Montreal Canadiens AHL Affiliate | Laval Rocket News: Cayden Primeau, Charlie Lindgren, Michael McNiven, Vasili Demchenko, Stephane Waite, ECHL, goaltender
ROCKET SPORTS MEDIA | LAVAL, QC. — When the Canadiens acquired Jake Allen on September 2nd from the Blues for a third and a seventh round draft picks, fans were relieved. After failing to find a suitable backup goalie for Carey Price, Marc Bergevin seems to have finally addressed that need. On paper, it’s the best tandem that the Canadiens have had in years.
Allen’s acquisition will impact the depth chart as the organization has another four goalies signed to contracts for the 2020-21 season. It will be a difficult task for Joel Bouchard to give them all some ice time.
At the start of the 2019-20 season, Joel Bouchard mentioned that there was a plan for Primeau, and they followed through on it. Primeau alternated starts with Charlie Lindgren or Keith Kinkaid for the majority of the season. Primeau would start every second game irregardless of the results or any of the goalies’ performances.
In February, Bouchard took Primeau’s usage to the next level. The coach was using the rookie as the number one goalie down the stretch as the Rocket was fighting for a playoff spot. In six of his last eight starts, Primeau allowed two or less goals, including one shutout.
The American Hockey League (AHL) season was cancelled on March 12th, and the organization wasn’t able to see how Primeau would have handled that responsibility for the balance of the schedule.
Overall, Primeau had a good rookie season finishing the year with a record of 17-11-3, 2.45 goals against average, and .908 save percentage. He struggled with his consistency throughout the year, and went through a stretch where he allowed four or more goals, six times in seven games.
“We’re trying to get him less robotic, and to trust his instincts a little more. We worked a lot on situations to read and react to have him focus not only on the puck, but on everything that is developing around him.[…] We worked a lot on his puck handling,” said Stephane Waite on November 10th. The Canadiens goaltending coach hit the ice daily with Primeau for two months during the pause.
Waite has a set plan for Primeau’s development. He would like that the prospect plays a minimum of 40 games this upcoming year and around 150 games in the AHL. “It’s a standard for many good starting goaltenders who go on to become starters in the NHL, playing around 150 games. I had Corey Crawford in Chicago, who played 250 games in the AHL. So, a goaltender does not waste his time by playing a lot in the AHL,” said Waite.
If the organization follows through with the plan, it means that Primeau will be with the Rocket for at least another two full seasons before considering to graduate him to the National Hockey League (NHL).
Waite was clear in saying that playing between 40 and 50 games in the AHL will benefit Primeau more than 20 games in the NHL. That will certainly close the debate that was taking place amongst fans and experts on that topic.
Charlie Lindgren will the most likely be impacted by Jake Allen’s acquisition. Lindgren has one more year remaining in his contract that pays him $750,000. Unless there’s an injury to one of Montreal’s goalies, Lindgren will be sent to Laval to start the year if he clears waivers.
“Charlie [Lindgren] remains a good asset for us. Tomorrow, we start the season and we have an injury, I have no concerns having Charlie as a call up to Montreal,” said Waite. “He’s the perfect number three goalie for an organization. You want a call up guy that has some NHL experience.”
In 2018-19, Lindgren was recalled by Montreal during the final stretch of the season as the third goalie to allow Price to be rested for game action. Last season, he was the Habs’ backup goalie after Kinkaid was assigned to the AHL.
“The only problem with Charlie over the last couple of years was that he didn’t play a lot of hockey. He was injured and that slowed down his progression,” Waite said. Between the AHL and the NHL, Lindgren played a total of 34 games in 2018-19 and 22 games in 2019-20.
Even if Lindgren has had limited opportunities, he has been a good teammate in Laval and Montreal, and Waite doesn’t expect that to change. “He’s a very good influence to a guy like Cayden [Primeau]. He’s a very good teammate, a guy that works hard and gives a good example.”
The Press Zone podcast with Amy Johnson and Rick Stephens, recently spoke to Lindgren, and you can listen to that interview by clicking here.
Michael McNiven got the short end of the stick during the 2019-20 season. In order to get him some playing time, McNiven was assigned to the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) immediately after training camp. With the Canadiens not having their own ECHL affiliate, McNiven was forced to play with three different teams. He got in goal for a total of 22 times in his ECHL stops with Adirondack, Jacksonville, and Norfolk. McNiven returned to Laval on February 3rd, when Kinkaid’s time with the organization were numbered, won all three of his starts.
“I love the guy [McNiven]. He never says a word and does what we ask him. He’s a gamer,” said Waite. “He battles, he will read game situations and find ways to win games. I love his character, and I love his work ethic.”
On September 30th, the Canadiens signed him to a one-year, two-contract for the 2020-21 season. “He will be a useful goalie in our organization, and that’s the reason we gave him another contract for one year, because he earned it. He gives us good depth for our farm teams,” added the goaltending coach.
On April 21st, the Canadiens signed Vasili Demchenko to a one-year, entry level contract for the 2020-21 season. Demchenko played 36 games with Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk in the KHL in 2019-20, totaling nine wins, along with a 2.77 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.
“He’s not very big, but he’s athletic. I like his athleticism in the net, he’s quick, he moves pretty well side-to-side,” said Waite about the goalie with 212 career starts in the KHL. Demchenko is listed as 6’02” tall and weighs 165 pounds.
With Primeau scheduled to receive the majority of the starts in Laval, Joel Bouchard will have limited options when it comes to starting the other goalies. It would be hard in a normal 76-game AHL season, and even harder in what is expected to be a shortened 2020-21 season. If the AHL proceeds with a condensed schedule, the Rocket may be able to have two of the three goalies alternate as Primeau’s backup.
If the Rocket start the season with four goalies, finding an ECHL home for at least one of them becomes a necessity. There’s an added level of difficulty added that the organization doesn’t have an ECHL affiliate.
Over the last couple of seasons, the Canadiens were spreading their players between several teams in that league to get them ice time. The ECHL recently announced that six teams elected to suspend play for the upcoming season, which will make it harder for the Canadiens to find an ECHL home for their players.