Montreal Canadiens goaltender Cayden Primeau has a chance to earn the starter opportunity by the end of next season with Carey Price being placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR). General manager (GM) Kent Hughes broke the news about the veteran netminder on Aug. 18 and commented it is unlikely the former Vezina and Hart Trophy winner will play in 2022-23. The 23-year-old prospect is their top option to find their future goalie within the organization.
Sam Montembeault is viewed as a backup and starter Jake Allen is 32 years old and will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of the year. The Canadiens will likely trade him by the 2022-23 deadline, which allows Primeau to take the reins of being the team’s starting netminder. Let’s take a look at why he has a chance to be the starter by the end of 2022-23.
Primeau Needs to Transform Play With Laval Rocket to the Canadiens
Primeau, in 18 career games with the Canadiens over three seasons, has not appeared to be capable of being a starting goalie. In his 12 NHL starts last season, he finished with a goals-against average (GAA) of 4.62 along with a save percentage (SV%) of .868. While they were not a good club last season, his numbers are underwhelming and need to be drastically improved upon if he is to seize their No. 1 goalie spot.
Related: Cayden Primeau – 2017 NHL Draft Prospect Profile
The Farmington Hills, Michigan, native has looked much better during his career with their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Laval Rocket. During 2021-22, he had a 2.94 GAA, and a .909 SV% in 33 games played. He was even better during the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs as he finished with a 2.17 GAA with a .936 SV% in 14 games. He is capable of being a starter at the AHL level, but needs to show the ability consistently with the Canadiens so that he can be considered a reliable starting goaltender.
He needs a new contract as he is currently a restricted free agent (RFA). Assuming a new agreement is reached with Primeau, it is likely he starts this season with the Rocket. Allen and Montembeault are poised to begin as the Canadiens’ starter and backup, respectively. If an injury arises to one or both of them, the organization starts deplorably again for a second consecutive season, or the young goalie plays tremendous in the AHL and deserves another call-up to play in the NHL, he could find himself back with another chance to showcase his skills, so the franchise can determine if he can be their future starter for the next several seasons.
Will Primeau Prove Himself Capable of Being the Canadiens Starter?
GM Hughes commented previously in May on the lack of a future starter within the club. “There is nobody in our organization that has shown, year over year, that they can be a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL,” (from ‘Stu Cowan: Cayden Primeau offers hope for Canadiens’ goaltending future,’ Montreal Gazette, 5/24/22). The Canadiens need to find a solution in goal as neither Allen nor Montembeault are the long-term answer and Primeau represents their best hope of being the starter.
Primeau has a good approach to putting bad performances behind him as he mentioned during his successful run with the Rocket last postseason. “You got to put everything behind you. I’ve tried to, over the last couple of years, to just focus on the here and now, not look too far in the future or behind. Obviously, it’s lots of fun right now, so just going to focus on right now.” He is hoping his play during last year’s Calder Cup Playoffs helps him progress toward becoming the Canadiens’ No. 1 goalie.
With Price’s future in the NHL in question, the franchise is hoping Primeau represents their starter in goal for the next several seasons. The remaining candidates they have selected in previous NHL Drafts are not ready to play at the NHL level or are not good enough to be a starting goalie with the team. With Allen nor Montembeault viewed as a long-term answer for their goaltending issue, their best option is Primeau.
Should he struggle during his chances with the franchise this year, they will be at a crossroads with the future of their goaltending position. Will they elect to sign a free agent that is a starter next offseason or will they search for a starter in a future NHL Draft? Do they continue to remain patient with him given his age? Finding a new No. 1 netminder sooner rather than later will speed up their rebuild process a bit and add to the core of Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, along with potentially Juraj Slafkovsky and Kirby Dach to lead them toward hopefully becoming a playoff team within the next few seasons.