“He has the feeling that he is being hit on the head”

Justin Barron imagined himself in a different locker room than that of Place Bell on the eve of the opening of the Canadian season. He dreamed of the NHL, not the American League.

Coming out of a first practice at Rocket camp, Barron was hardly a happy man.

“Obviously I’m disappointed,” said the 2020 Colorado Avalanche first-round pick. “I know I’ll have some work to do here. I liked the reaction of players and coaches with the Rocket. I will try to retain the positive.”

Barron did not survive the latest wave of entrenched players. Monday morning, he took the road to Laval with defender Otto Leskinen, goalkeeper Cayden Primeau and forwards Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Jesse Ylönen.

Jean-François Houle didn’t jump when he was reminded that his 20-year-old defender had morale in his heels.

“It’s normal,” he replied. I expected him to experience disappointment. Initially, I will give him time and air. I want him to think a little. But I’ll go see him tomorrow or the day after to chat, to find out how he feels. I won’t leave him in his corner. I find that we must offer him the time to be a marabout, but he must also understand that he will need to get up quickly.

“The NHL is a mountain to climb,” continued the head coach of the Rocket. He just had big feelings. We’ve just pushed him back a bit from his dream. It’s a shock. He feels like someone is hitting him on the head. Justin will realize this is just the beginning and not the end of the world.”

A bigger role

In practice with the Rocket, Barron formed a duo with Leskinen. Houle will bet a lot on this duo, just like that of Corey Schueneman and Madison Bowey.

“Justin knows inside of him that a return to Laval can be a good thing for his development,” noted Houle. He will play a bigger role with the Rocket. In Montreal, he could have found himself in the stands. He must see it as an opportunity to improve. He will play on special teams, he will be able to act as a leader and he will have more time in training since we are playing fewer games in the AHL.

From his meeting with Jeff Gorton, Kent Hughes and Martin St-Louis, Barron retained a fairly simple message.

“They told me I was going back to the Rocket and they want to see me work on my defensive game,” he said. There is a big transition between the American League and the NHL. I still need mileage.”

At camp, the CH preferred the young Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris and Arber Xhekaj to open the season. Hughes also acquired 25-year-old right-handed defenseman Johnathan Kovacevic from the Winnipeg Jets on waivers.

A matter of numbers

If Justin Barron had the baboune, Rafaël Harvey-Pinard remained the same ball of energy despite a return with the Rocket.

“I’m staying close to my goal,” said the 23-year-old winger. The line between the NHL and the American League remains thin. I stay at the limit, I don’t have a big step to take. But I will have to force the hand of the management to end up crossing this line.

“Pro hockey is not always stable. It’s not a bad thing to be in the American League. I can’t be angry or disappointed. I can just roll up my sleeves and work twice as hard. I’ve always had that mentality in life.”

In the short term, there is no place for Harvey-Pinard in Montreal, but that could always change quickly.

“He’s an intelligent young man, he knows how to count and he suspected that it was going to be very difficult for him to win a position, recalled Houle. But even if he counts well, he also lives a disappointment. When you look at it from the outside, you can believe that the youngster was to suspect it. The youngster, however, had the right to dream and want to climb to the next stage. Harvey-Pinard knocks on the door, he is very close. There is no place for him today. He’s smart enough to know he’s close and he’ll get there.”

With 14 players on guaranteed NHL contracts and the presence of youngsters Cole Caufield and Juraj Slafkovsky, Harvey-Pinard will need patience before getting a recall. The winger from Arvida, however, has a very different DNA from several attackers with the big club, which may help his cause.

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