Montreal Canadiens goaltending prospect Cayden Primeau only played one game for the Laval Rocket following an injury that occurred in late November.
Consequently, head coach Martin St-Louis was hesitant to give the 23-year-old a start after he was called up by the Canadiens, citing rust as the main reason why Primeau was not considered.
Samuel Montembeault responded to the challenge, playing admirably in Jake Allen’s absence, earning three wins in the first five games, before getting shelled by the Florida Panthers on Thursday night, destroying the majority of his hard-earned confidence in the process.
And while St-Louis’ decision makes sense on the surface, because riding a hot goalie is almost always a good decision in the NHL, it lacked a certain foresight.
Relative to his past campaigns, Montembeault is enjoying a breakout season, but St-Louis is well aware few other teams in the NHL allow as many shots and high-quality scoring chances as the Canadiens.
There’s merit to seeing what Montembeault can do with a heavier workload, especially since goalies tend to peak much later than skaters, not just due to the development curve involved, but also since teams simply do not have enough roster spots to properly develop the goalies within their organization.
At best, NHL teams have six spots available if we count the AHL and the ECHL, which leaves a lot of potential on the table and leads to goaltenders falling through the cracks.
But there’s also something to be said about laying off the gas before hitting a wall.
In Montembeault’s case, the crash occurred against the Panthers, and as has been the case throughout the majority of the season, he was not to blame for the bevy of goals the Canadiens allowed.
St-Louis was forced to make his first goalie change of the season during Thursday night’s game, pointing to his affinity for allowing goaltenders to work through their issues, and of course, there’s no guarantee Primeau would have fared if he had started the game.
However, this is a development season for the Canadiens, in more ways than one.
The fewer points the team earns, the better, which gives ample opportunities to give prospects that have struggled recently a chance to prove their worth.
Prospects like Primeau.
Yes, Primeau has struggled this season, failing to build upon the momentum he produced in the Calder Cup playoffs last season, but much like Montembeault three years ago, he still has a fair amount of developmental runway left.
Three years ago, Montembeault’s future was in doubt, but following the opportunity given by the Canadiens, he now features among the players that will be part of the team’s future.
There’s only one way to catch a ride on the riverboat.
You must go down to the river.
At worst, the Canadiens would continue to lose, and management would get a better idea of Primeau’s progress while also improving their Draft odds.
At best, it allows Montembeault to catch his breath, and perhaps even an opportunity for Primeau to flip the script on his disappointing season.
Simply put, there’s nothing left to lose this season.
It’s time to see what the prospect holdovers from the previous regime can offer the Canadiens in the NHL.