The distance arrangement is hectic at this time of year as every team in the NHL makes tough rosters and has to give up young talent to make their rosters conform. Sometimes teams get lucky and players sneak through because there are so many options available. Other times you lose a first round pick like Noah Juulsen and it stings quite a bit.
This year, the Montreal Canadiens were the ones claiming pre-season waivers. The club added 24-year-old Florida Panthers goalkeeper Samuel Montembeault, giving them another goalkeeper with NHL experience.
That last part is the biggest key when looking at why the Canadiens claimed him from the Panthers: He will now be on the NHL roster. What this probably means is that Carey Price won’t be ready to play the opening games, and Marc Bergevin wanted certainty behind Jake Allen.
It seemed like an ideal place for Michael McNiven to play in for the time being, as Cayden Primeau will get the majority of starts in Laval when their season starts. The Canadiens clearly didn’t believe it and opted for another backup option.
At the end of the day, if Carey Price is ready to leave next week, Montembeault can go back on waivers and there will be a shuffle in the AHL if he is released. If Price has no intention of leaving, what can the Canadiens and their fans expect from the new netminder when he’s asked to support Allen to start the season?
In Montembeault, they saw an opportunity to grab someone they reportedly set their sights on in the 2015 NHL Draft. His NHL resume isn’t huge, having played just 25 games in total with a 9-8-3 record, averaging 3.20 goals and a save percentage of 0.892. None of these stats paint a very flattering picture for a player who was once expected to be a starter. His time was suddenly up when Sergei Bobrovsky signed a mega deal, Spencer Knight entered the fold and Chris Driedger came out of nowhere to form a formidable trio for him.
His numbers in the AHL are slightly better, but also a bit skewed from playing on some bad Springfield Thunderbirds teams. In his first two years as a goalkeeper in development, he failed to set a winning record in either year, and his third season saw his time split between the NHL and AHL, with his starts reduced to the advantage of the aforementioned Driedger and the newly arrived Philippe Desrosiers. It resulted in his best statistical season in terms of goals against (3.00) and save rate (0.918), but was still a distant third in terms of the NHL’s ranking as Bobrovsky and Driedger combined better years.
Last year, he was assigned to the Syracuse Crunch because the Panthers were among AHL affiliates. Mainly sharing the net with Spencer Martin, he set an 8-4-1 record along with a 2.86 goals against and a save rate of 0.898, almost exactly in line with what McNiven had with the Rocket.
In terms of playing style, he uses his large frame and solid positional work to overcome his poor footwork around the net. That lack of agility makes him a bit fickle when he loses his net, which can be exacerbated by a Canadiens defense that sometimes tends to lack structure. Since the Rocket defense is as strong as he is, he could very easily cover some of those flaws for him, but he has some flaws that need to be addressed if he wants to become a regular NHL goalkeeper.
We shouldn’t expect any major changes to his game once he arrives in Montreal. He’s a great option for being a split-starter in the AHL if he gets knocked out after Carey Price returns. However, he has not proven that he can help Allen more than McNiven or Primeau could have.
In terms of AHL hierarchy, Primeau will still field the majority of starts for Laval, while McNiven (if he releases waivers) and Kevin Poulin will spell Primeau when the time calls for it, with Montembeault leading the way for that secondary role if he would end in Laval.
At this point, it looks like Allen will be busy starting the regular season while waiting for Price’s return. Beyond that, the Canadiens are taking a gamble that Montembeault could find his next level in his home province. If he doesn’t, it’s not a role he’ll be playing for long.