All Habs Hockey Magazine is proud to provide a platform for guest writers to express their views on current issues. Today, we present a fan piece on the state of goaltending in Montreal. If you would like to share your fan experiences or have an opinion to share, contact us. Your comments are welcome below on this piece.
State of the Goaltending in Montreal: What is beyond Carey Price?
We all know that as Carey Price goes so do the Montreal Canadiens. Just look at the disasters in the previous two seasons. Price is undoubtedly the top goaltender in the NHL (and the planet), but what do the Habs have in waiting in the wings?
Executive Vice President and General Manager Marc Bergevin and his right hand man, Senior Vice President, hockey operations Rick Dudley, have done an admirable job of making hockey decisions, fan friendly or not, with the acquisition of Shea Weber, the signing of Alexander Radulov and the addition of prospects in their system. But what is often overlooked by the Montreal faithful is what is the state of the goaltending prospects.
The signing of veteran backup Al Montoya in the off-season begged the question, why? It is evident to me that Bergevin and his staff are not convinced that Mike Condon is the answer should the unthinkable happen again to Price. In my opinion, there isn’t anymore that he could have done in the 55 games he appeared in last season.
Perhaps in another market, statistics like a 2.71 goals against average and .903 save percentage posted by a rookie goaltender would be applauded. But this is Montreal, the “mecca” of hockey. Anything less than a long playoff run is considered a failure. It’s fair to say that fans have been spoiled by watching Carey Price over the years.
At 26 years old and just two full years in the minors, Condon still needs to develop by building more experience. In my view, returning Condon to the AHL (should he clear waivers) would be in the Canadiens best interests but that could create a goaltending logjam in St. John’s.
Last season, the top goaltending prospect in the Canadiens system was Zach Fucale, who won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship. Fucale was selected by the Canadiens in the second round (36th overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft but has yet to show the promise that led to his high draft status.
Fucale has all the physical tools to excel at the NHL level but there has been concern about his mental game. Watching him two seasons ago at the Canadiens Rookie Camp, it was evident to me that he needed time to develop. In his first season in the AHL in 2015-16, Fucale struggled with rebound control at times as he split starts with Eddie Pasquale.
I expect that this will be a make or break season for Fucale. He enters the second year of his three-year entry level contract. If Mike Condon is sent to the AHL in the first quarter of the season, it’s reasonable to assume that Fucale could be sent to the Brampton Beast (Canadiens ECHL affiliate) to increase his playing time and further his development.
Signed by the Canadiens as a free agent out of St. Cloud State as a junior, Charlie Lindgren was rewarded with his first (and only) start in the NHL on April 7, 2016. Lindgren had stellar numbers at the U.S. college level leading all NCAA goalies last season in wins and saves with a 2.13 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage.
As with most colleage or junior goaltenders, Lindgren is raw and needs ice time to develop. He is a very athletic and the only goaltender in the Canadiens system who catches right-handed. Of all the goaltenders under contract, Lindgren may be the dark horse. With the right development, he could make the jump to the NHL in the next two seasons. Having watched him at the Canadiens Rookie Tournament in September, Lindgren was head and shoulders above Fucale and Michael McNiven.
In July 2015, Michael McNiven was an invitee to the Canadiens development camp. He followed a good showing with a stellar performance at the rookie tournament earning himself a three-year, entry level contract from the Habs a year ago.
McNiven was solid playing for the Owen Sound Attack in 2015-16 with a 2.94 goals against average and a .902 save percentage. His performance suffered during the playoffs as the Attack were ousted by the London Knights in the opening round of the playoffs.
McNiven had been on the watch of Team Canada for the 2017 World Junior team but was not invited to the summer development camp. That said, McNiven was ranked as one of the top two goaltenders in the OHL in the recent pre-season coaches poll. He has good size, is a battler and has a great glove hand. McNiven is a long term project and with the talent above him, will have the time he needs to further his development.
Hayden Hawkey was selected in the sixth round (177th overall) of the NHL 2014 Entry Draft after playing with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL. In 2014-15, Hawkey suffered a season-ending knee injury after just 15 games slowing his development in the process. This past season Hawkey appeared in just games with Providence College in his role as a backup.
Hawkey possesses good positioning who likes to challenge shooters and has good lateral movement. He is projected to be the starter in Providence this coming season and his development will be closely watched by the Canadiens. With a full season to develop, it will be easier at year’s end to gauge where he fits into the long-term plans of the Canadiens.
With his dominant performance at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, Habs fans can breathe a sigh of relief that Carey Price is back. About the only thing that is clear about the Canadiens goaltending situation is that Price will once again take his rightful place at the top. Below that there are a number of scenarios that could develop even before the start of the season on October 13th.
Let’s assume for now that Al Montoya seems well on his way to lock down the back-up role in Montreal. Then we come to the traffic jam of Zach Fucale, Mike Condon and Charlie Lindgren each vying for the starting job in the AHL. It may be wise for Montreal to move one of the three prospects simplify the playing time for the remaining two at the AHL level.
In my opinion, Fucale has the talent to be at the top of this group. It is now up to him to show that he was worthy of a second round NHL draft pick. If sent to the IceCaps, Condon must maintain his focus and his confidence. I have no doubt that he can compete at the NHL level and he must wait his turn to return to that level. Lindgren will be the most watched by the Canadiens organization as he has a great upside but is also the most unknown.
My sense is that if a goalie is moved, it will likely be Condon as he could be attractive to other teams, having played a full season in the NHL. But there is also the option of sending one of the three to the Brampton Beast.
One thing is certain, the Canadiens have a good depth at the goaltending position in their system and should be set for the coming years.