All Michael McNiven needed was a chance.
Whether it was the invite to development camp as an undrafted free agent that earned him an entry-level contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Or the chance to play at all in the ECHL after finding himself far down on the depth chart.
Being far down on the depth chart is nothing new to McNiven. Even his invite to Team Canada’s World Junior camp in his final year of eligibility saw him firmly behind Carter Hart and Connor Ingram before getting cut.
Whether it was being behind Carey Price, Charlie Lindgren, Jake Allen, or Cayden Primeau — or all four at once — McNiven has been around the NHL but on Saturday he finally had an opportunity to play in an NHL preseason game. And like he often does, he took it and ran with it.
Yes, there was the fumble that led to the fourth Toronto goal but that was the kind of thing that happens with pre-season rust. The key thing is to see how he stops the puck, and as long as Carey Price is out this pre-season, there will be an opportunity to play.
The Canadiens schedule is quite compact, from Saturday’s game into Sunday’s scrimmage and another game on Monday. Then they have back-to-back games next week as well. Considering there are only three healthy NHL goaltenders in camp — plus Kevin Poulin — McNiven will likely get another opportunity in a pre-season game as well as the team’s scrimmage.
Cayden Primeau is primed to be the AHL starter when everyone is healthy, and is the top goaltending prospect in the organization. However, if the Canadiens need someone to step up to back up in the NHL — either if Price isn’t ready to go at the start of the season, or if another injury happens down the road — there is a spot for McNiven.
He has already proven that he is able to be a backup. Not everyone can step into game action after a long stretch on the bench. In fact, it was something that Primeau struggled with when he was in the NHL last season.
There isn’t a lot to read into 10 saves on 11 shots (including the aforementioned error) but there is one thing that I am happy with, and that’s that McNiven — after all of the ups and downs on and off the ice — is getting an opportunity at all.