BRAMPTON, ON. — The Montreal Canadiens have been good at finding goaltending diamonds in the rough throughout their long and storied history. Two gems that spring to mind are Rogie Vachon and Steve Penny.
Currently, the two top goaltending prospects in the Habs system are Charlie Lindgren and Michael McNiven. Both players were undrafted, free agent signings by Montreal.
Lindgren is clearly the top prospect in the Canadiens system and, unless he is traded, will be the backup to Carey Price in the next few seasons. It is a role that could be contested by McNiven in time.
McNiven is the starting goaltender with the Brampton Beast and, with the team being on the weak side, it will allow him ample opportunity to hone his craft. The only caveat to that may be the pooling of Habs and Senators talent in Brampton that could reduce his ice time. But right now, Brampton is the best place for his development.
McNiven was a two-year starter and a three-year OHL veteran with the Attack in Owen Sound. Last season, McNiven was the CHL goaltender of the year.
The 20-year-old is average-sized and comes with unbelievable athletic ability. Right now McNiven is best described as a raw talent, but has a keen hockey sense that the scouts love. He is highly competitive but is even keeled in all situations, which is quite a contrast with the very emotional Zach Fucale.
The Brampton Beast has struggled so far this season going winless in their first three games. And McNiven’s first two pro starts were probably less that he hoped. But look for him to rebound as he becomes more comfortable playing at the professional level.
The ECHL has long been known as a goaltender factory due to the smaller rosters and loose defensive play. This is why I believe McNiven will develop at an accelerated pace partly due to seeing a large number of shots per game. With the NHL game becoming a speed game it has trickled down through the pro ranks and the ECHL is no exception and that only benefits goaltenders.
As with all goaltenders it is almost impossible to project their development and skill level at the professional level. But McNiven has an ‘It’ factor missing from most goalies and will be given every opportunity to push his way up the Canadiens depth chart.