The Laval Dirt in a Dozen #1
February 13, 2021
By Grant McCagg
The Belleville Senators were the class of the AHL’s North Division last season, yet the Rocket have had their number in recent outings. The Rocket over the past two seasons have a winning record against the baby Senators, and in their past two outings, have outscored them 8-1. Laval’s record in their past 11 games is now 8-2-1. Let’s hope that the club gets off to a stronger start through the first ten games this time around and are not spending the rest of the campaign chasing a playoff spot, like last season.
So nice to see Joel Teasdale get a goal and an assist in his AHL debut after sitting out all of last season with an injury. Character kid…and has some talent as well. He may play someday…in the big league. You could see it in his last year of junior that he was all about heart and character, finishing top five in consecutive QMJHL playoff runs. He made the QMJHL final with BLB under Joel Bouchard, then led all players in scoring in leading Rouyn-Noranda to the QMJHL championship and Memorial Cup title in 2019. Signed by Montreal after his championship run, Teadale missed all of last season after tearing ligaments in both his MCL and ACL during an on-ice session in August of 2019.
AHL/NHL vet Joe Blandisi looked like he’d been playing with Teasdale and fellow rookie Jesse Ylonen for years. When asked by Recrutes after the game how long he’d been practising with the rooks, Blandisi said it had been for four scrimmages. One gets the impression that Joel “Nostradamus” Bouchard will be keeping those three together for the foreseeable future.
Ylonen was nothing short of sensational After starting his year with the Pelicans in the sm-liiga and collecting just one point in his first nine games, Ylonen matched that total in his North American pro hockey debut. As noted by Recrutes’ columnist Dan Meagher on Twitter, we knew all about Ylonen’s shot and speed, what surprised was the vision.
Ylonen set up Blandisi twice in the exact same fashion, showing his speed down the wing and then finding him with highly-skilled passes that also showed off his on-ce awareness. Blandisi buried the second such pass.
Cale Fleury looked like an NHLer. I suppose spending half of 2019-20 with the Canadiens and another three months since August practising and scrimmaging with NHLers, Fleury’s poise and confidence were immediately evident from the opening shift. He looks like he could, and should, be playing on an NHL blueline. That’s okay; he wouldn’t be the first AHL defenceman getting some extra seasoning even after he’s ready. The AHL is a strong league – especially this year with tons of highly-skilled teenagers getting to play because their junior leagues haven’t started up. I would like to see him paired with Romanov on his natural size in Montreal. Let Kulak be the seventh defenceman, and deal Victor Mete before he gets even more disconsolate. Olofsson and Ouellet aren’t really a step down from Mete anyway if you run into injury problems.
Ryan Poehling just needs a big offensive game like he had in his NHL debut to get going. You can see that he’s close; he made several smart plays in this game, and had few rushes that didn’t quite work out. Poehling came to camp with a better mindset. He knows he has to earn his keep, and this time around he won’t be taking the calibre of the AHL for granted. Give him a couple of weeks, and I think you’ll start seeing him produce at the AHL level at a pace that will get him back in Marc Bergevin’s good graces, and a solid bet to be recalled for another look before the end of the season.
Mind you, he may not be recalled before Lukas Vejdemo, who was certainly one of Laval’s better skaters last night. He played a solid all-around game – killing penalties and creating chances with his speed. Check out this read on the PK, and then the speed to blow past the defender. All he needed was the finish and it was the highlight of the night:
I thought this last year and it remains my opinion at this point: I’m not certain that Vejdemo isn’t a better fit as a fourth-line center on the Canadiens than Evans. Certainly he has a better size/skill combination. I would give the edge to Evans in creativity, yet Evans has failed to register an assist in 14 games this season, and has gone pointless in his last nine. Vejdemo brings similar effectiveness on the penalty kill, and is a bigger threat to get breakaways while down a man. If the dry spell for Evans continues and Vejdemo keeps playing like he did last night, don’t be surprised to see him inserted into the lineup at some point this month. Perhaps you see a fourth line of Lehkonen-Vejdemo-Evans.
Vejdemo won 59% of his draws in the SHL this season. In the past calendar year, he has won more than 57% of his faceoffs at the AHJL and SHL level. That doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be a good faceoff man in the NHL, but it’s an indication that he will at least be com petitive in that regard. If you slide Evans over to the wing on a line with Vejdemo and Lehkonen, it gives you another option in the faceoff circle. Use Evans on faceoffs situationally where he is most effective, and if one of them gets tossed out of the circle, you have another centerman who can replace him. It also gives you another center to take important draws on occasion instead of KK and Suzuki if their faceoff struggles continue.
I was a little surprised that 2019 seventh-round pick Rafel Harvey-Pinard got the nod over 2018 third-round pick Cam Hillis on opening night but by game’s end, I could see why he was in the lineup. A highly-impressive first outing for Harvey-Pinard, whose hard work, skill and smarts were evident throughout the contest. Playing on a line with Jordan Weal and Yannick Veilleux, Harvey-Pinard created plenty of scoring chances with his consistent work ethic. The name Brendan Gallagher gets tossed around whenever you see a tenacious 5-9 winger play without fear, but RHP fits that mould of player. It doesn’t hurt that he also wear #11, either. He goes to the net, he goes in the corners, he gets his nose dirty, and he has decent speed and puck skills. It looks like Trevor Timmins and his scouting staff struck paydirt once again with a seventh-round selection.
Fleury is a half-year older and played one more season of pro hockey than Brook, but there is a decided difference in their development curves at this time. Brook is still trying to find his confidence at the AHL level. It doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but at this point in their careers, the third-round 2018 pick is looking like a better NHL prospect than the second-round selection. And that’s fine – when you are rebuilding, you load up on top 90 picks, and may the best men win. I don’t like to look back on it in a few years and focus on the higher picks that don’t make it – you look at the entire picture. If a higher pick is beat out by a player who was picked later in the draft…it still worked out okay. When you start to worry is when none of the picks become NHLers. The same can be said about Jack Smith and Sean Farrell at this time. Smith and Biondi are being outplayed considerably by Farrell, who now looks like a legitimate NHL prospect. That’s fine. All three were fourth-round picks…if even one of them makes it to the NHL…that is a success story.
Habs AHL affiliate looks completely different under Bouchard than it did under Lefebvre. I wonder if he’d be a viable replacement for Julien.