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Ready to Rocket in Laval

The Canadiens' AHL affiliate gets its 2019-20 season underway on Friday with high hopes and a whole lot of firepower

by Dan Braverman and Pierre-Antoine Mercier @CanadiensMTL /

MONTREAL - A day after the Canadiens got their season underway in Raleigh, NC, the Laval Rocket will get to do the same on Friday at Place Bell.

The Habs' AHL affiliate is entering its third season in Laval and second under head coach Joel Bouchard, and has high hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since moving to Quebec from St. John's, NL. 

The Rocket's home opener, presented by Bell, is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. puck drop. Tickets to see the Canadiens' future stars start at just $22; click here to buy.

Tweet from @RocketLaval: Plus que 5h 🤤#GoRocket 🚀

Here's a look at how Laval stacks up for 2019-20.

Up front

Up front, the Rocket will be able to count on the services of its leading scorer, Alex Belzile, once again after the Saint-Éloi native inked a one-year, two-way deal with the Canadiens in the spring. Belzile, a 2018-19 AHL All-Star, had a career year last season with 19 goals and 54 points, while also setting career highs assists (35), power play goals (8), and game-winning goals (3) in his first year in Laval.

Tweet from @RocketLaval: Quand Alex Belzile vole la rondelle 💁��������� When @Belz_63 steals the puck 💁���������#GoRocket

The team's second-leading scorer from last year, Jake Evans, is also back after notching 13 goals and 45 points in just 67 games in 2018-19. The Habs' seventh-round pick (207th overall) in 2014 enjoyed a solid first year as a pro after closing out his college career at Notre Dame, and earned good grades at Canadiens training camp with a pair of goals in three preseason outings this fall.

While neither Belzile nor Evans have any regular-season NHL experience under their belts, the Rocket will get to benefit from a plethora of League experience among its forward lines. First, there's Ryan Poehling, who scored a hat trick and the shootout winner in his NHL debut after finishing his stint in the NCAA ranks with St. Cloud State. Fans looking for a glimpse of the Canadiens' 2017 first-round pick (25th overall) will get to do so in Laval, as Poehling will be starting 2019-20 in the AHL after missing much of training camp with a concussion.

Tweet from @RocketLaval: .@LilUziPoehlss leading the stretch this morning 🚀 #GoRocket

Veteran forward Charles Hudon brings 110 games of NHL experience with him to the Rocket. The Alma native has enjoyed considerable success in the AHL, recording 162 points (75G, 87A) in 207 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs and St. John's IceCaps. Hudon's teammate in Montreal last season, Matthew Peca, will be suiting up in Laval and brings 59 NHL games of experience with him along with 134 points (34G, 100A) in 204 AHL games with the Syracuse Crunch on his resume. They'll be joined by newcomers Phil Varone (NHL: 97 GP, 8G, 9A) and Riley Barber, who has 180 career points in the AHL in 237 games with the Hershey Bears along with three games with the Washington Capitals.

The Rocket will have to do without the services of forward Michael McCarron, who is slated to be out until early or mid-November with a groin injury.

On the backend

Rocket fans will get the chance to see the Canadiens' second-round pick (56th overall) in 2017, Josh Brook, after getting a look at the 20-year-old for a seven-game stint in Laval last season where he earned one assist. Before joining Bouchard's squad, the Roblin, MB native enjoyed the best season of his Western Hockey League (WHL) career where he finished first among league defensemen with 16 goals and 75 points in 59 games with the Moose Jaw Warriors.

Laval will also benefit from the addition of Otto Leskinen for 2019-20. The 22-year-old Finn signed with the Habs as a free agent on May 7 after playing with Kalpa in the Finnish Liiga. Leskinen, who went undrafted, collected eight goals and 31 points in 57 games last season in Finland.

The Rocket will enjoy the return of some familiar faces as well, starting with Xavier Ouellet, who makes his return as captain for a second straight season. The Detroit Red Wings' second-round pick (48th overall) in 2011 led all Laval defensemen with seven goals and 28 points in 47 contests. Veteran Karl Alzner will also be back with Laval. The 31-year-old defenseman scored a goal and added five assists in 34 games last season.

Tweet from @RocketLaval: �� Capitaine! Mon Capitaine! Le Rocket est fier d'annoncer que Xavier Ouellet portera le C pour la saison 2019-2020. #GoRocket 🚀The Rocket is proud to announce that Xavier Ouellet will wear the C for the 2019-20 Season.

In the crease

In goal, Rocket fans will finally get to see young netminder Cayden Primeau up close. The Habs' seventh-round pick (199th overall) in 2017 is beginning his pro career after an exceptional campaign in the NCAA ranks. In Primeau's final season with Northeastern University, he posted a 25-10-1 record, 2.09 goals-against average, .933 save percentage, and five shutouts. He was named recipient of the Mike Richter Award, given to the most outstanding goalie in NCAA Division I hockey for his efforts.

For his part, Charlie Lindgren will be back in Laval for a third season. The 25-year-old backstop posted an 11-20-1 record, 2.94 goals-against average, and .884 save percentage in 2018-19.

For tickets to the Laval Rocket's home opener against the Cleveland Monsters, which takes place on Friday at 7:30 p.m., click here.

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