(Laval) The Canadian is in a strange position. In the National League, the big club is dropped from the playoff race and the sacrosanct development is the priority. The team’s first center, Nick Suzuki, therefore plays with freshman wingers, and rookie Kaiden Guhle is already the team’s No. 3 defenseman.
In the American League, it’s the complete opposite. “We’re fighting for the playoffs,” Rocket head coach Jean-François Houle said Friday morning. We don’t have time to try out, we can’t say we’re going to give him six games and we’ll see. There are 13 games left. »
It is in this context that Jayden Struble arrives in the city where CFGL once dominated the radio waves. On Friday, the 2019 2nd-round pick, who signed a two-year contract with the Canadiens on Wednesday, toured the Rocket facilities and showed up dressed to the nines in front of the media for a scrum.
“I’m glad I met everyone. It’s a beautiful city,” he said right off the bat.
Building on his four seasons at Northeastern University, the defenseman opted for the Canadiens rather than wait for the team’s rights to expire on August 15 and try his luck as a free agent. With a plethora of young left-handed defensemen – Guhle, Jordan Harris, Arber Xhekaj, William Trudeau – in addition to veterans, the decision was not easy.
So why did you choose CH? “A matter of loyalty to the team that drafted me,” he replied. He is then asked if he is loyal to the Canadian – an organization which has notably changed its general manager since his draft – or rather to Kent Hughes, precisely the new GM, incidentally his family adviser before.
” A bit of both. It’s the city too. I’ve had a lot of support since the draft,” replied the young American.
And the depth? “There would be a challenge no matter where I played, and that’s part of the process of getting better. There are several good players here and I will have to take my game to a new level just to stay here. »
All that is well and good, but the Rocket was, before Friday’s games, three points from the last place giving access to the playoffs. Moral victories, twists and turns that magically become opportunities for development, are not for Jean-François Houle.
You had to listen to him defend Olivier Galipeau, a defenseman who was destined to play in the ECHL this season, to understand how focused he is on the immediate success of the Rocket, regardless of whether the player has a future in the NHL. or not.
“Sometimes in hockey you gotta go on merit,” a fiery Houle said. Galipeau plays good hockey. Tory Dello was our physically best in Rochester. No, they don’t have NHL contracts, but they give each other. It’s very easy for me to say, “Galipeau, you’re going back to Trois-Rivières. “That makes fewer defenders, that makes room for everyone. But is it the best thing for your team? I do not think so. So I, Galipeau, we keep him here. He gives us too much not to play. »
We therefore understand that Struble will have to wait his turn. Already, Houle has confirmed that he will not participate in games this weekend. At best, it will go to Wednesday. “The plan is for me to start training with the team and then we’ll see,” Struble said. I have to learn the system and become comfortable. »
This situation is therefore a further reminder that Jayden Struble must be classified as a medium-term project, despite his status as a former second-round pick and despite his age (he will be 22 in September). Last month, Kent Hughes made it clear that Struble “needs time in the American League.”
“Honestly, I agree,” admits Struble. I never played pro or junior. It will even be the first time that I will play with the half-visor. How long will I need? I am not sure. But if I work on a daily basis, I will get the desired results. »