The Rise of Another Elite Canadiens Goalie

As Cayden Primeau sat in his seat during the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, a sense of doubt must have been setting in. At one point in the season, he was seen as a top goalie in the draft. Yet, as the seventh-round picks of the 2017 NHL draft were being announced, his name hadn’t yet been called.

The Philadelphia Flyers were up next to announce their seventh-round selection. For a kid who grew up around the Flyers with his father (Keith Primeau) being a former star, he must have thought the there was a strong possibility they’d draft him. However, as he anticipated his name being called, a trade was announced. The Montreal Canadiens had traded for the Flyers’ pick. Trevor Timmons, the assistant general manager of the Canadiens, quickly jumped up and the announcement was made that the team had drafted Primeau.

At the time, many observers didn’t think too much or analyze the trade in detail. A few experts were surprised the Canadiens had made a trade for another goalie. The organization had the game’s premier netminder in Carey Price. They had also signed top free agent prospect goalies Michael McNiven (Ontario Hockey League) and Charlie Lindgren (NCAA). Acquiring another goalie seemed like an odd maneuver.

Cayden Primeau Montreal Canadiens draft
Cayden Primeau, Montreal Canadiens, 2017 NHL Draft (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

To the credit of the current Canadiens’ management group, when they see a prospect they like, they go after them. Jesperi Kotkaniemi was their guy at third over in 2018 when many didn’t have him in the top three of his draft class. Paul Byron was a waiver wire pickup and has scored 20-plus goals multiple times. Max Domi put up 72 points in his first year at center, when other clubs didn’t give him the same opportunity to succeed. Likewise, Primeau caught the Canadiens’ management group’s attention and he may end up being the steal of the 2017 draft class.

The Path of a Future Star Netminder

From the day Primeau stepped onto the ice as a youngster, he wanted to be a goalie. He grew up in Voorhees, New Jersey, and played youth hockey in the Philadelphia area, modeling his game after his favorite goalie, Pekka Rinne.

Primeau played youth hockey in the Philadelphia area before joining the Philadelphia Revolution in the Eastern Hockey League (EHL). In his lone year in the EHL, Primeau posted a 1.86 goals-against average (GAA) and a .951 save percentage (SV%).

The following season, Primeau played 30 games for the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League (same USHL program where Ryan Poehling played). Primeau was then also selected to the US National U18 Team, where he played one game and stopped every shot he faced.

Cayden Primeau (courtesy United States Hockey League)

After being drafted by the Canadiens, Primeau chose to attend Northeastern University, where he challenged record NCAA statistics for a freshman goalie. He led his Northeastern team to a coveted Beanpot tournament championship and a berth in the NCAA tournament. He was starting to gain national attention.

Primeau posted another splendid season in his sophomore campaign, with a .933 SV%, which was amongst the best in the NCAA. He was then selected to represent the USA at the U20 World Junior Championships. Primeau battled hard and ultimately won the starting job for Team USA, as he beat out future first-round pick Spencer Knight for the job.

Along with Canadiens’ prospect and World Junior Championship MVP Ryan Poehling, Primeau led Team USA to the finals in the tournament. He posted stellar numbers in the tournament (1.61 GAA and a .937 SV%). Team USA faced off against Finland in the championship game and were dealt a heart-breaking 3-2 loss. However, during the tournament and on the biggest stage, Primeau continued to show he could play with the best.

After the 2019 World Junior Championship, Primeau returned to Northeastern and led his team to a second consecutive NCAA tournament berth. At the end of the season, Primeau won the Mike Ritcher award, given to the top goalie in the NCAA. Shortly after his NCAA season finished, he decided to turn pro and signed his entry-level contract with the Canadiens.

Transition to Pro Hockey

It’s rare that a seventh-round draft choice would have much fanfare heading into training camp, but such was the case with Primeau. The kid didn’t disappoint. In his first NHL preseason game, he split the game with Price and played the second half. The first shot Primeau faced was a cross-seam pass, where it looked like the shooter had an open net. Primeau slid across and made a highlight-reel save. He proceeded to stop 16 of 17 shots fired on him by the New Jersey Devils that night. The hype he entered camp to appears to have been real.

Cayden Primeau Montreal Canadiens
Montreal Canadiens goalie Cayden Primeau makes a save against New Jersey Devils forward Blake Coleman. (Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports)

With Price and newly-acquired backup Keith Kinkaid in Montreal this season, Primeau will spend the season with the American Hockey League’s Laval Rocket. This far into his rookie season, he continues to put up astounding numbers to the tune of a 1.99 GAA and a .937 SV% in five games played. Furthermore, his efforts have seen Laval turn the corner after a slow start to the season.

During the Canadiens’ best years, they have always had a deep pipeline of goalies — George Hainsworth, Bill Durnan, Jacques Plante, Rogatien Vochon, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Jose Theodore and now Price. The answer to whom is next in line to be the keeper of the nets in Montreal is looking like it will eventually be Primeau. He has a great support system in Laval, a great goalie coach in Stephane Waite and the time necessary to develop properly. He has all the tools to become the next great goalie for the Canadiens. Not bad for a kid drafted in the seventh round.