It wasn’t so long ago that Cayden Primeau was the 199th name called at the 2017 NHL Draft, with the Montreal Canadiens trading picks with Philadelphia to grab him. It seemed like a long shot given his numbers in the USHL that season, but Trevor Timmins and his staff had good reason for wanting the young netminder from New Jersey.
The gamble paid off almost instantly as Primeau went to join the ranks of the NCAA at Northeastern University, and in his freshman season became one of the top goaltenders in the nation. A 19-8-5 record with .931 save percentage and 1.92 goals-against average led the Huskies in every category, and also put him near the top of the NCAA as a whole. In that same year, Primeau collected a truck-load of awards including Goaltender of the Year in Hockey East, and being named to the Hockey All-Rookie and All-Star Teams.
He compiled a 25-10-1 record with a 2.09 GAA and .933 save percentage, and backstopped the U.S. World Junior team to a silver medal the nest year. While the Huskies failed to make the most of their dominant team and fell short of a national title, Primeau collected yet another haul of awards, including being named to the NCAA All-American Team, another Hockey East All-Star nod, named the Hockey East Tournament MVP, and claiming the Mike Richter award as the NCAA’s best goalie.
In just two short years, Primeau had done almost everything he could at the NCAA level aside from a national title, but the professional game came calling after his sophomore season. He signed his entry-level deal not long after the Huskies were eliminated from the tournament.
Primeau’s arrival signaled a huge competition for spots in the AHL and NHL levels, with Charlie Lindgren, Michael McNiven, Primeau and the newly signed Keith Kinkaid all battling for the spots behind Carey Price. By the time all was said and done, Primeau had secured the 1-B spot in the AHL next to Lindgren, while McNiven was relegated to the ECHL.
As the veteran Lindgren was given the early starts, but it wasn’t long until Primeau took over in that regard too.
In his first seven professional starts, Primeau had only one game under a .935 save percentage and looked like a veteran himself between the pipes during every single start. While he’s had some struggles as of late, he still looked cool and composed, much like the NHL counterpart he now joins.
Cool as you like from Cayden Primeau on the shorthanded rush. pic.twitter.com/vGHTTeYgF8— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 9, 2019
He’s a larger goalie between the pipes, but none of his movements looks difficult. Glove and pad saves look fluid and natural for him every single time. Even when there’s a second or third chance around the net, there’s no panic in his game, he just gets himself back to where he needs to be and closes off any openings.
It’s a very rapid rise to the NHL for someone who was originally a hail-mary pick at the end of a draft, and that’s just fine if you’re the Canadiens. Primeau showed in the pre-season he’s capable of facing down heavy attacks and making it look easy.
The rookie probably can’t magically fix things at the NHL level — he may not be up for long, and may not even see a minute of action in his first call-up — but it would be extremely unwise to count out the kid who won everything the NCAA has to offer in just two years, and seemed poised to conquer the AHL in short order as well. He now has one of the best goaltenders of the generation sharing a stall next to him, so there are worse places to be if you’re Cayden Primeau.