Connect with us

Habs Prospects

Canadiens Checklist: State Of The Rebuild – Goaltending Prospects

Published

on

montreal canadiens jacob fowler frozen four

Now that the Montreal Canadiens have completed their second complete rebuild season, it’s time to take a closer look at where the organization stands when it comes to long-term plans. This series will evaluate several categories, including current NHL talent, prospect value, draft capital, trades, coaching, contracts, and management.

We recently examined the team’s draft capital situation, one of the most encouraging aspects of the Canadiens’ rebuild.

Today we will evaluate the team’s goaltending prospects to determine whether they can play a significant part in the team’s future success.

Canadiens Caveat

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of the prospect outlook, we have to acknowledge that the Habs have one of the youngest lineups in the league.

With players like Juraj Slafkovsky and Kaiden Guhle already having two season’s worth of experience under their belt, it doesn’t allow for as much enthusiasm when it comes to the team’s prospect pool. At least not as much as some would expect.

What’s more, at just 24 years old, Nick Suzuki is the elder among the team’s top three scoring forwards, which also includes Cole Caufield (22) and Slafkovksy (20).

Simply put, the Canadiens won’t necessarily stand out as one of the top teams in the NHL when it comes to their prospect value due to how many of their young players have already made the difficult jump to professional hockey.

It’s far from a negative.

You could easily argue it’s a positive aspect of the rebuild, but it does impact the prospect outlook.

Montreal Canadiens Prospects – Goaltending Outlook

Goaltending quickly went from a position of weakness to an organization strength following the conclusion of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, where the Canadiens used three of their seven picks to acquire the rights to goaltenders who are set to enjoy very different development paths.

In addition to bolstering the number of goaltender prospects, both Samuel Montembeault and Cayden Primeau are relatively young enough to hold the fort as the team’s prospects continue to develop at their own leisure, whereas Jakub Dobes improved his results by leaps and bounds as the Laval Rocket’s season unfolded.

Both Quentin Miller (128th overall) and Yevgeni Volokhin (144th overall) have enjoyed solid Draft+1 seasons, with Miller’s season in the QMJHL coming to an unfortunate end due to an upper-body injury that kept him out of action during the playoffs.

Regardless, he quickly improved his save percentage once he was traded to the Rimouski Oceanic from the Quebec Remparts, another important reminder that the situation in which prospects develop is almost as important as their raw skill set.

As for Volohkin, I’ll readily admit I did not watch him play this season. Despite my best attempts, I simply couldn’t source a reliable stream for the Junior Russian hockey leagues (MHL).

That being said, his numbers tell a very encouraging tale.

He had a 22-4-4 record, as well as a sparkling .938 save percentage, which rose all the way to .954 in the playoffs. Those are the types of numbers that merit further evaluation once the opportunity presents itself. It should be noted his goaltending partner, Flyers prospect Yegor Zavragin, also had an excellent season with Mamonty Yugry (MHL), with a 6-1-2 record and an even more impressive .945 save percentage.

The Next Great Hope

With all due respect to Volohkin or Miller, even though they enjoyed solid seasons, the future of Canadiens goaltending goes through Boston Eagles netminder Jacob Fowler.

Fowler was the first goaltender the Canadiens picked in 2023 (69th overall), and though he entered the NCAA season as an 18-year-old rookie, he managed to quickly establish himself as a dominant presence for one of the best teams in the country.

He led the entire NCAA with 32 wins, which also set a new league record for collegiate freshmen.

Two things come to mind the moment you watch Fowler ply his trade.

The first is that his anticipation is fantastic, helped along by his high-level puck tracking. There are very few traditional goalie highlights available for Fowler because he’s rarely out of position. He makes goaltending seem quite boring, and though that may sound like a negative, it’s possibly the most glowing compliment one can give to a netminder.

In a position dominated by chaos, Fowler is a bastion of tranquillity.

 

The second thing that stands out from Fowler is his affinity for showing up when his team needs it most.

In other words, he’s quickly becoming a big-game player.

We saw it last season when he backstopped the Youngstown Phantoms on his way to being named the Clark Cup MVP, and we saw it this season on numerous occasions, including when the Eagles beat Lane Hutson and the Boston University Terriers at the Beanpot.

Unfortunately, the Eagles fell short of capturing a National Championship in 2024, that honour belongs to the University of Denver, who were dragged to the top by a once-in-a-lifetime performance by their goaltender, Matt Davis. Seeing as the Eagles were shut out in the final game, you’d be hard-pressed to blame Fowler for the outcome, but it should serve as a great motivator going forward.

A glance at Fowler’s rookie season will reveal that with the exception of one or two bad games, he does not dwell on his poor starts, as rare as they may be.

This is an important characteristic for goaltenders, as the mental side of the game is as important as the physical preparation.

Montreal Canadiens Brass Tacks

The Canadiens have a few other goaltending prospects in the mix, including Emmett Croteau and Joe Vrbetic, but the bulk of the enthusiasm for the future lies squarely on Fowler’s shoulders.

Remove him from the equation and you would quickly suggest netminding is an organizational weakness.

A lot, perhaps too much, is riding on Fowler’s eventual ascension to the NHL, but thanks to his incredibly encouraging first year in the NCAA, the Canadiens prospect pool is in a much healthier situation when it comes to the all-important goaltending position.

As top prospect Cutter Gauthier recently suggested, Jacob Fowler is (arguably) the best goaltending prospect in the country.

I was tempted to give the Canadiens a 7.5 for goaltending prospects, mostly because beyond their top prospect we’re looking at a fairly dire situation. But for now, due to Fowler’s excellent performance as a rookie in the NCAA, they will receive a slightly generous grade of eight out of 10.

Montreal Canadiens State Of The Rebuild Grade – Goaltending Prospects: 8/10