The waiver wire is hectic this time of year as every team in the NHL is making difficult roster choices and having to part with young talent to make their rosters compliant. Sometimes teams are lucky and players sneak through as there are so many options available. Other times you lose a first-round pick like Noah Juulsen and it stings a fair bit.
This year, the Montreal Canadiens were the ones claiming someone off pre-season waivers. The club added 24-year-old goaltender Samuel Montembeault from the Florida Panthers, giving them another goalie with NHL experience.
That last part is the biggest key when we look at why the Canadiens claimed him from the Panthers: he will be on the NHL roster right now. What this likely means is that Carey Price will not be ready to play the opening games, and Marc Bergevin wanted insurance behind Jake Allen.
It seemed like an ideal spot for Michael McNiven to slot into for the time being, as Cayden Primeau will be getting the majority of the starts in Laval when their season begins. The Canadiens clearly didn’t believe so, opting for a different backup option.
At the end of the day, if Carey Price is ready to go next week, then Montembeault can go back on waivers and a shuffle will begin in the AHL if he clears. If Price isn’t set to go, what can the Canadiens and their fans expect from the new netminder should he be called upon to back up Allen to start the season?
In Montembeault, they saw a chance to grab someone they reportedly had their sights on in the 2015 NHL Draft. His NHL resume is not large, with just 25 total games played with a 9-8-3 record, a 3.20 goals-against average, and .892 save percentage. None of these stats paint a very flattering picture for a player once expected to be a starter. His time was suddenly up when Sergei Bobrovsky was signed to a mega deal, Spencer Knight entered the fold, and Chris Driedger came out of nowhere to form a formidable trio ahead of him.
His numbers in the AHL are slightly better, but also skewed a bit by playing on some poor Springfield Thunderbirds teams. In his first two years as a developing goalie he failed to post a winning record in either year, and in his third season he saw his time split between the NHL and AHL, with his starts cut back in favour of the aforementioned Driedger and the newly arrived Philippe Desrosiers. It resulted in his best statistical season in terms of goals against (3.00) and save percentage (.918), but was still a distant third in terms of the NHL pecking order as Bobrovsky and Driedger put together all together better years.
Last year he was assigned to the Syracuse Crunch as the Panthers were in between AHL affiliates. He mainly split the net with Spencer Martin, posting an 8-4-1 record along with a 2.86 goals against and .898 save percentage, almost right in line with what McNiven had with the Rocket.
In terms of playing style, he uses his large frame and solid positional work to overcome his poor footwork around the net. That lack of agility causes him to become a bit scrambly when he loses his net, which might be exacerbated by a Canadiens defence that tends to lack structure at times. With the Rocket defence being as strong as it is, he could very easily have some of those flaws covered for him, but he has some flaws that have to be addressed for if he wants to become a regular NHL goalie.
We shouldn’t be expecting any major changes in his game once he arrives in Montreal. He’s a fine option to be a split starter in the AHL if he is sent down after Carey Price returns. However, he hasn’t proven that he can help Allen more than McNiven or Primeau could have.
In terms of AHL hierarchy, Primeau will still handle the majority of starts for Laval, while McNiven (if he clears waivers) and Kevin Poulin will spell Primeau when the time calls for it, with Montembeault entering the conversation for that secondary role should he end up in Laval.
Right now, it looks like Allen will be busy to start the regular season as he awaits the return of Price. Beyond that, the Canadiens are taking a gamble that Montembeault might find his next level in his home province. If he doesn’t, it’s not a role he will be in for long.