis finished first in league scoring with 103 points in 42 games while playing for the Régents de Laval-Laurentides-Lanaudière.
During this time, Houle had collected 75 points in 40 games with the Lac St-Louis Lions. He finished fourth in the league.
Afterwards, they decided to take the path of American universities. St-Louis had taken over the management of the University of
Vermont while Houle had chosen to wear the colors of the Clarkson Golden Knights.
If the pro career of St-Louis brought him to the Hall of Fame, that of Houle was not so fruitful.
The latter became a coach because of his excellent qualities of pedagogue. His successes in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the American Hockey League prove that he has chosen the right path.
Ready for all hopes…even Slafkovsky!
Expectations are high for rookie Juraj Slafkovsky. For the development of the first overall pick, it is not excluded that he plays a few games with the Laval Rocket.
The head coach of the school club is ready for this eventuality.
“It would not be the first to end up in the AHL, explains Jean-François Houle. If Slafkovsky came to play with the Rocket, it wouldn't add more pressure on me or the other coaches.”
“We try to stay in the present moment. We don't look too far ahead. I know first-round picks who played 100 games in the AHL before making their way to the NHL. ”
“It's not the end of the world. »
He cites the case of Cole Caufield as an example. The striker had a difficult time with the Canadiens last season. Marc Bergevin had decided to send him to the American League so that he could find his bearings.
“It's difficult for the youngster. He is disappointed. Our job is to temper the situation and help them as much as possible. It is important to have good communication with them.
“The American League is part of a journey. It's important for a young player to play in this circuit. ”
The Puljujarvi case
Swell could have a feeling of deja vu if Slafkovsky was expected to play a few games in the AHL this season.
When he was in the Edmonton
Oilers organization, he remembers the case of Jesse Puljujarvi. In his first year in North America, the one who had been selected fourth overall needed a stay of several weeks with the Bakersfield Condors.
« If an NHL team sends a prospect who was selected very high, it is because she wants to give him more ice time. It can also be to give him the chance to evolve on the special teams. »
« In this type of situation, the attitude of the young person is also important. He must often understand that not everything is due to him. It's an apprenticeship. »