LAVAL, QC – The Canadiens and Rocket have been busy since early September, re-signing players and adding new depth to bolster the roster.
Howdy, y’all! It’s been over a month since last we spoke. That’s partly my fault, partly due to having a couple of Jewish holidays that I observe take place almost immediately back-to-back in the middle and at the end of September. Since then, the Rocket roster has been locked down and shuffled around with re-signed players and some fresh faces injected into the depth charts. Some of these signings have an impact on the National Hockey League as well as the American Hockey League.
This will be kind of an information dump but bear with me, I’ll make it as painless as possible. I did all the boring work so that you don’t have to deal with the tedium. So, buckle up, hockey people! We’ve got players to discuss!
September 9, 2020
Kevin Lynch is re-signed to a one-year, one-way AHL contract for 2020-21.
The 28-year-old centerman was invited to Rocket training camp on September 23, 2019. He signed a contract with Laval on October 1 and played 54 games during the 2019-20 season. Lynch, a native of Grosse Pointe, MI, put up 21 points (7G, 14A) before the season was abruptly canceled by the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Lynch, standing at 6-foot-1 and weighing in at 207 pounds, is a significant body on the Rocket’s front end. He accumulated 36 penalty minutes across his first campaign with Laval.
Lynch was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round (#56 overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He has spent his entire professional career with a handful of teams across the ECHL and the AHL.
September 12, 2020
Hayden Verbeek is loaned to HC ’05 Banská Bystrica in the Slovak Extraliga.
Verbeek, 22, signed an entry-level contract with the Canadiens on March 24, 2018. In 2019-20, the centerman only played six games with the Rocket, where he scored no points but did serve a single minor penalty. The rest of the season was spent with the Adirondack Thunder of the ECHL. The Kingston, ON native, tallied 19 points (5G, 14A) and only spent four minutes in the penalty box.
At the time of writing, Verbeek has played four games with HC ’05 (nicknamed “Barani,” the Slovak word for “Rams”). In those four games, he’s scored two goals and no assists and is expected to return to Montréal at the opening of training camp for the 2020-21 season.
Verbeek went undrafted and signed with the Canadiens as a free agent after a successful OHL career with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
September 15, 2020
The Rocket sign Pascal Aquin and Tobie Bisson to a one-year, one-way AHL contract each for 2020-21.
Aquin, a winger from Le Gardeur, QC, split 2019-20 between the Rochester Americans of the AHL and the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL. In Rochester, the 23-year-old forward earned five points (3G, 2A) and nine penalty minutes across 16 games. While in Cincinnati, he racked up 26 points (8G – 18A) and spent 49 minutes in the box. Aquin’s 6-foot-2 and 201-pound frame adds even more size that the forward corps can draw from.
Aquin was undrafted after a long stint in the QMJHL and signed his first professional contract on May 16, 2018, with the Rochester Americans.
Bisson is a 23-year-old, left-hand shot defenseman from Rosemere, QC. He comes in at 6-foot-3, weighs 194 pounds, and can be another large presence to the Rocket’s blue line. Last season, he played 62 games with the Cincinnati Cyclones, where he posted 22 points (8G, 14A) and 28 penalty minutes.
Bisson also went undrafted after a QMJHL career that saw him earn the Kevin Lowe Trophy, awarded annually to the league’s best defenseman, in 2017-18. He signed with the Rochester Americans on May 16, 2018, alongside Aquin.
September 16, 2020
Jesse Ylönen is loaned to the Lahti Pelicans in the Finnish Liiga.
Ylönen, 21, spent the last two seasons with the Pelicans. Last year, the Finnish winger tallied 22 points (12G, 10A) in his 53 games with Lahti. The 6-foot, 167-pound import has one point, an assist, in the four games he’s played at the time of writing. Ylönen is expected to return to Montréal for the opening of training camp for the 2020-21 season.
The second round (#35 overall) draft pick of the Montréal Canadiens in 2018 signed his ELC on March 26, 2020. He was assigned to Laval, but the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the season before playing his first professional hockey game in North America. Ylönen holds dual-citizenship in both the United States and Finland – he was born in Scottsdale, AZ, while his father was a member of the Phoenix Coyotes.
September 23, 2020
Jake Evans signs a two-year contract extension with the Montréal Canadiens.
A native of Toronto, ON, Evans split his time between Laval and Montréal last season. With the Rocket, the 24-year-old forward rallied for 38 points (14G, 24A) in 51 games. He served 26 minutes in penalties. With the Canadiens, Evans potted three points (2G, 1A) in 13 regular-season games. The 6-foot, 187-pound striker got his first taste of the NHL postseason during Montréal’s brief run in the return-to-play, lacing up his skates for six games, assisting on one goal.
The Notre Dame graduate was selected by the Canadiens in the seventh round (#207 overall) of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He signed his ELC on April 9, 2018, following his senior season with the Fighting Irish, and spent his first professional season with Laval.
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) April 20, 2020
September 24, 2020
Brent Gates signs a one-year, two-way AHL contract with the Rocket.
Gates, a centerman from Grand Rapids, MI, played 20 games with the San Diego Gulls of the AHL and 25 games with the ECHL’s Tulsa Oilers last season. He recorded five points (4G, 1A), four penalty minutes and 20 points (10G, 10A), 14 penalty minutes, respectively, before both leagues canceled their seasons. The 23-year-old measures up at 6-foot-2 and weighs 196 pounds.
Gates spent four seasons at the University of Michigan after being selected in the third round (#80 overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
September 25, 2020
Joseph Blandisi signs a one-year, two-way contract.
Blandisi, 26, split his time between three teams last season. In 26 games with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, the AHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins, he provided 14 points (6G, 8A) and watched from the penalty box for 57 minutes. As a part of the Penguins organization, Blandisi appeared in 21 games with the big club, earning five points (2G, 3A) and served 10 minutes in the box. The 5’11”, 187-pound, Markham, ON native sported Laval colors in four games. He notched four points (1G, 3A) while only contributing to four minutes of penalty kill time.
The Rocket acquired Blandisi, the sixth round (#162 overall) pick of Colorado in 2012, via a trade that sent Riley Barber and Phil Varone to Pittsburgh and also brought Jake Lucchini to Laval.
September 28, 2020
Jake Lucchini signs a one-year, two-way contract.
Lucchini, a 25-year-old forward, also spent the bulk of last season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. In 53 games with the Baby Pens, he posted 15 points (7G, 8A) and only registered 10 penalty minutes. A native of Trail, BC, Lucchini played eight games with the Rocket, made it onto the score sheet for five points (4G, 1A), and accrued four penalty minutes. Rocket fans may be a little wary of his size: he is on the shorter side at 5’11” and weighs 183 pounds, but Lucchini fits perfectly into the systems Laval uses, and his work ethic and compete level more than makeup for the height he lacks.
Lucchini signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins as an undrafted free agent on March 11, 2019, and joined Laval by way of the trade that moved Joseph Blandisi across the border.
September 30, 2020
Michael McNiven signs a one-year, two-way contract with the Canadiens.
McNiven, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, bounced around between three teams in the ECHL before being recalled by the Rocket before the season ended. With the Adirondack Thunder, he played four games and posted a record of 3-1-0 while holding a save percentage of .941 and only allowing 1.75 goals against on average. He played 10 games with the Jacksonville Icemen, where his record worsened to 4-5-1 on the heels of a save percentage of .915 and 2.79 GAA. The 23-year-old backstopped the Norfolk Admirals for eight games and saw that record further deteriorate to 2-5-1 with 4.16 GAA and a .889 save percentage. When he was finally recalled to Laval, he played three games before the season was canceled and improved his record back up to 3-0-0 with a save percentage of .919 and 2.33 GAA. At 6’1” and 198 pounds, McNiven is right around the average height and weight of professional goalies in North America (6’2”, 201 pounds).
As an undrafted free agent, McNiven signed an ELC with the Montréal Canadiens on September 24, 2015, following a solid OHL career.
In the small hours of October 3, 2020, McNiven and his fiancé welcomed Chloe, their beautiful baby girl, into the world.
October 3, 2020
Charles Hudon, Xavier Ouellet, and Noah Juulsen are extended qualifying offers by the Canadiens.
Hudon, a 26-year-old centerman, played 46 games with the Rocket last season. He racked up 35 points (27G, 8A) and served 51 penalty minutes. He spent 15 games with the Canadiens and registered one goal and one assist. The 5’10”, 195-pound forward played two games in the bubble when the Canadiens returned to play after the COVID-19 pandemic brought the season to a halt. Hudon, a native of Alma, QC, represented Laval as an AHL all-star in the 2020 AHL All-Star Classic. He won the accuracy shooting in the skills competition.
Hudon was selected by Montréal in the fifth round (#122 overall) in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
“Pretty good” from Charles Hudon!
🏆 🏆 🏆 pic.twitter.com/KAZ5GUB39x
— Rocket de Laval (@RocketLaval) January 27, 2020
Ouellet is the captain of the Laval Rocket. Last season, he suited up for 39 games with his squad, recorded 24 points (9G, 15A), and contributed to 13 of the team’s total penalty minutes. The 6’0”, 196-pound blueliner closed out the season by drawing in for 12 games with the big club, where he assisted on two goals and spent four minutes in the penalty box. When the Canadiens entered the bubble to resume the NHL postseason, Ouellet appeared in 10 games. He assisted on one goal and served 14 penalty minutes. He was born in Bayonne, France, while his father played there but grew up in Terrebonne, QC.
The Rocket Patriarch joined the professional ranks after being selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the second round (#48 overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He signed with the Montréal Canadiens as a free agent on July 1, 2018.
On October 9, 2020, the Canadiens announced that the team and Ouellet had agreed to terms on a two-year, two-way contract extension.
Juulsen, 23, had a bit of a rough go last season. Injuries kept him out of the Rocket lineup until the latter half of the season. Once he was given the all-clear to play, the Surrey, BC native played 13 games, assisted on three goals, and compiled only four minutes in the penalty box. Coming in at 6’02” and weighing 198 pounds, he adds a sizeable presence on the blue line, and a full season of hockey may be – pardon the pun – just what the doctor ordered.
The Canadiens selected Juulsen in the first round (#26 overall) in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He signed his ELC that summer, on July 9, 2015.
On September 18, 2020, he proposed to his long-time girlfriend. She said yes!
On October 8, 2020, the Canadiens and Juulsen agreed to terms on a one-year contract extension.
The Canadiens did not submit qualifying offers to forwards Aaron Luchuk, Andrew Sturtz, and Antoine Waked.
October 6, 2020
Karl Alzner is placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of buying out the remainder of his contract.
Alzner, a 32-year-old defenseman from Burnaby, BC, patrolled Laval’s blue line for 53 games last season and produced 13 points (1G, 12A) while serving 24 minutes of penalties. The 6’02”, 210-pound veteran played four games on a call-up to the Canadiens, where he posted zero points.
When the NHL resumed play, Alzner chose to opt-out of the return-to-play.
Alzner was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the first round (#5 overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. The Canadiens signed him as a free agent on July 1, 2017.
October 9, 2020
Brandon Baddock signs a one-year, two-way contract with the Canadiens.
Baddock is a centerman from Vermilion, AB, who spent last season with the Binghamton Devils of the AHL. He played 50 games and notched 15 points (6G – 9A) but amassed an impressive 114 minutes in the penalty box. His large frame, 6’03” and 220 pounds, adds bulk to the forward corps and adds a formidable presence on the front end.
Baddock was selected in the sixth round (#161 overall) by the New Jersey Devils in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
October 12, 2020
Various reporters around the NHL and AHL announce that Hudon has made his way to Switzerland to play for the season.
Un nouveau Lion vient rugir au Lausanne HC ! 🦁
Bienvenue Charles Hudon ! 🇨🇦
— Lausanne Hockey Club (@lausannehc) October 16, 2020
On October 16, Hudon played his first game with Lausanne HC in the Swiss National League, where he scored a goal and an assist.
October 16, 2020
Jesperi Kotkaniemi is loaned to his hometown team, HC Ässät Pori Oy of the Finnish Liiga.
Kotkaniemi, 20, played 13 games with the Canadiens’ AHL arm when he was assigned to the Rocket following an injury that caused him to lose his stride with the big club. While in Laval, he earned himself an incredible point-per-game record (1G – 12A) and served 16 penalty minutes. Before being assigned to the Rocket, the Finnish centerman played 36 games with the Canadiens, registered 18 points (6G, 2A), and spent 23 minutes in the penalty box. When the Canadiens took on the Penguins and Flyers in the playoff bubble, Kotkaniemi returned to the club and played 10 games. He scored four goals and was assessed 23 minutes’ worth of penalties. The young forward put in a phenomenal amount of work when he returned to Finland after the season paused and filled his 6’02” frame out to a sizable 198 pounds.
He is expected to return to Montréal when training camp opens for the start of next season.
Kotkaniemi was the first round (#3 overall) pick of the Canadiens in 2018.
He returns to Pori as a hometown hero, having played with Ässät in 2017-18 before making the Canadiens roster as a rookie in 2018-19.
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