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Catching the Torch: Michael McNiven staked his claim as one of the top prospects in the Habs organization

Our review of the young goaltenders in the Canadiens’ system also includes a look at the promising Hayden Hawkey.

Owen Sound Attack v Windsor Spitfires Photo by Dennis Pajot/Getty Images

Almost all junior-level prospects in the Montreal Canadiens organization experienced solid seasons. Michael McNiven won OHL Goaltender of the Year, Mikhail Sergachev finished third in OHL Defenceman of the Year voting, Noah Juulsen was a WHL Western Conference First Team All-Star, and Simon Bourque has captured the QMJHL Championship an earned a spot in the Memorial Cup tournament.

Meanwhile, several prospects took monumental steps forward, such as Victor Mete, Hayden Hawkey, and the newly-signed Antoine Waked.

This is certainly encouraging news, because development, progression, improvement — whatever you want to call it — is an absolutely essential part of turning prospects in NHL players.

The first of a three-part season review focuses on the up-and-coming goaltending prospects the Montreal Canadiens have in the system, and what we can expect from them in their continued development.

Statistics used in this article are from the brilliant

Michael McNiven

McNiven had a stellar season, winning OHL Goaltender of the Year and being named runner-up in the Most Outstanding Player award. He was undoubtedly Owen Sound’s most valuable player, and there’s a strong case that he was the league’s MVP, too (though there isn’t an award for that).

Although McNiven appeared to run out of steam in the playoffs (lateral movement was slower than usual, glove hand sat lower), he had a ridiculous 27-2-1-2 stretch in the second half of the regular season.

With an elite goaltender and plenty of offensive firepower, head coach Ryan McGill opened up Owen Sound’s attacking structure, causing a huge offensive surge. Although far from a perfect measure, McNiven’s high-dangers shots against per game decreased marginally, and his medium-danger shots faced saw a huge decline. That means that while McNiven’s shots-against average remained roughly the same, the location of the shots this season were coming from farther away.

That said, there were plenty of noticeable technical improvements in McNiven’s game. He was more aggressive, playing at the top of the crease to cut the angle, more controlled and upright during lateral movement, and his rebound control was much better. He became a one-man uncontrolled-entry thwarting machine with his puck-handling behind the net, and also had some spectacular passes when turning the play in the opposite direction.

What’s Next

It’s likely that McNiven will turn professional next season. Whether it’s to the AHL or ECHL is largely dependent on what happens with Al Montoya, who will be exposed for the expansion draft, and if not chosen could have his job stolen by Charlie Lindgren. Zachary Fucale appears ready to join the AHL again, so McNiven is probably going to be the backup for the Laval Rocket or the starter in the ECHL with the Brampton Beast.

Hayden Hawkey

After starting just two games in his freshman year, and missing the majority of 2014-15 with a knee injury, Hawkey finally returned to the starter’s role this season, and he certainly made the most of it. He started — and finished — every game Providence played, racking up 2352 minutes between the pipes.

After an inconsistent start, Hawkey went 17-6-3 down the stretch, with a .926 save percentage. He is a tremendous skater in the net, but he tended to play on his goal line, similar to Henrik Lundqvist. Just before the December break, Hawkey started using his footwork to play on the top of his crease, making him far tougher to beat. Coinciding with Hawkey’s breakout (and not to be understated), was Providence’s altered structure and increased goal support for their netminder.

Hawkey is a fun goaltender to watch. Thanks to his incredible quick movements, he can pull off some crazy saves, even when out of position.

What’s Next

Hawkey will return to Providence next season, and likely the season after. He’s emerged as quite the prospect for the Canadiens, who have riches in goaltending depth currently. While his technical game is far behind that of Charlie Lindgren or even Michael McNiven, his footwork is the best of the three. There’s legitimate upside here, but he needs (and has) plenty of time.

The second part of this season-end review will look at the crop of forwards developing in the lower ranks, and which ones to pay the most attention to.