It was quite the rollercoster year for Michael McNiven. He played a game in the ECHL, 30 games in the AHL, and was even recalled to, but never played in, the NHL. While with this Laval Rocket, he also performed better than his older counterpart, Charlie Lindgren. It wasn’t a perfect year by any means for McNiven, but the netminder had moments that reminded observers of his talent.
Birthplace: Woodbridge, Ontario, Canada
Date of birth: July 9, 1997
Weight: 214 lbs.
Team: Laval Rocket (AHL)
McNiven ended the campaign with a 2.52 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage in the AHL. With the roster turnover that Laval had, we could understand why the numbers for Laval’s goalies were down across the board. He struggled at times, but as the year progressed he went back to the form that had helped him capture the Goaltender of the Year Award in the OHL.
The panel had McNiven ranging from 35 to 13. I personally ranked him 25. I still genuinely feel that he could become an NHLer. There’s a chance he turns into a reliable backup option.
Top 25 Under 25 History
McNiven first started at #29 in 2016 before one of the biggest jumps in the project’s history with his spectacular 2016-17 season. He dropped a bit in 2018, and hangs on to that 18th place this summer.
This, to me, still feels strong. With the influx on talent being injected in the organization, being able to keep a hold of a top-20 position feels like a good thing.
History of #18
McNiven’s strengths are obvious even to the untrained eye. He’s mobile and athletic, able to use all of his 6’1” frame to his advantage. He understands how to cover his net, cutting angles and staying square to the shooter. He’s not overly twitchy in his crease, but relying a lot on his technical foundation to keep up with the plays in front of him.
Unlike, say, Antti Niemi, McNiven’s movements don’t appear hectic or unnecessary, which allows him to stay more focused on the play. You don’t feel the same nervousness from watching McNiven as you would get from Neimi, feeling a certain poise and calmness emanating from the young netminder. He already has a professional demeanour in net, rarely getting frustrated by plays or goals against him.
McNiven is having himself a game. Still 1-0 Rocket about halfway through the third. Shots are 28-8 Cleveland. pic.twitter.com/QdkhDklCNg— Sarah Kossits (@skossits) January 19, 2019
His mobility allows him to take prime chances away from opponents, even if it looks like they have a tap-in goal on their stick. Like most netminders who’ve made it to the professional level, he scrambles to contest rebounds and dives to make saves if there’s a chance to prevent a shot from going in. Still, he’s often in the right position due to his strong leg power and sound positioning.
McNiven is driven, competitive, and very combative. With Laval’s shaky defence at times last year, you often saw him having to stand on his head to keep the game within reach. He showed quite a few flashes of brilliant play even when you thought he was out of it. His never-quit attitude, combined with that athleticism, keeps him in plays that he has no business still being in.
McNiven’s biggest downfall is his consistency. He can steal games and — quite literally — be the only reason his team is still in the game, but he also has a number of outings that are quite poor.
While his general positioning is good, his stance could use work to keep him prepared for all shot possibilities. It’s an area that hasn’t really been developed since he first joined the organization.
McNiven is still a young prospect: 22 years old at the beginning of the new season. He’ll probably be splitting time with Cayden Primeau in Laval. Entering a second season with Joël Bouchard at the helm, we should be seeing Laval taking steps forward and building upon the way they ended the last season.
As an undrafted signee, McNiven is an interesting prospect, but as is the rule with most netminders, time will be key in his development. His progress from the start of last year is noticeable (even if it’s not evident in the stats), and he should only be getting better as time passes.
Should he address some of his flaws, he could become a perfect option as a backup NHLer who steps in and starts a string of games if needed. Having an in-house option to lighten the load for Carey Price for a season or two while Primeau works on his craft in the minors is an excellent situation for a team.