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Making sense of the Laval Rocket goaltending situation

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With three goalies and only two spots, something has to give in the AHL.

Club de Hockey Canadien

The Montreal Canadiens are very well set in net for the foreseeable future with Carey Price between the pipes and a handful of talented prospects behind him. One of the biggest questions heading into this current off-season is who would serve as his back up this upcoming season after Antti Niemi went to free agency and eventually the KHL. The job seemed destined for Charlie Lindgren who is the elder statesmen in a trio of prospect goalies in the professional ranks that include Michael McNiven and Cayden Primeau.

However, after an injury-laden, and subpar season from Lindgren, Marc Bergevin opted to sign veteran back up Keith Kinkaid on July 1 this year and have the 30 year old serve behind Price. What that currently means is that there is quite a logjam at the AHL level for starting time in the net, and it is a crucial situation for the team to work out. Especially since Primeau has left the NCAA for the pro ranks this past year. Beyond Primeau and Lindgren is 22-year-old McNiven, and his development hinges heaviest on what the Canadiens decide to do with their AHL situation.

Beyond anything else, it is very apparent that no matter what situation unfolds, Primeau will be in a Laval Rocket uniform this year. It would be beyond comprehension that the Canadiens would sign him to his entry-level deal then not give him any sort of meaningful time to prove himself in net. So, assuming that they are opting for a two-goalie system, the organization needs to make a decision on what to do with McNiven and Lindgren.

Lindgren came into last year as the likely starter. His second professional season in Laval did not go well, but the Rocket were a disaster under Sylvain Lefebvre and Lindgren himself bounced between the NHL and AHL for a struggling Canadiens team. With a new coach in Joel Bouchard, and an overhauled team in front of him, it was the hope that Lindgren would round into the form from his rookie season in St. John’s.

However, that was not to be. While the Rocket ended up being one of the stingier teams in the AHL, Lindgren struggled once again. Posting a 2.94 goals against and .884 save percentage it was very clear that something was off with the 25-year-old goalie. That ended up being correct as Lindgren missed time recovering from a hip injury. Even after returning he had moments where he looked uncomfortable, raising concerns about his overall health by the end of the year.

This isn’t to say Lindgren didn’t have flashes of what made him a top college free agent. He still made athletic saves, especially using his glove to rob players in close. It is hard, however, to hand someone guaranteed playing time when they’ve been wildly inconsistent over the majority of their professional career so far. But what Lindgren does have is experience and could serve as a good mentor for Primeau should he win out in the goalie battle.

On the other side of things is McNiven. Much like Lindgren, he struggled in Laval during his rookie season on a poor team, but unlike Lindgren he took a huge step forward in the AHL this year. With Lindgren injured he took the reins as starter and in 30 games posted a 2.52 goals against and .902 save percentage. While not world-class numbers overall, McNiven managed to drop one full goal off his GAA and increased his save percentage by nearly .20 from his rookie season. This while playing for a team that struggled to have it’s offence in gear. If anyone has proven that they deserve a bigger role in net going forward right now, it’s McNiven.

While Lindgren’s big saves highlight his athleticism, McNiven’s showcase his outstanding form between the pipes (and his own athletic talent). In his rookie year McNiven scrambled, often trying to cover gaps left by his defence. This past year he looked more composed and was able to utilize his glove to great effect while taking away the net from shooters. While not the biggest guy at 6’ 1’’ McNiven became a much harder puzzle to solve with his improvements, and at 22 years old he’s still developing.

This is where the hard choice must be made, and with the direction the Canadiens are heading it makes the most sense to lean on the youthful options going forward. While Lindgren is not old by any means, at 25 years old it seems like his ceiling is that of an NHL backup or AHL starter unless he rebounds in a big way this year. McNiven is still growing and seems to have the higher ceiling right now. This doesn’t factor in Primeau either, who out of all three goalies vying for space, seems to have the tools in place to be the heir apparent for Price.

Whether it’s a trade or something else, it would be wise for the Canadiens to move Lindgren out, if only for the fact there are younger, better options right now that need the playing time to develop. While it is possible to run a three-goalie system, that would require a rotation that would limit each goalie to around 25 games a year, with multiple days off in between.

It is not conducive to handle the goaltending prospects that way. Both Primeau and McNiven have a claim to stake for the starting spot and Lindgren appears to be the odd man out. This is not meant to be an indictment of Lindgren either, but a choice that has to be made for the betterment of the Canadiens going forward in net. Because Carey Price isn’t going to be here forever.