Harvey-Pinard earns opportunity to show what he can do with Canadiens

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BROSSARD, Que. — This is a just reward for a player who’s earned one.

Rafael Harvey-Pinard was called up to the Montreal Canadiens from the AHL's Laval Rocket on Wednesday, and it wasn’t because the team was so shorthanded it had no choice.

That was the case back in late December, when the Canadiens had more regulars in COVID protocol than they did in their lineup and Harvey-Pinard made his NHL debut with one goal in three games. He was one of many bodies this team needed to count on — one of the 46 who helped them tie a franchise record for most players dressed in a season.

But this time around, it’s Harvey-Pinard’s hard work — and his impressive performance of 19 goals and 51 points in 64 games with the Rocket this season — that landed him an opportunity, with Michael Pezzetta suspended for one more game, Paul Byron down with a lower-body injury, Jake Evans suffering a non-COVID illness, Joel Armia on personal leave and the Canadiens down to 12 available forwards. They didn’t have to bring him up, but they wanted to.

“I’m very intrigued,” said Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about him. I don’t know much about him as a player, but I’ve heard good things and I’m excited to see what he can do. I’m happy he had a practice with us today, and he’s going to play tomorrow.”

As for which line Harvey-Pinard will be on against the Philadelphia Flyers at the Bell Centre on Thursday, that’s yet to be announced.

But whichever one he ends up playing on, he’s determined to show the Canadiens he can play as advertised.

“I’m a player that can play in both ends — either in an offensive or defensive way — so that’s what I’m going to try to show on the ice,” Harvey-Pinard said. “I can be good in my zone, and good offensively, too. And one thing you can be sure of with me is that I’m going to bring my 100 per cent.”

It’s what the native of Jonquiere, Que., has always done.

Harvey-Pinard started with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies during the 2015-16 season, won a Memorial Cup with them in 2019, and wrapped his QMJHL career as captain of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. His junior years were marked by his dogged determination and fierce competitiveness, but also by his strong two-way play and unheralded offensive touch.

In the two seasons prior to his final amateur one, he scored 66 goals and accumulated 168 points over 133 games and was still passed over twice in the NHL Draft. It was only after scoring 34 goals and 78 points in 62 games with Chicoutimi that he was selected 201st overall by the Canadiens.

The 5-foot-9 forward then signed a one-way AHL deal to prove himself with the Rocket.

After putting nine goals and 20 points in his first 36 AHL games, Harvey-Pinard was awarded a two-way contract. A slow start to this season thankfully didn’t obstruct his way ability to debut in the NHL just before 2021 ended.

Brendan Gallagher was one of the few regulars in the Canadiens lineup at that time, and he’s followed Harvey-Pinard’s ascent with interest knowing he’s a player who models himself after Gallagher.

“I think he’s a kid that’s worked for everything he’s had everywhere he’s gone,” said the Canadiens’ alternate captain. “He’s been a good teammate, coaches have loved to have him on their team, and those are usually the guys who progress and move on. He’s very happy to listen to advice, he’s very happy to learn. Last year, I went down to Laval and played a game on his line (and learned) he’s a very smart player as well.”

The kid knows what this opportunity means — especially with it coming as a direct result of his play and his attitude instead of out of necessity.

“It means a lot,” Harvey-Pinard said. “For sure I was very happy when I learned the news. And I know there’s good players in Laval, too, so being the first one to get called up when they need someone is special and I’m very happy to be here.”

He’ll have his first opportunity to play at the Bell Centre, a building he said he visited countless times as a Canadiens fan from just outside Montreal.

Harvey-Pinard is hopeful his parents can make it, though he was doubtful they could — his mother is being celebrated at work for her last official day and embarking on retirement.

“I’m sure they’re going to do everything to come,” Harvey-Pinard said, “but at the same time, I’m going to have other opportunities.”

That confidence will serve him well.

And Gallagher had a word of advice for Harvey-Pinard on what else might help him.

“For him, it’s going to be really important to understand what got him to this point and to not change that,” he said. “Understand what he is as a player and what his identity is, and I think he’s got that. And then there’s going to be things along the way where you’re just going to add to your arsenal and improve.

“But there’s the bread and butter of what his game is all about, and no matter what line he’s playing on any given night or who we’re playing against, he’s going to have to bring that. I think from what I’ve seen, he does that every single night.”

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