Cale Fleury became one of the top defenders for the Laval Rocket in his first pro season. He wasn’t even 20 years old when the season began, yet he still played very well in a good transition year for Laval. After a strong showing at rookie camp, the team offered him an entry-level contract, and he joined the Rocket just in time for the start of the season.
Birthplace: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Date of birth: November 19, 1998
Drafted: 2017 (87th overall)
Weight: 211 lbs.
Team: Laval Rocket (AHL)
There were some whispers back at the start of the season that Fleury could potentially carve out a role in the NHL in his first season due to Shea Weber’s injury. He ended up staying in the AHL all year, and that was likely the best move for the rookie defender. In his case, the Canadiens taking their time handling player development would be a boon. He’s an intriguing prospect who is starting to really show how important he could become to the team in a matter of just a few years.
Fleury had an impressive year, albeit not a very flashy one. He was brought up slowly by Joël Bouchard, starting on the pairing before moving up the ladder. It didn’t take him very long to force his coach’s hand, ending up as a top-three defender for much of the remaining season. He formed a dynamic pairing with Xavier Ouellet, reigniting Laval’s offence.
The votes for Fleury were fairly restricted to the same few ranks. He had a low ranking of 16 and two highs of 11. In general, the view is that Fleury is a top-15 player.
For me, Fleury represents an excellent defender who has a real upside. At 20 years old, he was able to carve a top-four spot in the AHL and make his presence known. He seamlessly fit in Laval’s lineup and his impact was noticeable. He’s someone I would see cracking the Habs’ lineup within 2-3 years.
David: I never thought that I would be the low vote on Fleury (same for Jake Evans). I think the defenceman is a good bet to make the NHL in the next couple of years, or even get a stint next season in the case of injuries. But once again, it all comes down to perceived potential.
Fleury lacks dynamic qualities at the offensive blue line and while he is growing into an effective transition piece for the Laval Rocket, he doesn’t project as a top puck-mover at the NHL level. Considering those factors, it’s likely that if he carves a role on Montreal’s blue line, it’s on the bottom pair.
I’m picking or keeping Mattias Norlinder and Jayden Struble ahead of Fleury due to them being younger and their projectable abilities making them more likely top-four candidates.
Top 25 Under 25 History
He cracked the Top 25 in 2017 after being drafted a few weeks earlier for his phenomenal offensive play. A year with the Regina Pats showing off the defensive elements of his game the next season led to a rise of 10 positions. His play in his first season of professional hockey put him among those who have or will receive their shot in the NHL.
History of #13
Fleury supports the rush by jumping into plays at the blue line, yet he can also easily fold back with speed into the middle of the ice if things take a sour turn. Whenever he leads the rush, he’s able to drive the attack deep into the offensive zone and establish control. He positions himself very well, allowing his teammates to set themselves up for passes or shots.
Whether it’s a pass or a carry-in, Fleury has mastered the transition game. He was one of the top defenders in controlled exits on the roster, while also being a rookie.
On the power play, he’s able to use his patience to find clear shooting lanes. He doesn’t panic when he has the puck on his stick and is able to find the best play at the right time. His wrist shot is good, especially when he has time and space to shoot.
While not the most offensive defenceman on the roster, Fleury was a beast when defending. On the other side of the puck, he had no issues with the increased physicality of the professional game, battling hard in his own zone and occasionally dishing out devastating body checks to opponents. He used his frame and weight to his advantage, knowing when to pinch, block, or play the body. He didn’t shy away from physical battles in corners or the fights in front of the net.
An often underrated aspect is how smooth his skating is. He isn’t the fastest player out there, but he moves well, uses his edges, strides efficiently, and can easily keep up with the pro game.
Despite the strengths, there are questions about his upside. He’s hard to project as a top-four defender without a standout ability to lean on.
Offensive awareness is something he would need to improve. Perfecting his shots, passes, and overall timing in the offensive zone would help him achieve more offensive success. His slapshot won’t trouble many goalies at the NHL level, which could limit his opportunities to get on a power-play unit in the top league.
Rounding out his defensive game would be his other option to carve out a top-four role. As much as it is his best asset right now, it would need to become more reliable to serve as his ticket to an impact position.
As of right now, Fleury is realistically projected as a third-pairing defenceman. He is a prospect right on the cusp of being an NHL player for the Canadiens as we speak. If he continues to develop his offensive game, he could become a good option as a top-four defender.
In some ways, he is very similar to Noah Juulsen. He’s not showy and does quite a few things right. He doesn’t stand out much, but at the end of the day, he does his job well.
After a good rookie season, the expectations for Fleury are much higher heading into this year. Another good year in the minors will cement his place in the depth chart. He has the talent and the tools to take it up another level.