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2020 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: #6 Cayden Primeau

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The youngster will see more time in the American Hockey League, but at least a plan is in place for him.

Ottawa Senators v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

The Montreal Canadiens intend to get the most out of Cayden Primeau, a 2017 seventh-round draft choice who is poised to be the future of the team in goal. Even if it means it’ll take a few more years before he’ll truly be NHL-ready in the eyes of his team.

The Canadiens have shown they’re willing to wait for him and have him play as many games as possible to get to the level necessary to be a full-time NHL goaltender. Fortunately, Primeau has already shown encouraging signs of promise through one year of professional hockey.

After making an impression in pre-season with the Habs, he began the 2019-20 season with the Laval Rocket, alternating starts with Charlie Lindgren and, eventually, Keith Kinkaid. The 21-year-old wasn’t making consecutive starts consistently until late February, when the Rocket joined the playoff race, with Michael McNiven as his backup.

Despite the inconsistent starts, Primeau finished the year with a 17-11-3 record, a 2.45 goals-against average, and a .908 save percentage through 33 appearances. It resulted in him being named to the American Hockey League’s All-Rookie Team at season’s end, his team’s lone representative. Primeau won five of his last six games with the Rocket, including a 3-0 shutout victory over the Belleville Senators in his final start, before the AHL season was scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Canadiens even let him play a pair of games with the big club. In just his second-ever start, he made 35 saves in a 3-2 overtime victory over the division rival Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre. Some pundits, namely our own Matt Drake, felt he had already shown the mettle required to be an NHLer in his limited NHL time.

Perhaps a bit premature, but not bad for a guy drafted in the seventh round. He’s now only 458 victories away from being the greatest goalie selected that late in the draft.

Voting

EOTP voters may have had differing views on which specific spot Primeau should claim, but the majority had this unanimous view: he is a top-10 prospect in the Canadiens system, and there are arguments for him challenging the top five. He likely will remain in the top-10 of our list throughout his development as he progresses, even if he stands to be an AHL goaltender for the foreseeable future.

Top 25 Under 25 History

2017: #36 2018: #17 2019: #12

Primeau has been a fast riser since entering the Habs’ system in 2017, in both the organization and our list. He started off as 36th-best, but two stellar seasons at Northeastern University have since improved his stock. His progress won’t slow any optimism surrounding him.

History of #6

Year #6
Year #6
2019 Victor Mete
2018 Jesperi Kotkaniemi
2017 Charlie Lindgren
2016 Nikita Scherbak
2015 Jacob de la Rose
2014 Nikita Scherbak
2013 Nathan Beaulieu
2012 Louis Leblanc
2011 Louis Leblanc
2010 Danny Kristo

Strengths

Primeau’s most noticeable and admirable quality is his cool, calm demeanour that has drawn comparisons to Canadiens’ goaltender Carey Price, including one from the man himself. He does his best to not appear frazzled, even in games where he’s allowed three, four, or more goals. Wim Hof’s methods might have had something to do with that.

Thanks to his athleticism, he’s unafraid of sprawling in the goal to make a big save at both the NHL and AHL level. Others have raved about his technical ability as well.

His stick-handling is seen as an asset, but by his own admission, he feels he can improve it. It helps that he has one of the best stick-handlers at the position to learn from.

Weaknesses

He will need to have fewer games where he allows five goals against the opposition; it happened six times in the AHL last season. But his last such instance came in January, and it didn’t happen once a small reset midway through the year propelled the Rocket into the thick of a playoff race. Consistency will be key for Primeau, even if it remains to be seen if he’ll get it at the AHL level with a number of other goalies seeking playing time.

He has the height at 6’4”, but he could stand to gain a bit more weight to fill out his frame. Of course, he’ll need more experience and games played under his belt going forward, but he’ll get them at the professional level.

Projection

Primeau has the tools to become a starting goaltender down the line, though the Canadiens won’t rush him.

Habs goaltending coach Stephane Waite says he wants Primeau to play nearly 150 AHL games before he can be deemed ready for the bright lights on a full-time basis. Primeau is only a little over a fifth of the way there, and with uncertainty surrounding an upcoming season, it’s likely Primeau will only make a fraction of the starts in 2020-21 he’d make in a full campaign.

If you’re looking for a comparable, consider Waite’s former pupil, Stanley Cup champion Corey Crawford, who played 255 AHL games before making the jump to the NHL full-time after being drafted in the second round of the 2003 NHL Draft.

It’s a measured and reasonable way to ensure Primeau gets as much time to be seasoned before being thrown in the NHL, much different than what Price (who won a Calder Cup with the Hamilton Bulldogs, but only played 12 AHL regular-season games) endured during his development.

Price’s play as the undisputed number-one goalie in Montreal affords the Canadiens time in grooming Primeau. It’s good news for the Rocket as they aim to be a much more competitive squad under head coach Joël Bouchard. Primeau projects to figure heavily in the Rocket’s success going forward.