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Charlie Lindgren’s strong career start gives the Canadiens peace of mind for the future

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Signed as an undrafted free agent, Lindgren has made it clear he has an NHL pedigree.

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Charlie Lindgren has been in the Montreal Canadiens organization for a little over two full seasons now, signing as an undrafted NCAA free agent at the end of the 2015-16 season. In the one game he played that year, he stopped 26 of 28 shots against the Carolina Hurricanes and looked right at home doing it.

He played just two NHL games the following year where he posted two wins, a 1.48 goals-against average, and .949 save percentage, once again looking like a young player getting ready for NHL action. In that first full year he also backstopped the St. John’s IceCaps to a playoff berth — the first for a Habs AHL franchise in over half a decade. With a record of 24-18-7 with a 2.56 GAA and .914 save percentage, Lindgren lived up to his All-Star nomination and dragged an IceCaps team kicking and screaming to the Calder Cup playoffs.

With injuries taking their toll on the Canadiens’ goaltending depth early in the season, Lindgren was called up in early November to fill in. In his first five games this season he posted a 3-1-1 record and recorded a shutout against the Chicago Blackhawks, the first of his NHL career. With no games under a .920 save percentage, Lindgren looked poised to steal the backup job from Al Montoya in Montreal, but another injury put Montoya on the Injured Reserve list and led to the claim of Antti Niemi off waivers.

Unfortunately, other injuries began piling up and drastically weakened the team around Lindgren for the remainder of the season. He would top a .900 save percentage just four more times over the course of the year, even if it was in limited starts in his second call-up. In that timeframe, he also posted his second shutout of the year, with an outstanding performance against the Philadelphia Flyers.

Lindgren’s numbers in the AHL were not ideal. It was a step back after his rookie season, but as we noted in his season review the team and system in place in Laval was nothing short of abysmal.

In short, the penalty kill and lack of talented defensive players left Lindgren (and all the other minor-league goalies) out to dry more often than not. While he is an extremely talented goalie, it was impossible to stop scoring chances from players that were left uncovered at the top of the crease.

It’s worth paying attention to the starts Lindgren posted with a healthy team around him, when Shea Weber was playing and the forward core wasn’t littered with AHL call-ups in roles far above their weight class. You don’t go undefeated in five starts to begin an NHL career by pure dumb luck alone (unless you’re Andrew Hammond), and Lindgren is capable of playing close to that level, even if he isn’t going to win every game he plays.

While Niemi has been re-signed for next season, Lindgren inked a new three-year deal and looks to be the heir apparent to the backup role in Montreal. If Niemi should struggle in 2018-19, we could see Lindgren sooner rather than later in that role, and that’s perfectly fine. At just 24 years old, Lindgren is still growing as a player and has shown that he can already handle the NHL game.

His right-handed catching style has confused shooters who are used to the more common option. He’s calm and composed in net, with no wasted movements stopping shots; the opposite of fellow prospect Zachary Fucale, or current backup Niemi.

Carey Price is going to be the starter for the foreseeable future obviously, but with Lindgren waiting in the wings, for the first time in almost a decade the Canadiens have a young, up-and-coming goaltender who has proven to be a reliable NHL option. Giving Price more rest and giving Lindgren a few more games is a win-win situation, and can help keep the Habs’ franchise cornerstone fresh for what will hopefully be deep playoff runs.

The Canadiens’ prospect depth at the goaltending position is the best it’s been in quite some time, and that’s in no small part due to the emergence of Lindgren in the Habs system. His performance thus far can give the Canadiens brass some peace of mind going forward when looking for someone to pair with Carey Price in net. He isn’t going to put up the numbers that Price has in previous years, but he’s shown he can do so in a limited role so far, and that’s only good news heading forward for Montreal.