Cale Fleury was a Montreal Canadiens third-round pick in 2017, and used a mid-season trade to the Regina Pats to really elevate his stock. He ended up playing a more defined role for the team that ended up playing in the final of the Memorial Cup, falling in the championship game.
Fleury played on a bad Kootenay Ice team in his draft year, where he put up a -61, but that wasn’t indicative of his play, more the situation he was in. It made it very hard to evaluate him as a prospect. He was simply asked to do too much. He was the captain, he was the top defender and played in every situation which is tough for any player.
His move to Regina allowed him to simply play his game. He wasn’t asked to play top pairing minutes, plus the top power play and the top penalty kill. He wasn’t asked to always go against the other team’s top players. It allowed him to elevate his game by being more focused as opposed to playing in every situation and being the best player on his team.
In fact, it allowed him to play a game more similar to how he would be asked to step in at a professional level, and it really did allow his game to shine.
The voting was pretty steady throughout the panel with eight of the 14 votes placing him in the top-14, and four more in the top-20. Only two of the votes had him outside of the top-20.
Ironically, none of the panelists had him at #15, which is where he ended up.
Top 25 Under 25 History
In his first year of eligibility, Fleury was ranked 25th, just behind fellow WHL defenceman Josh Brook who was taken a round ahead of him in the 2017 NHL Draft. This year, thanks in part to a strong finish to the season, Fleury moved up 10 spots and just ahead of Brook.
Fleury’s biggest strength is perhaps that he doesn’t have one glaring weakness. He’s an all around defender designed for the way the NHL is going. At 6’1” and 201 lbs, he’s not undersized, but he has good skating ability and can use that and a good passing ability that he uses to exit his zone and start breakouts for his team.
He is also good in the offensive zone. Among WHL defenceman under 20 years old, he was 10th in primary points at five-on-five showing that he has an ability to not only get the puck out of the zone but that he knows what to do with it in the offensive end as well.
His shot is an advantage to his game. He has had 23 goals over the last two seasons in the WHL, and it’s definitely an asset. It won’t necessarily overpower goaltenders but he excels with a good release and finding lanes to shoot. He won’t quarterback a power play at the top level, but he has shown awareness in the offensive zone.
The best part of his game defensively is how he handles opponents coming in on the rush. He follows his man well through the neutral zone and is really hard to get around, forcing players to enter the zone without control of the puck.
While Fleury is a solid all-around defenceman, he doesn’t really excel at any category and has had trouble with staying disciplined and in position.
One of the things said about his game is that he can be drawn out of position at times in his own end, either due to his awareness, or due to trying to get a big hit.
After the trade to Regina, he did tend to play more defensively and his breakouts were more conservative, opting to dump the puck more than in Kootenay. However, after the trade he reached another level of defensive play. This part of his game improved dramatically in Regina, and it shows he has not yet reached his peak.
Although he’s capable in the offensive zone, he’s not dynamic and his point scoring may not follow him to the professional level so it is a question mark as to how much he’ll be able to score going forward.
Fleury is in an odd position heading into the Canadiens’ rookie camp and tournament. Because he has already played four WHL seasons, he is able to be assigned to the American Hockey League. Normally players who are under 20 years old do not have that possibility; it would either be NHL or CHL.
So if the Canadiens sign Fleury to his entry-level contract, he can develop in the AHL without burning a year of his entry-level contract.
There are advantages and disadvantages to either side. Fleury gained confidence in his move to Regina, and another full year at the CHL level will allow him to earn a lot more confidence before taking the next step of his career.
The Montreal Canadiens and Laval Rocket also appear to have a fully stacked deck of defencemen in the organization. The team has 14 defenders under an NHL contract, including the injured Shea Weber. If you factor in AHL contracts and Simon Despres, who has an invitation to training camp, Fleury going to the professional level will struggle to find playing time.
The team traded Simon Bourque earlier in the summer, who was a player who struggled to find playing time in his first professional season, and they may want to avoid giving Fleury a contract so history doesn’t repeat itself.
Instead, he can go back to the CHL, not take a spot away from someone who already has a professional contract, and he could always join the team after his CHL season ends in preparation for next season.
The team is also close to their 50 contract limit, which could affect their decision.
The fact of the matter is, Fleury has a lot to play for and to impress the Canadiens in rookie camp when the focus is usually more long-term.
He showed great strides last season, and that is a major reason why he moved up on this list and that a pro contract this season is even a possibility. If he continues that path of development, we may have just scratched the surface of what kind of player he can be going forward.