Timing is everything, and it is fitting that Cayden Primeau received his biggest vote of confidence yet just one day before he was revealed in our Top 25 Under 25.
Primeau’s three-year contract is proof that the Montreal Canadiens see him as the goaltender of the future, and the fact all three years are one-way shows that they expect the future to be sooner rather than later.
With Carey Price unlikely to return this season, if at all, the urgency is there to find the long-term solution in goal and Primeau is as well-placed as any to carry the torch and hold it high.
Primeau’s 2021-22 season was not great. For the second straight season, his NHL time was outright bad, and his record through 18 NHL games stands at 3-10-2. The lack of confidence in his game affected his play in the American Hockey League as well, where he was outplayed by Kevin Poulin, who started the year in the ECHL.
So far, this all sounds pretty bleak for a player ranked at #11, but there is still reason to believe in the 23-year-old goaltender and that was because of what happened after the regular season ended.
After watching Poulin start Game 1 of the team’s series against the Syracuse Crunch, Primeau got his first professional start in Game 2 of the series, and he didn’t see the bench for the rest of the playoffs.
He had a 9-5 record in 14 starts, and perhaps most importantly was just plain great. He finished the post-season with a 2.17 goals against average and .936 save percentage. The question will be whether he can carry the momentum from his playoff performance and his new contract into next season.
Primeau only had four votes inside the top 10. The community had him right where he landed at 11, while Hadi had the low vote on him at 18 with Patrik and myself having him at 15.
My vote had very little to do with Primeau himself. I still see him as a future starting goaltender in the NHL, however, I see the top-six and top-four potential of those around him as more impactful at the NHL level.
It’s a much deeper pool than it was a few years ago.
Top 25 Under 25 History
Primeau has the highest cumulative rise in the project’s history going from #36 all the way to a high of #6 in 2020. He has dropped in the last two rankings, however, due to inconsistency at the AHL level, struggles in brief NHL time, and improvement of the pool around him.
History of #11
|2018||Jacob de la Rose|
When Primeau is at his best, what you notice is that he is very efficient with his movements. At 6’3”, he does cover the net well, and being square to shooters is a real strength of his.
When he’s on his game, you don’t really notice him. He is square to shooters, he has good rebound control, and he is aware of his surroundings.
He has the mentality that reminds you of Carey Price. He never really lets his emotions get control of him, and at his best he has that quiet confidence where he lets his play do the talking.
Primeau is also not afraid to talk about his game and the mental side, as he did when he discussed the effect that Jake Allen had on him when he was going through a tough time with his play.
Despite being 6’3”, when Primeau is off his game, it often feels like he makes himself small, allowing him to get beat easily by shooters. His consistency is an issue, and it’s easy to tell when he’s not on his game as you notice him out of position, losing himself in the net, flailing desperately to catch up, and giving up rebounds.
The good news is that these spells became few and far between by the end of the season, and in the playoff run were nearly nonexistent.
They say that the difference between good and great is consistency, and that’s likely the next step for Primeau to take, especially at the NHL level where his only consistency was looking overmatched, although it’s not like the team in front of him was very good.
This is an important year for Primeau. Armed with a new three-year contract, the team will likely expect him to be in the NHL next year as this year is his last being waiver exempt.
Anything short of him being the undisputed #1 goaltender in Laval this season would be a disappointment. Injuries forced him in the NHL sooner than expected last year, and when he returned to the AHL, he was outplayed by Poulin.
This year, there should be no doubt who the #1 goaltender is for Jean-François Houle and the Rocket. There shouldn’t be any hesitation to write Primeau’s name on the starter sheet prior to the team’s first playoff game. That’s the bar for Primeau this season. With his one-way contract, he can make his NHL salary while developing his game at the AHL level.
If injuries do force him in the NHL, he absolutely has to show growth from his last two seasons. The fact that he is with the Canadiens means the situation is urgent, and while the team isn’t expected to contend, the young team needs to be able to rely on their goaltender whether it’s Primeau, Jake Allen, Samuel Montembeault, or anyone else.
There will be some competition behind Primeau with Poulin, Philippe Desrosiers, and Joe Vrbetic all signed to AHL contracts. While the expectation is that Desrosiers and Vrbetic will mainly see time with the ECHL’s Trois-Rivières Lions, that was the same role that Poulin had going into last season.
Primeau still projects as a future starter in the NHL, and the contract he signed with the Canadiens on Thursday shows that the team still believes that as well. In the final year of the contract, Primeau will be making over $1 million, which means the team fully expects him to play a significant role in the NHL by 2024-25.
That salary number will also directly influence the qualifying offer the team will have to make for the 2025-26 season as he will be a restricted free agent at the end of the contract. Regardless of which way it goes, it is very likely the decision will be an easy one for the Canadiens to make.
Jared Book and Matt Drake discuss Primeau and #12 Jesse Ylönen in the latest episode of Habsent Minded.