Zachary Fucale just completed his first professional season in the Canadiens organization. He was thrust into the starter's role for the AHL's St. John's IceCaps when an injury to Carey Price shuffled all the goaltenders up a spot.
He should have been eased into the life of professional hockey behind starter Dustin Tokarski, but fate had other plans. There were several nervous games on Fucale's part during the course of the season, and on nine occasions he allowed four or more goals in a game, and only four times allowed a goal or less out of 35 starts.
As the season wore on and the team was chasing a playoff spot, he lost the confidence of his coach and his starter spot to Eddie Pasquale; an AHL-contracted goaltender. This wasn't the first time that Fucale failed to capitalize on an opportunity, as history has shown a negative trend for Fucale ever since he won gold with Team Canada at the IIHF U20 tournament in January of 2015.
The votes were pretty spread out on Fucale, with several ranking him outside of the T25U25 ranking. That's quite the unfortunate drop for a goaltender initially considered to be next in line for the Habs starter role. The community vote, along with Veronica, actually ranked him the highest at 16, while others like Scott, Stephen, Michel, and David ranked him well out of the rankings.
Eliminating the outlier votes does not significantly impact his ranking, indicating that opinions on his future are very polarized.
Top 25 Under 25 History
|2013: #22||2014: #19||2015: #22|
This is Fucale's fourth year in the T25U25 ranking, and he has not shown much progress over this time, always sitting at the edge of the group, and now trending towards regression.
He entered into the rankings in 2013 at 22 after being drafted 36th overall by the Canadiens in the second round of the draft that year, and winning a Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads the preceding season.
He climbed up to 19th place in 2014 on the heels of making Team Canada for the IIHF World Junior Championships, and playing pretty well for the Mooseheads.
By 2015, despite a gold medal at the IIHF U20 World Junior Champions and a 0.939 SV%, Fucale fell to 22nd overall in the rankings after losing the starter job with the Quebec Ramparts to a 17-year old upstart. After his move to Quebec, his save percentage plummeted to 0.877, and then the collapse worsened with a 4.75 GAA and 0.872 SV% in the Memorial Cup.
This year's ranking of 23 is partially an indictment of his performance in the AHL this past season, but also a recognition that the overall prospect pool strengthened over the past year.
Fucale displays great athleticism and reflexes, making numerous sensational saves this past season in St. John's. His primary saves are definitely spectacular at times. His speed allows for him to close any open spaces exceptionally well.
He's been praised as a hard worker, able to compose himself after a tough outing and prepare himself for his next start. He remains positive and seems willing to accept that he still has lots of learning to do. As a true professional he has done tremendous work in the St. John's community, earning the IceCaps Man of the Year award, giving back to the fans despite his professional struggles.
For all of his athletic talent, there appears to be a huge psychological hurdle that Fucale needs to overcome. After giving up an initial goal it's common for him to quickly gives up a second one. Whether it's a loss of concentration or a negative mindset that sinks in, this is one area that Fucale will have to dramatically improve on in his second professional season.
There were far too many games where the IceCaps would start off well, only to concede a goal followed quickly by a second, taking them out of the game. The problem became so habitual that Fucale lost the starter position to Eddie Pasquale down the stretch as the team was struggling to make the playoffs.
Positionally, he displays a lack of control of his lateral movement, often over-committing and ending up out of position for a rebound, which leads to easy tap-in goals.
Fucale's value may have been initially inflated due to high profile visibility as part of Team Canada, however his career save percentage statistics have remained consistent at every level, floating around 0.905, which is insufficient for even a backup role.
The fact that the Canadiens have bulked up their goalie depth with the addition of Charlie Lindgren might be an indication that the organization is preparing a contingency plan to replace Fucale should he falter again this season.
He will need to continue to work with the IceCaps goaltending coach Vincent Riendeau to put together a much more consistent season as he will face much stiffer internal competition in nets combined with higher expectations in his sophomore season.