LAVAL, Que. – Jean-François Houle raised some eyebrows when he said ahead of the start of the American League Playoffs that he now plans to prioritize his group’s results rather than the progress of the young hopefuls under his supervision.
“We had 72 games to develop. That’s when it became very important to win,” said the coach before his team’s departure for Syracuse.
Days after Rocket’s elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals, we can conclude that the Canadian’s reserve team head coach played his cards well enough to finally manage to marry the two mandates.
After making veteran Kevin Poulin his trusted goaltender to start the adventure, Houle quickly changed his mind and handed the net to Cayden Primeau. The nascent controversy was quickly smothered by the young goalkeeper’s performances, who never gave his coach an opportunity to back down. Primeau was the primary architect of the Rocket’s magical well, erasing all doubt about him since a disastrous stint in the National League.
Up front, Houle showed unwavering faith in Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, even as the latter waited for his tenth game before scoring his first goal. In his luggage, the 23-year-old winger can stash those adversities alongside the successes that eventually followed. Jesse Ylönen also used the coach’s loyalty to learn his skills despite uneven performances.
By favoring a formation with seven defenders most of the time, Houle will have allowed promising Mattias Norlinder and Gianni Fairbrother to gain valuable experience on the bench. The former played in five games before being hit by a headcheck in the second round. The second, who had been injured since March, came on in the third round and made a good impression.
He will find that he regrets Houle’s reluctance to throw Joshua Roy into the fight. The prolific fifth-round pick only played one game after coming out of the Sherbrooke Phoenix as a tryout. The most intransigent will also mourn the invisibility of Riley Kidney, who stayed hidden with the reserves after a great season with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. But in the end, the rocket’s performance made all of his trainer’s decisions easily justifiable.
“I think it worked well,” Houle said during his team’s season review. I believe that winning also develops. Living in a prosperous environment can help players develop well. Our young players have been able to gain experience that is difficult to buy. It’s not easy going far in the playoffs. For her, it’s something that will haunt her for a very long time. »
space for young people
The Rocket, who had just six players under the age of 25 on their roster at the end of the Springfield season, are likely to show a significantly younger face next year.
On offense, 2020 second-round pick Jan Mysak will be ripe for a permanent move to the pros. Xavier Simoneau will be ready to fight for minutes at Laval. We also got to see Emil Heineman, a 20-year-old prospect acquired by the Calgary Flames in trading Tyler Toffoli.
But it is the Defense Brigade that will see the greatest transfusion of new blood. Kaiden Guhle and Arber Zhekaj will soon end their junior careers at the Memorial Cup tournament. Jordan Harris is gearing up for his first full season at the pro level and Justin Barron for his first training camp in the Canadian’s organization. Not to mention Norlinder, once this group’s darling, and Fairbrother, a former third-round pick who’s made a promising start in the American League.
Some will certainly start the year in the National League. The others fall under Houle’s purview, who must find a way to place them in the bathtub without creating too many splashes. It’s a difficult balance to achieve, but the Rocket’s trainer is used to handling this type of file. During his six seasons in an alternate role with the Bakersfield Condors, the Edmonton Oilers farm developed prospects such as Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, William Lagesson and Evan Bouchard.
“If you have four young defenders and three veterans to back them up, that you can always put a young player on the ice with a veteran to avoid too many mistakes, I think that’s the best scenario,” suggests Houle . You don’t just want to have a youth team where you lose every game 6-0, 6-1. Mentally it is too difficult for the youngster and he achieves nothing. »
It remains to be seen who these veterans will be, who will agree to use their experience for the benefit of the next generation. Xavier Ouellet, who has just completed his fourth season in the Habs family, made no compromises on a potential return, content to say he would “assess opportunities that presented themselves”. One would think that Corey Schueneman, who just broke into the NHL at age 26, will be looking for a situation that gives him chances to hang on. At 25, Tobie Paquette-Bisson hasn’t given up on the idea of making his own way into the big leagues.
Louie Belpedio hasn’t closed the door on a comeback. Torry Dello and Terrance Amorosa are other potential mentors the Canadian could identify internally.
“I think we have them here in the bedroom,” said Houle when asked for his thoughts on the subject following his meetings with his players at the end of the season. I think we have the core of veterans that I think we should bring back because they established a winning culture this year. So that we too have continuity. We hope to bring some of them back. »