LAVAL, QC. — The age old adage ‘it’s hard to project the future of a goalie’ as a professional has never rang more true than in the case of Canadiens prospect Zach Fucale. Originally drafted in the second round, 36th overall, in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
Montreal fans saw the Quebec native as an heir apparent to Carey Price and with good reason. Fucale had excelled at every level prior to turning pro. Being selected 11th overall by the Halifax Mooseheads in the 2011 QMJHL Entry Draft after being a standout in Midget AAA. His QMJHL career is the stuff of legends with numerous milestones and accomplishments playing for Canada.
Fucale’s transition to the pro game started with an up and down season with the St. John’s IceCaps splitting time with journeyman Eddie Pasquale. Fucale showed flashes of brilliance, but his first AHL season was marred with inconsistent starts. He didn’t take the reins of the role as he had done throughout his junior career.
During his second pro year, Fucale was assigned to the Brampton Beast of the ECHL, handling the starter’s job with appearances in 46 games. Again the inconsistent tag can be fairly attached to Fucale who, at times, lacked focus. He seemed to play to his ability only when he felt like it.
Fucale’s time in the ECHL was his best opportunity to refine his game and move up the depth chart of the Canadiens. In my opinion, he is what is referred to as a ‘money goaltender.’
That label was well-earned in the Kelly Cup playoffs as he helped carry the Beast to it’s first series win in franchise history. Unfortunately the team lost its scoring touch and exited in the second round. During the 2017 playoffs, Fucale posted a 2.13 goals against average and a .932 save percentage, playing his best hockey of his pro career.
Coming into the 2017-’18 season, Fucale has fallen to third in the depth charts of the Canadiens goaltending prospects behind Charlie Lindgren and Michael McNiven. This season he has been assigned to the Laval Rocket of the AHL and is slated to be the backup to Lindgren. It is squarely on his shoulders to unseat Lindgren from the starter’s role.
If (and it is a big ‘if’) Fucale can regain his QMJHL form, it is possible that he can move up. He is the most technically sound of the Habs goalie prospects and, in my opinion, still has the tools to be an NHL goaltender.
Fucale is always square to the shooter and has great lateral movement. It is his lack of focus, allowing soft goals at inopportune times, that can derail him as I witnessed last season covering the Beast. Fucale’s glove hand improved over the season with Brampton and is at the NHL level.
Being a restricted free agent on July 1, 2018, Fucale needs to excel in every chance he is given. With the goaltending position being the deepest of all positions in the Montreal system, it may be best that Fucale is moved at some point during the season.
Short on scoring, even at the AHL level, Fucale may garner a player who could benefit the Canadiens in a shorter time frame. The pressure is squarely on his shoulders to show, not only Montreal, but the hockey world that, at 22 years old, he still has the tools to crack an NHL lineup.