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‘I’ll be there if they need me’: Michael McNiven is trying to stand out in a crowded crease

As the Rocket pre-season gets under way, McNiven is still waiting for his chance.

Shanna Martin

When the Laval Rocket skate onto the ice at Place Bell for the first of their two pre-season games against the Belleville Senators on Saturday, it won’t be Michael McNiven leading them.

Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard said on Friday that Cayden Primeau would get the pre-season opener on Saturday. There was no decision made for Sunday’s game, but McNiven didn’t seem like someone who was expecting to play.

“I’m not playing this weekend,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to it. It’s gonna be fun to watch, I guess. I’ll be there if they need me.”

Saturday will be the fourth time that McNiven is watching his team in the exhibition season. Prior to being sent down to Laval, he didn’t see any game action in the Montreal Canadiens’ three games. Primeau got 30 minutes behind Carey Price, and Charlie Lindgren got a full game while McNiven was dressed as his backup. Lindgren got one more start after McNiven was sent down.

If you ask a hockey player if they would be fine with not playing in any pre-season games, most of them would say yes. The pre-season is long, after all. But for McNiven, not only is he not playing, but the players he is competing with for playing time in Laval — Primeau, and presumably Lindgren if he clears waivers — are getting looks.

He may be disappointed — and really, who could blame him? — but he didn’t show it after practice on Friday.

“It’s exhibition,” he said, “but I’m always going to be ready. I’m not too worried about not playing an exhibition game. It would be nice and get me a little bit more ready for the season, but if you’re not ready for the season at this point, then I don’t know what you’ve been doing all summer; you don’t have the right mindset.”

In his second professional season, McNiven saw improvements in his numbers playing an increased role after the departure of Zach Fucale. He had a 2.52 goals-against average and .902 save percentage; both numbers ahead of Lindgren’s.

McNiven is entering the final year of his entry-level contract, and the crease will be crowded. In addition to Primeau and Lindgren (waivers permitting), the Rocket also have Connor LaCouvee under contract. LaCouvee was great in the latter part of last season and he’s another person who could see some time in the pre-season.

Working with the three goaltenders currently in Rocket camp is goaltending coach Marco Marciano and a new face, former NHL goaltender Sean Burke. Burke has been a pro scout for the Canadiens for several years, but has added the title of goaltending consultant to his role. Burke was a goalie coach for six years (2009-15) with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes organization.

“It’s like having a second goalie coach,” McNiven said. “Anything that we’re doing, the drills on the ice, he’s always helping, giving us pointers and telling us how we can switch things, make things better, do video sessions here and there with them. So I think all around it’s just another voice, another opinion, and more help.”

“The more the merrier. Both Marco and Burkie are there to help us. So you have to take everything in and try to use it as best as possible.”