The 2018-19 season was an interesting one for Michael McNiven. He played a game in the ECHL, 30 games in the AHL, and was recalled but never played in the NHL. For most of the year, he outplayed the senioir Charlie Lindgren as well.
McNiven ended the campaign with a 2.52 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage in the AHL. His stats weren’t earth-shattering by any means, but he still showed flashes of excellent play. With the roster turnover that Laval had, we could understand why the numbers for most of Laval’s goalies were down across the board.
He struggled at times, but as the year progressed he went back to the form that helped him capture the Goaltender of the Year Award in the OHL.
Including Lindgren, goaltending for Laval was the strongest suitthis season. It can be potentially due to the number of call-ups that impacted the team, a new system in place, or the fact that most of the team was overhauled from the inaugural year. It took some time for Laval to gel together, but after the midpoint of the season you could see drastic improvements.
Interestingly, it coincided with the moment McNiven went on a tear. This made it possible for Laval to stay within striking distance of other teams within their own division. Still, Laval ended up missing the playoffs again this year, but not without both Lacouvee and McNiven giving their all in the dying weeks of the season.
Michael McNiven flashes the leather and then stares down Taylor Raddysh pic.twitter.com/jkmxyt9WhM— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) April 13, 2019
McNiven’s strengths are obvious even to the untrained eye. He’s mobile and athletic, able to use all of his 6’1” frame to his advantage. He understands how to cover his net, cutting angles and staying square to the shooter. He’s not overly twitchy in his crease, but relying a lot on his technical foundation to keep up with the plays in front of him.
Unlike, say, Antti Niemi, McNiven’s movements don’t appear hectic or unnecessary, which allows him to stay more focused on the play. You don’t feel the same nervousness from watching McNiven as you would get from Neimi, feeling a certain poise and calmness emanating from the young netminder. He already has a professional demeanor in net, rarely getting frustrated by plays or goals against him.
His mobility allows him to take prime chances away from opponents, even if it looks like they have a tap-in goal on their stick. Like most netminders, he scrambles to contest rebounds and dives to make saves if there’s a chance to prevent a shot from going in. Still, he’s often in the right position due to his strong leg power and sound positioning.
McNiven is having himself a game. Still 1-0 Rocket about halfway through the third. Shots are 28-8 Cleveland. pic.twitter.com/QdkhDklCNg— Sarah Kossits (@skossits) January 19, 2019
One of the things that pops up every game is how combative McNiven truly is. Due to the uneven defensive scheme they played behind at times, you often saw Laval’s goaltenders having to stand on their heads to keep the score low. McNiven showed quite a few flashes of brilliant play even when you thought he was out of it. His never-quit attitude, combined with that athleticism, keeps him in plays that he has no business still being in. Some people would call him a warrior, I’d say he’s damn competitive and wants to give his team as much help as possible every time he’s on the ice.
Given the way his team played on numerous occasions, it was not an uncommon occurrence to see him lunging across his crease to take away goals. One of the best examples would be an impressive effort against Rochester, where he robbed the Americans blind on a few occasions.
Or in this game against the Marlies, late in the third when his team is down by one. His defence broke in front of him, allowing an opponent to drop low and attempt a shot from a nifty pass. Yet, in a bit of a desperate attempt and a proof of his athletism, McNiven was able to keep his team alive by turning aside that opportunity.
Oh my word what a save from Michael McNiven! pic.twitter.com/QL0XX3UWUb— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) September 9, 2018
McNiven is still a young prospect, being only 22 at the beginning of next season. He’ll probably be splitting time with Cayden Primeau in Laval, and entering a second season with Joël Bouchard at the helm, we should be seeing Laval taking steps forward and building upon the way they ended this year.
As an undrafted signee, McNiven is an interesting prospect, but, as it is the rule with most netminders, time will be key in his development. His progress from last year is very noticeable and he should only be getting better as time passes.