Since being taken 87th overall in 2017, Cale Fleury has risen up the Montreal Canadiens’ depth chart—and our own Top 25 Under 25.
The 22 year old made positive steps despite the pandemic wrecking much of the 2019-20 NHL and AHL seasons, gaining big-league minutes while also making an impact at the minor league level.
Fleury impressed enough to start with the Canadiens on opening night last October. They kept him around for 41 games, but not because of his knack for scoring. He scored one goal — his lone point — with the big club against the New Jersey Devils that saw him use his puck-handling skills.
Cale Fleury parts the Devils like the Red Sea and scores his first NHL goal! pic.twitter.com/S2XfDvMXGw— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 17, 2019
Goalscoring statistics aside, Fleury began his time with the Habs by being solid and not making many mistakes. That changed as more and more games went on, but it isn’t uncommon to see rookies commit errors and Fleury is no exception.
Cale Fleury hits Zac Rinaldo, then eliminates Milan Lucic on the same shift.— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) January 14, 2020
You absolutely love to see it. pic.twitter.com/LWEfdJcRPA
After being a healthy scratch for a handful of games, the Canadiens decided it was best for Fleury to continue his development down in Laval. He’d see ice time as the Rocket loaded up for a potential playoff run, and build on the nine goals and 23 points he scored in 60 games with Laval a year prior.
However, Fleury’s stint in Laval would only last 14 games due to the novel coronavirus scrapping the remainder of the American Hockey League season and an injury sustained in a pre-game warmup. But, he still managed to scored twice and add three assists in that span of time.
If Fleury continues his progression, it’s likely he’ll finally make that jump into the Canadiens’ Top 10. If you look at how some of us — myself included — voted, you’ll see that some EOTP staffers feel he should already be a Top-10 player.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Bouncing up four spots isn’t the same jump as moving up 10 places like he did last year, but it’s still a good sign to see Fleury move upward and not downward. At his age, he still has a ways to go. But if he continues to trend positively, he could be a mainstay in the Top 10 until he turns 25.
History of #11
|2018||Jacob de la Rose|
Fleury is a heavy-hitter on our T25U25 list, in more ways than one, thanks to his physical attributes. We already raved about his willingness to throw his body around and he could really prove to be an asset if he establishes himself as a true stopper against opposing forwards who try to enter his zone.
But his offensive abilities are also intriguing.
His skating remains smooth and has no problem playing a transition game that sees him jump into his team’s attack through their second wave. He can be in the right place at the right time — trailing the play — to be fed a pass leading to a shot on net, or a goal in some cases. Fleury showed some offensive prowess as a defenceman in Junior, and the continued cultivation of these skills will suit him as he carves out a place for himself in the NHL.
Of course, he’s shown that he can be relied upon as a defender as a pro consistently — at least in the minors. Through Rocket head coach Joël Bouchard, he’s seen time on the penalty kill. When Fleury wasn’t making mistakes with the Habs, he showed some promise on defence thanks to his positioning.
With Vladislav Tretiak in attendance Cale Fleury makes a diving save, and then a kick save moments after his first career goal! pic.twitter.com/rq5mmceWz6— Scott Matla (@scottmatla) November 17, 2019
If he builds on his confidence at the professional level, the Canadiens stand to benefit.
Fleury’s most noticeable mistakes and giveaways, sometimes led to scoring chances — or goals against. Those errors will often be magnified, and it’s why the Canadiens felt letting him gain more seasoning in the AHL was necessary.
Some feel it was due to Fleury not wanting to make a mistake, instead of playing with a little less fear, more than him being a careless defender. To play on defence in the National Hockey League, you’ll need to erase those mistakes from your memory and your gameplay if you want more time on ice.
There may be a third-pairing spot up for grabs on the Canadiens roster for the upcoming season. Some fans may have penciled in the unproven Alexander Romanov in that position, but Montreal could opt for a more sensible option in Xavier Ouellet or Victor Mete.
For what it’s worth, after starting the season with Fleury, the Canadiens didn’t call his number during the pandemic playoffs. But it doesn’t mean the team won’t ever call him again.
Habs fans want to see Fleury develop and play more in the NHL for his development, while some were unhappy that the team sent him down to the minors last January. Patience is a virtue and it remains the right approach for Fleury, meaning it wouldn’t be the end of the world if he began his year with the Rocket.
Of course, the league’s prospective start date due to the coronavirus pandemic may muddle a few things. As with many things, it’s still up in the air and anyone’s guess.
Fleury could always force Claude Julien’s hand with another strong training camp. It might be enough to at least have him as the seventh defenceman for the Canadiens once the season starts (speaking of things up in the air).
If Fleury continues to progress, however, the team won’t be able to hold him back from the lineup that much longer.