Last week, we took a look at the long list of departures from Laval as they overhaul their roster following a poor inaugural season. Now, let’s look at who has all been brought in to reshape the team.
While Chris Terry moved on, the Habs didn’t waste too much time finding a replacement with the signing of Kenny Agostino. He’s coming off a bit of a down year, posting 53 points after leading the league with 83 in 2016-17 but he’s a proven point producer in the AHL and, having cleared waivers multiple times in the past, is a safe bet to do so again.
Michael Chaput is a name some may be familiar with from his time in Vancouver but while he was a fringe NHL fourth liner, he’s a quality top-six centre in the minors. He’s someone that should be able to be used in all roles while potentially battling Byron Froese on the recall depth chart.
While Alexandre Grenier isn’t an ideal top liner at this stage of his career, he’s a consistent secondary scorer having tallied at least 16 times in each of the last five years. (For perspective, a grand total of two players scored 16 goals in a Laval jersey last year and neither will be back.) The veteran rule may keep him out of the lineup a little bit at the start but he should still be one of their better producers.
There was certainly some concern that Jake Evans would eschew any offers from the Habs to make it to August free agency where he would have headlined a fairly weak class overall. Instead, he signed shortly after his college season ended and will now make his pro debut in the fall. He’s likely to start as the second or third line centre which will allow him to ease into his new environment instead of being thrown to the wolves.
Will Bitten has been viewed as one of Montreal’s better prospects since he was picked two years ago and although his offensive game didn’t progress like many had hoped, he still projects to be an effective bottom-six player. With the extra depth the team has though, he’ll be battling for playing time in Laval when everyone is healthy.
With 150 SHL games under his belt, it’s hard to really call Lukas Vejdemo a rookie but this will be his first season in North America. He can play both centre and the wing and should be someone that gets leaned on to kill penalties at the very least. He’s still signed with Djurgardens for another year so if ice time is limited for him, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him loaned back at some point.
The two Czech defenders that the Habs signed back in late May, David Sklenicka and Michal Moravcik, are also going to be crossing the pond for the first time. Both are left-shot players which is where most of Laval’s defensive depth lies so big minutes are far from a guarantee. Both have European Assignment Clauses in their contracts so if one is on the outside looking in too often, returning to Plzen could become an option at some point.
AHL Depth Deals
Alex Belzile is a name that may be familiar to some as he spent some time with Montreal’s farm team back in 2013 with Hamilton. He has bounced around a lot since then but is coming off a pretty good year with AHL San Antonio that saw him collect 34 points in 63 games. It has been a long time since someone like that would qualify as a depth player on the farm so having Belzile gives them much better injury insurance than they’ve had for a while.
Given that his signing came during the wave of moves on July 1st, the addition of Nikita Jevpalovs flew under the radar. He’s someone that new head coach Joel Bouchard is familiar with from his junior days and Jevpalovs chose to leave the KHL where he was largely a regular player for his hometown team to come play for him again. It’s hard to see a spot for him in the lineup but I don’t think he leaves home without some sort of assurances.
On the back end, Ryan Culkin is coming off a very productive year in the ECHL, collecting 38 points in just 53 games. T.J. Melancon’s output was even better with 43 points in 58 contests. One of them could start in Laval but the other should give them a much better recall option than what they had in Brampton last year. Maxim Lamarche is also in the mix and with a two-year deal under his belt, he’ll have an inside track at a roster spot.
With the departure of Zach Fucale, an extra goalie that will serve as depth in the ECHL needed to be signed. Etienne Marcoux gets the nod but has all of two career AHL appearances under his belt and turns 25 next month so he doesn’t figure to be much of an option for playing time even if one of Charlie Lindgren or Michael McNiven gets injured or recalled.
The Habs were relatively active in CHL free agency last season, inking a pair of centres in Alexandre Alain and Hayden Verbeek who are now set to turn pro. Alain is more of an offensive threat while Verbeek projects as more of an energy player. With that in mind, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Alain be sent down to play more of an offensive-minded role in the ECHL with Verbeek battling for fourth line minutes with the Rocket.
Montreal also signed 2016 sixth-rounder Michael Pezzetta to his entry-level deal and he also projects as a fourth liner in the pros. Given his physicality, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him start in Laval to give the team some grit although having him go to the ECHL to get more minutes wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
A pair of QMJHL forwards were also inked to minor league deals in Morgan Adams-Moisan and Phelix Martineau. At this point, it’s tough to see either of them contend for a spot in Laval right away given the extra depth the team has added up front. If recent history is any indication though, both players should still see some AHL action once the inevitable injury bug strikes.
The level of turnover in Laval has been quite substantial this summer. We’ll find out soon enough if the moves they’ve made are enough to turn their fortunes around.