Rocket Men Taking Off

By JD Lagrange – For a second year in a row, the Montreal Canadiens will finish the season with the most man-games lost to injuries. While that’s nothing to be proud of, this unfortunate string of bad luck has allowed the organization to evaluate some of its prospects closer to being NHL-ready. And due to the quality of the players missing, these young men were given plenty of opportunities by head coach Martin St-Louis to perform in key roles.

Alex Belzile

To say that Belzile has been a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. In 22 games since being called up, the 31 year-old AHL veteran has managed four goals and eight assists for 12 points. In his last six games, he has put five points on the board, three of them being goals.

Rafaël Harvey-Pinard

After being called up, Harvey-Pinard caught fire with seven goals in his first 11 games. He has since cooled off with only one goal in the following 13 games, but he’s getting chances. The one nicknamed “Lavallagher” as a comparison to his style of play, which resembles Brendan Gallagher’s, is a ball of energy each time he touches the ice. He has 13 points, including eight goals, in 24 games since getting the call.

Jesse Ylönen

Ylönen was having a good season in Laval before the Canadiens called him up and he started rather slow at the NHL level this season. He has 11 points in 27 games this season with Montreal but he is displaying more and more confidence with more games under his belt. Always responsible defensively, he is now carrying the puck more, using his speed and making plays. In fact, since February 12th, a period of 16 games, only Josh Anderson and Nick Suzuki, with 10 points each, have more points than Ylönen who has nine.

Justin Barron

Barron wasn’t happy when he was cut by the Canadiens late in training camp, and had to start the season in Laval. To his credit, he got over it and started working on a list of things to improve on. Helped greatly by Director of Hockey Development Adam Nicholas, the improvement is noticeable on the young defenseman. His decision-making is quicker and better, his positioning is better and we are seeing some of the offense that we know that he has. In 25 games since being called up, Barron has managed three goals, eight assists for 11 points. He played a season high 19:24 minutes against Philadelphia on February 24th.

Rem Pitlick

It’s been a frustrating season for Pitlick, who was a very pleasant surprise last year after being picked off waivers, earning him a new contract with the Canadiens. Starting the season with one point in his first 15 games has forced the coaching staff to make him a healthy scratch, and management to send him to Laval a couple of times. With six points in his last 14 games, and a current stretch of three points in his last four games, things seem to be turning around for him.

Anthony Richard

Richard is showing why he hasn’t been able to secure a spot in the NHL yet. He is showing flashes of what he can do, but he can’t seem to be able to put it all together over a stretch of games. His goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins on a brilliant pass by Justin Barron is just one example of what he can do when he’s on. In 11 games so far with the Canadiens this season, he has two goals and an assist.

Barron Joins Richard With The Big Club

By JD Lagrange – The Montreal Canadiens have announced that they have called up right-handed defenseman Justin Barron to join them on their west coast trip. Last week, they had sent Rem Pitlick down to Laval and had called up Anthony Richard.

You will recall that just prior to the current road trip, I wanted the Canadiens to call some players up. Here’s what I was suggesting at the time:

To Laval:

  • Jordan Harris
  • Michael Pezzetta

To the World Juniors:

  • Juraj Slafkovsky

To Montreal:

  • Justin Barron
  • Anthony Richard
  • Jesse Ylönen

Since then, Mike Matheson went straight back to the injury list, so leaving Harris’ position safe for the moment. And I still believe that the Canadiens have erred by not sending Slafkovsky to the World Juniors where he could have had quality ice time at a high level, reuniting with his good buddy Filip Mesar, playing in a leadership role, something he hasn’t done since Midget hockey. It would have allowed to bring up Ylönen, who has been one of the hottest Rocket’s players in recent weeks.

After a slow start to the season after being cut by the Canadiens, Barron has 16 points in 25 games so far this season in Laval and was their top defensemen recently, prior to an injury that kept him out of the line-up for a couple of games. Perhaps he can help give the Canadiens’ power play a heartbeat as it has been on life support for way too long.

The Canadiens will be in Tampa Bay on Wednesday, before playing the Panthers in Florida on Thursday, then in Washington on Saturday in a New Year’s Eve clash. They will end their trip in Nashville on January 3rd before returning to the Bell Centre to face the Rangers on January 5th. 

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