Despite a sluggish start to their season last week, expectations are pretty high for Laval this year. There is a decent veteran core with a better group of prospects than there have been recently. However, that’s not necessarily a recipe for success at the AHL level.
The veteran group is decent but not as strong as last year. Anthony Richard and Mitchell Stephens are good players but they’re not as talented offensively as someone like Jean-Sebastien Dea. Madison Bowey is a solid defender in the minors but he’s not quite as productive as Xavier Ouellet is in the AHL. Yes, there’s a decent supporting group behind them but the top talent isn’t as strong. I could see this team struggling to score with consistency this season as a result.
You might be thinking to yourself that this creates plenty of opportunities for the youngsters to develop. You’re not wrong in that sense. But that’s not automatically conducive to success either. In fact, history suggests the opposite.
Not all young players are going to thrive in big roles right away. We saw Justin Barron throughout the preseason. He’s not flipping a switch and becoming a high-end, all-around 25-minute player with the Rocket. It’d be nice but that typically doesn’t happen. Filip Mesar lasted one game before they decided not to try to buck the trend by keeping an undersized 18-year-old in the minors and sent him to junior instead. Jan Mysak and Xavier Simoneau have shown offensive upside in junior but they will need some time to make an impact.
Generally speaking, the more prospects in the lineup, the more upside you have. However, the other part of that is that there’s more downside. There’s more game-to-game volatility as they go through the ebbs and flows of development. The ones that beat that trend don’t typically stay in the AHL too long either; those are the players that get recalled and stay in the NHL if they keep producing.
From a philosophical standpoint, having a good mix of veterans and youngsters is a good idea. But that’s not the case in the AHL, at least not from a winning standpoint. Look back at the rosters of the last few teams in the playoffs last year – they’re more comprised of players that aren’t really NHL prospects but are just solid minor league performers. That’s the norm in the minors.
Factoring in the upside of the prospects, there’s more talent on this Laval roster than there was last season. But that alone doesn’t equate to more victories.
In Montreal, this is set to be a season where success can be redefined. It’s a year that’s more about development than about victories. As long as the young players improve and the veterans that are getting traded boost their value, it’ll be a productive year.
That exact philosophy can’t be applied for the Rocket but it’s close. Is this a team that’s getting to the Conference Finals again? Probably not so by the traditional definition of success, they’ll take a step back. However, if the prospects improve as the season goes on and some of them are integrated into Montreal’s lineup down the stretch, it will be a very successful season from an organizational perspective even though it won’t show in the standings. Success will take on a different meaning this season as a result.