Backup Goalie Wanted… Hello? Anyone?

By JD Lagrange – When Canadiens’ GM Kent Hughes announced that Carey Price was unlikely to play this upcoming season, it created a chain reaction. Fans, who suffered from PTSD from the traumatic last season, had a feeling of déjà-vu, and started thinking of Connor Bedard. Management got thinking about extending Jake Allen, which they rapidly did. And for two goaltenders in the organization, it gave them hope for their NHL dream, and the Habs’ brass got hoping that at least one of them was ready to step up their game.

Samuel Montembeault (25) and Cayden Primeau (23) both signed contract extensions earlier in the off-season. “Monty” was extended for two years, with a cap hit of $1 million per season. Later, “Prime” also signed but for three more seasons, a contract coming with a cap hit of $890,000. Both young men’s contracts are one-way, meaning that they will touch the same amount whether they play in the NHL or in the AHL.

We have a problem

The issue? So far in pre-season, neither Montembeault nor Primeau seem to want the job. Non-sense, will you say! True. They want the job, of course they do. However, none of them is stepping up to the plate to show management and the coaching staff that they are ready to provide solid, consistent goaltending at this level.

Sam Montembeault and Cayden Primeau

If you’re the Canadiens, it’s a serious problem. “Oh but we want to tank, to lose games“, fans will say. Newsbreak: That’s not how a successful organization thinks and certainly not what Geoff Molson, Jeff Gorton, Kent Hughes, Martin St-Louis and his staff, and certainly not how the players think. That’s a fans’ way of thinking.

The Canadiens are 0-5-1 and they only have two pre-seasons games remaining, both against the Ottawa Senators, at the hands of which they have already lost two games so far. If one of the two young men isn’t willing and ready to take that job offered on a silver platter, then perhaps the Canadiens will have to look outside to fill that need.

The Canadiens have first dib at any waiver claims up until October 30th included. Starting on November 1st, it will go based on this year’s standings. The team also has a surplus of forwards which they would like to unload, so an affordable trade isn’t out of the question.

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Goaltending Prospects – No Respect

By Bob Trask – The injury status of Carey Price has made fans of the Montreal Canadiens hyper-aware of the organization’s goaltending depth. One comment that consistently pops up in the analysis is that the pipeline of quality goaltending prospects is thin. The situation merits an in depth look.

For some reason, these analysts seem to be of the mind that if a goaltender isn’t chosen in the first two rounds of a draft, he immediately becomes suspect as a quality prospect. Tell that to Henrik Lundqvist who was a 7th round pick or Pekka Rinne who was an 8th round pick.

A closer look at their Montreal’s depth chart reveals 5 goaltenders born in 2017 or later. Three of these goaltenders came from the USHL, one from the OHL and one from Denmark. And it isn’t just about quantity, some of this group have already demonstrated they are quality athletes and put an exclamation mark on that with some excellent performances last season.

Cayden Primeau

Cayden Primeau

At 6’3, the 23 year-old, Primeau is the shortest of the group. In a year full of distractions, Primeau still managed a 2.94 GAA and a .909 SV% in the regular season as he rebounded from a tough first half and tentative stint in Montreal. He completed his rebound with a stellar 2.17 GAA and a .936 SV% in the playoffs.

Some analysts are quick to point out that he was only a 7th round pick and seem to look for the flaws in his game more than the potential he has.

With the entire organization seeming to be in a far more stable position at the beginning of this season than it was last year, look for Primeau to settle in become a very, very solid prospect and 23 years old is still young for goaltending prospects.

Jakub Dobes

The 6’4 native of Czechia was a 5th round pick who began playing hockey in North America as a 16 year old. The Canadiens drafted him despite playing only part of his draft year in the USHL. After posting a 2.26 GAA and .934 SV% in 2021-22 as an NCAA rookie, the 21 year-old Dobes took home a lot of hardware (courtesy eliteprospects.com):

  • NCAA all rookie team
  • NCAA best goaltender
  • NCAA 1st all star team
  • NCAA rookie of the year (co-winner)

This still doesn’t seem be enough to convince skeptics that Montreal does not have any quality goaltending prospects.

Frederik Dichow

Frederik Dichow

The 6’5 Danish prospect is the only goaltending prospect in the organization that catches left. He’s also the only one who played for his country in the Olympic Games… a rare accomplishment for a 21 year old goaltender. Most of his season was spent in the Swedish Hockey Allsvenskan league where he posted a 2.27 GAA and a .930 SV%. In the upcoming season he is slated to play in Sweden’s top league – the SHL. If he can continue to develop and post numbers like he did in Allsvenskan, the future could be bright for Dichow and the Canadiens.

Like Dobes, Dichow was a 5th round pick.

Joe Vrbetic

Vrbetic is a long shot. He missed an entire year of hockey due to the OHL cancelling the 2020-21 season because of Covid. Upon his return he played 42 regular season and 8 playoff games as he split time with the younger Dominic Divincentiis. His regular season stats were ho-hum and his playoff numbers were just bad with a 3.88 GAA and an .872 SV% – almost identical to his playing partner.

Despite those numbers he signed a pro contract and seems destined to play in Trois-Rivieres in the upcoming season. When a young goaltender is 6’6 and misses and entire year of hockey, further evaluation is needed before determining what his upside may be. It can often take time for the coordination of taller players to catch up to their bodies and Montreal will find out what they have in Vrbetic in the upcoming season.

At pick #214 in the 2021 entry draft it is worth a gamble to see if there is a diamond in the rough.

Emmett Croteau

The youngest of the Canadiens’ goaltending prospects was chosen in the 6th round of the 2022 entry draft. He had a so-so regular season statistically in the USHL and followed that up with slightly better numbers in the playoffs.

Croteau, who stands 6’3, is expected to return to the USHL of the upcoming season before joining Clarkson in the NCAA for the 2023-24 season. There is a lot of runway left before any decision has to be made on Croteau. At this point it is far too early to make any kind of judgment on his future.

An update on Croteau: He posted a shutout in a pre-season game with the Waterloo Black Hawks. While that means little at this point, it is still good to see.

My Rankings

At this point my rankings of the Canadiens goaltending prospects are:

  1. Jakub Dobes
  2. Cayden Primeau
  3. Frederik Dichow
  4. Joe Vrbectic
  5. Emmett Croteau

I am not sure how this group stacks up against the goaltending prospects on other teams but there is some talent that is already apparent and maybe some more that could reveal itself in the upcoming season.

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