In March 2020, the day the NHL ended its season for the first time, Laurent Dauphin would play for the Montreal Canadiens. Now we all know what happened, and almost two years after COVID-19 first took away one opportunity, it gave it another.
For the 26-year-olds in their fourth organization in the NHL after four different trades (Arizona traded him for him and for him), chances at the highest level are not certain, especially after 35 career games in the NHL. the NHL in four seasons, the latest to come 2018-19.
He started the season with confidence and the result was 11 goals in 18 AHL games. He was among the AHL’s top goal scorers when he was recalled.
Dauphin has taken advantage of his opportunity so far with the Canadiens. In five games with the team, he has one goal and two assists. The three points correspond to his most productive season in the NHL, in 2016-17, in 19 games less.
“I thought this might be my last chance at 26,” said Dauphin after practice on Tuesday. “I prepared for it and I knew my first games would be important and so will the first games of this road trip … If this is my last chance, I can’t pass it up.”
The irony is that after COVID-19 provided the opportunity, it almost took it off again when it entered the NHL virus protocol on December 19. Now that the corps is back in the Habs lineup, the numbers game will begin and Dauphin knows what awaits him.
“I want to pick up where I left off before Christmas, continue to take my chance and stay here for the rest of the season,” he said.
Head coach Dominique Ducharme also recognized the tightrope that the organization will have to walk to form its roster.
“Some guys showed some really good things, but it’s more complicated that we’re going to do this and that,” Ducharme said. “There are waivers, contracts, things like that. We definitely think some guys could have taken a place in the squad where they get more. Whether it’s playing more with us or being with us instead of going back to Laval, that’s a possibility for sure.
“We have to look at the individual situation,” he continued. “For a young player, we have to make sure he has a number of minutes and a role where he can continue to develop. In Laurent’s case, he’s a good example, he’s a guy who has shown a lot of perseverance in recent seasons. He had an opportunity and played well in the games he received, and now he and others like him have to keep going in order to force us to make a decision.
When Dauphin was due to make the jump to the NHL in 2020, it was at the expense of Lukas Vejdemo, who had just been fired after scoring his first career NHL goal.
It was the last time Vejdemo saw the NHL in the regular season until he was pushed into action with a depleted roster. The long list of players entering protocol meant he would end up having a chance on the front row with Nick Suzuki. This is something he acknowledged when speaking to the media on Tuesday.
When the 25-year-old was asked about the biggest adjustment in the NHL system, his response was that he was asked to play a more offensive role than he was used to with the Rocket. Vejdemo takes pride in his defensive play and strong hockey sense, but says it’s something else he’s learned in his 162 AHL games in four seasons. He’s the all-time leader in goals and games played for the Rocket since leaving St. John’s.
“You can’t have days off, you have to be good at every game,” Vejdemo said. “I’ve learned this over the years here. I think that’s a big part of my game, more consistency.
“We are really proud of our players who have made it to the NHL,” said Laval Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle. “They’ve made an honest effort every night and for them it’s an opportunity to shine and show the organization what they can do. It gives them the experience to play at a higher level and lets them know what to learn in order to stay in the NHL. “
There is a very real trickle down to the opportunities. While NHL opportunities are the premium ticket, so many players getting this call mean Laval players are getting increased roles.
Tobie Paquette-Bisson began his first season with the Rocket in good health. Once he entered training, he became a regular. He had to gain the trust of a new coaching staff and he starts Wednesday’s game as the team’s best defender. It’s a challenge he looks forward to.
“I want to be the go-to guy,” Bisson said. “For the team, for the coaches. My role is to play the right way. My defensive play is the most important part, especially with all the guys gone. It just comes back and shows the guys the way.
The break came at a bad time for the Rocket, who were 5-1-1 in their last seven games, including five wins in six games. This meant that the break was more difficult than just being away from the rink. Wednesday’s game at an empty Place Bell against the Syracuse Crunch will be their first game since December 17.
“For the first part, it was a bit difficult, I’ll be honest,” said Paquette-Bisson. “We were on a stretch and things were going well. I think I went 23 days without coming to the rink so it was difficult. For all of the guys here it’s been a tough time, but the guys are excited to be back and playing. “
AHL contracted players are often overlooked in a successful farm team, as attention is rightly drawn to NHL prospects. With just two NHL contracts slated to feature in Wednesday’s roster, it means a showcase for players who had already stepped up, including the line of Brandon Gignac, Kevin Roy and Danick Martel, among others.
“I think now is the time for these players to take a step and show other organizations as well,” said Houle. “If they’re doing well, the Boston Bruins can come and pick up one of our guys at any time. For them it’s an opportunity to have more ice time, to show themselves in situations where they aren’t normally like the power play or the penalty kill. These are players who take full advantage and it could get them a contract to continue their career. Maybe he’s here with us, we could say we need this player again. It’s important to have good veterans in the AHL to help the youngsters progress, but also for the mental state of the team when things like that happen.
This is the first year that the Trois-Rivières Lions have been part of the Canadiens organization and it couldn’t have been better. Houle acknowledged that it would be very difficult for The Rocket to have a full lineup without the Affiliate.
“I think it’s very important and it’s a good thing that we have an ECHL team in Quebec, especially with COVID and the border crossing issues,” he said.
It’s also helpful because most of the recalled players from ECHL worked with Houle during the team’s rookie camp and the first part of training camp. They were also on a hot roll and can bring that momentum with them.
Olivier Galipeau got a try in the AHL to complete the team’s defense after starting the season with the Lions. He has two goals and 17 assists in 24 ECHL games, and the defenseman will play his 10th career AHL game on his Rocket debut.
Devante Smith-Pelly is also on trial with the Rocket and is trying to seize the opportunity to land a full-time contract. The former Canadian last played in the NHL in 2018-19 and last year played 14 games for Ontario’s AHL reign after a season in the KHL.
When asked what he left in the tank, he actually was.
“I’m 29, not 49,” he said before adding that he didn’t want to offend the 49-year-old.
With 13 forwards at Laval and only three practices under his belt, he may not play on Wednesday, but his experience will be positive for the future.