When the 2019-20 season started, there was guarded optimism surrounding Cayden Primeau’s first professional season. By the end of the season, Primeau forced Laval Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard’s hand and earned the starting job in lieu of the goaltender rotation that reigned through most of the season.
That isn’t to say that Primeau’s season was flawless. There were bumps in the road as well as some highs that most didn’t think possible when the season started — including his first NHL call up and win.
The irony may just be that the NHL recall came in the middle of the roughest performances of Primeau’s AHL season. By mid-November, Primeau’s start had drawn attention. He was among the leaders in most goaltending categories. Just before his call up, he allowed four or five goals in four of his five starts (ironically, his first career shutout came in that stretch as well).
In his two NHL starts, Primeau lost against the Colorado Avalanche 3-2 and won 3-2 against the Ottawa Senators in overtime before going back to the Rocket.
When he returned to the AHL, the struggles continued as he allowed five goals in his first two starts with the Rocket, making it four straight starts with five goals allowed, and six of seven with four or more allowed.
Inconsistency is to be expected. Primeau entered the season at 20 years old, in his first professional season. Every player deals with adversity and struggles at one point or another. The question is how you respond, and Primeau responded beautifully.
Cayden Primeau robs Scott Pooley with his glove in the second period. pic.twitter.com/MC7Tvl7VuI— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) February 23, 2020
Goaltending under Bouchard this past season was not easy to find a rhythm. With the AHL schedule, often games are back-to-back on weekends, and sometimes surrounded by five days off, meaning goalies can often go a full week between starts. By the end of the season, however, Primeau played so well that he took the reins as the team was just about to enter its playoff push.
Primeau played six of the team’s final eight games of the season, with Michael McNiven playing the other two — both in back-to-back situations. Primeau went 5-1 in those starts, with a 1.33 goals against average, and a .948 save percentage. His last start of the season was a shutout against the division-leading Belleville Senators.
Overall, the season was a success for the seventh-round pick. He had a 17-11-3 record, 2.45 GAA, and .908 save percentage. He was tied for third in the AHL with four shutouts, and his 2.45 GAA put him ninth in the league among qualified goaltenders. He was also named to the AHL’s All-Rookie team.
When you watch Primeau play, you won’t see a lot of movement, and you won’t see many spectacular saves. It may seem like an easy comparison to compare his style to Carey Price, but the two really are similar beyond their initials and the fact they both wore #31.
Cool as you like from Cayden Primeau on the shorthanded rush. pic.twitter.com/vGHTTeYgF8— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 9, 2019
The calmness follows him off the ice, where he never gets too high or too low after games, no matter what the result was. He always had the puck from his first AHL win in his locker stall, even late in the season. His poise is quite remarkable for such a young player. The traits he shows are traits that many star goaltenders have.
The key going forward for Primeau will be get a regular flow of games, which makes it unlikely that he will be Carey Price’s backup for the Montreal Canadiens for any significant period of time. The fact that he is invited to the Return to Play training camp means that the team is obviously high on his prospects. Should an injury happen, he’ll likely be the top choice to get games regardless of who the regular backup may be in 2020-21.
Of course, as the emphasis goes to limiting Carey Price’s games and having a second goaltender to take some of the load off, calls for Primeau to play that role will be coming, perhaps sooner than later. Primeau’s performances will determine how realistic those calls are. Development, after all, is as important for a goaltender than it is for a forward or defenceman if not more so.
After the initial adjustment to professional hockey this past season, he should hit the ground running next season. While the AHL schedule may not allow him to start a big majority of the games, there’s no disputing who the number one goalie in Laval would be.