The Montreal Canadiens have had a tough season when it comes to goaltending: Carey Price has been injured all season, and Jake Allen is out for at least eight weeks, Sam Montambault is playing but could need wrist surgery, and prospect Cayden Primeau has had a rough time in the NHL. The Habs did recently trade Laval Rocket player Brendon Baddock to the Minnesota Wild for American Hockey League (AHL) goalie Andrew Hammond, allowing the Canadiens to send Primeau back to Laval to gain his confidence back.
With all the issues the Canadiens have had with goaltending, what do they have in the system for the future? Price isn’t getting any younger, and Allen probably won’t be back after next season. Here is a look at the top five goaltending prospects in the Habs organization.
5. Michael McNiven
Michael McNiven is a feel-good story in the Canadiens franchise. An undrafted player who signed a contract in 2015 while playing in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) for the Owen Sound Attack, he joined Laval in the 2017-18 season playing 25 games as the backup goalie. Between then and 2019-20, McNiven played 58 total games for Laval, but remained the odd man out and was sent to the ECHL. While in the ECHL, McNiven bounced around between three teams, playing only 22 games.
McNiven returned to the AHL full-time in 2020-21, playing 13 games as the backup to Primeau. He has played 10 games this season for Laval, and also got to play in one game for the Canadiens. McNiven is at the bottom on this list because he doesn’t have much of a future with the team; he’s been the odd man out for some years now with Charlie Lindgren, who is now with the St. Louis Blues, and Primeau passing over him. He is a restricted free agent (RFA) next season, and unless the Habs need a goalie for Laval, he probably won’t be re-signed. His AHL numbers are mediocre, 31-34-13 with a .893 save percentage (SV%), and he projects to be, at best, an AHL starter.
4. Joe Vrbetic
After only one season with the North Bay Battalion in the OHL, Joe Vrbetic was drafted in the seventh round of the 2021 draft. He was a bit of a surprise pick. He had a record of 14-25-1 with a .881 SV% and 4.23 goals-against average (GAA), not good numbers at all, but the Canadiens took a chance on him. Vrbetic’s numbers were mainly due to the Battalion going through a rebuild and not being a very good club overall. Vrbetic couldn’t play last season due to the OHL shutting down due to the pandemic, which caused him to lose an entire year of development.
Vrbetic is having a reasonably good season this year. He has a 20-8-6 record, but his SV% is still low at .901, and his GAA is 2.95. This is a complete 180-degree swing from two seasons ago, and shows he can improve quickly even after missing an entire season. Vrbetic probably won’t blow anyone away and doesn’t project to be a top prospect for the Canadiens, but he could be a good depth goalie in the system if he keeps improving.
3. Jakub Dobes
The Canadiens drafted Jakub Dobes in the fifth round of the 2020 draft. He split his draft year between the Topeka Pilots of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) and the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League (USHL). In 10 games with Topeka, he was excellent with a 7-3 record, a SV% of .945 and a GAA of 1.59, and he struggled a bit with Omaha, playing 21 games, winning nine and having his SV% drop to .891 and GAA rise to above three.
2. Frederik Dichow
Frederik Dichow is currently playing for Denmark in the 2022 Olympics, playing one game against the Olympic Team of Russian Players, where he allowed one goal on 32 shots in a 2-0 loss. He currently plays for Kristianstad Ik of the Swedish league HockeyAllsvenskan; in 22 games, he has a 14-7 record with a .924 Sv% and a 2.40 GAA. Dichow was drafted in 2019 in the fifth round by Montreal.
1. Cayden Primeau
There is no surprise that Primeau is in the top spot of this list, but if what happened to him this season messes with his confidence, he could fall quickly. Primeau was drafted in the seventh round in the 2017 draft and had an outstanding two seasons in the NCAA with Northeastern University. In 70 games, he was 44-18-6 with a .932 Sv% and 2.00 GAA. In 2017-18 he won NCAA (Hockey East) Top Goaltender and NCAA (New England) Rookie of the Year. In 2018-19 he continued his success by helping Northeastern win NCAA (Hockey East) Championship and was named tournament MVP. He was also named Goaltender of the Year for a second straight season and won the Mike Richter Award as the NCAA top Colligate Goaltender.
Primeau’s college success has given many fans, and media members hope that he will be the next starter for the Canadiens when Price is ready to move on. In the AHL with Laval, Primeau has a 36-21-5 record with a .909 Sv% and 2.44 GAA in 65 games. It’s encouraging to see him succeed at every level; in the 2019-20 season, he played in two games for the Canadiens, winning one with a .935 Sv% over both games. Since then, however, he has struggled at the NHL level in 15 games over the past two seasons. He has a record of 2-9-2 with an Sv% of .859 and a GAA of 4.67. In his defence, the Habs have been terrible defensively this season, where he has played most of his games (11). With the acquisition of Hammond, Primeau now can play in Laval and get his confidence back in a winning environment.
Primeau, for now, is still the top goaltending prospect, but if his downward spiral continues, Dichow or Dobes could pass over him. I don’t see that happening since Primeau just needs more time in Laval to develop his game; once that is done, he should be fine in the NHL. If he doesn’t find his game, then the Canadiens have two other goalies that can take his place.
The Canadiens have three goalies that could project to be NHL goalies. The question will be, will any of them be the next Carey Price? I doubt it, but that’s all the Habs will need if they can be above-average NHL starters.
Trege Wilson has been a freelance content writer for the past four years and with the THW for the past year. He is the co-host of the popular Montreal Canadiens podcast Habs Unfiltered on IHeartRadio.com.Trege is very passionate about all things Canadiens and loves to provide his readers with great quality news, rumours and opinions on the Montreal Canadiens. Trege has also been featured on JblamSports and JDFSports Podcasts; for interviews and guest appearances, you can contact him at any of his social media accounts listed under his photo in such articles as this one.