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Brandon Gignac thirsty for another chance with the Canadiens

“Hopefully I’ll have another chance to prove myself,” centre said after a recent seven-game stint that saw him score his first NHL goal.

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Seven games do not make an NHL career. But Brandon Gignac’s recent stint with the Canadiens has made him believe there’s a spot for him in Montreal.

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“I think I can play in that league,” Gignac said Tuesday morning, following the Laval Rocket’s practice at Place Bell. “It (the NHL) is really good and everybody’s really talented. The only thing I take from that is I want to go back.

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“You want to be in the NHL and, for sure, it’s hard,” the Repentigny native added. “It’s not negative to come back (to the AHL). I just want to help the team win. Hopefully I’ll have another chance to prove myself with Montreal. We’ll see.”

Gignac, 26, signed a two-year, US$1.55-million, two-way contract with the Canadiens on Feb. 4. It was an upgrade from the minor-league deal he signed with Laval in July 2022.

The former third-round (80th overall) New Jersey draft choice in 2016, limited to one NHL game with the Devils, made his Canadiens debut Feb. 6 in Washington and was with Montreal through Feb. 21, against Buffalo. He was placed on waivers the following day, after the Canadiens claimed centre Colin White off waivers from Pittsburgh.

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Over his seven-game stint with the Canadiens, Gignac scored his first NHL goal on Feb. 13 against Anaheim during a 5-0 victory, completing a two-man break with defenceman Kaiden Guhle, who proved unselfish on the play. It was Montreal’s final goal in the one-sided win, but the ovation Gignac received on the bench and from Bell Centre spectators won’t soon be forgotten.

Along with his goal, Gignac had seven shots, four hits, seven blocked shots and was a minus-3 during his time in the NHL. He played on the Canadiens’ second line — Alex Newhook was injured at the time — and second power-play unit upon his promotion, before being relegated to the fourth line and taken off the power play.

It appeared that Gignac would remain with the Canadiens for the rest of the season after signing his new contract, but the arrival of White meant Montreal could afford to send him back to Laval, where he had been the team’s most productive player before being called up. Gignac, 5-foot-11 and 194 pounds, holds no animosity.

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“In hockey, nothing’s guaranteed and you have to prove yourself every day,” Gignac said. “I’m not mad at the situation. For sure I want to be in Montreal, but I’m happy where I’m at with the Rocket. I’m trying to help the team win some games (in the push) for the playoffs.

“Scoring the goal obviously was the best moment,” he added. “Just to be there, to be in the moment and to play in the NHL. I was waiting for that for a while and am really happy to have been able to do it. I could have thrown everything away and gone to Europe. I believed in myself and wanted to prove to everyone I could play in that league. It’s the best league in the world.”

Gignac remains the Rocket’s leading scorer, with 14 goals and 43 points through 48 games. Although he has been held to one assist through five games since returning to the Rocket, head coach Jean-François Houle has no complaints about Gignac’s game. With 12 shots over that span, he has had opportunities.

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“He played well over the weekend and had a lot of chances, including two breakaways and numerous chances in the slot, on the power play,” Houle said. “He’s trying to contribute as much as he can. Hopefully he finds the scoresheet a bit more. The effort’s there and he’s playing hard. He’s here to help our team progress and wait for the next call-up, like all the other guys that are here.”

The Rocket begins a three-game homestand Wednesday night against Syracuse. Laval (23-24-7) is last in the North Division, four points removed from a playoff position, with 18 games remaining. The Rocket will be missing forward Lias Andersson against the Crunch. He’s serving a one-game suspension as a result of an interference incident last Saturday, against Springfield.

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