The Montreal Canadiens made a bit of a surprise pick with the 36th overall selection at the NHL Draft on June 30th. It is not that they went off the board to find Zach Fucale, early in the second round, it just seemed odd that a team with Carey Price would be the first team to take a goaltender in the draft.
The fact that Fucale fell to the second round, and was available to Montreal, as the best goaltender in the draft, made him impossible to pass up. Also, he was the third choice of the day for the Canadiens, as they had already added big wingers Michael McCarron, and Jacob De la Rose.
Many doubters of Carey Price took the opportunity to point out Carey struggled down the stretch of the regular season, and was not his usual dominant self in the playoffs either, and drafting Fucale was a way for management to send a stern message to Price, that he has to pick up his game.
Fucale has done more before his 18th birthday than any other goalie in Junior hockey history. He was a first round pick to the Halifax Mooseheads in 2011, and stepped right into the lineup as a 16 year old. When incumbent starter Anthony Terenzio was sidelined with concussion issues, Fucale became the number one goalie in Halifax and did not disappoint.
The Mooseheads were coming out of a three year period in their history, from 2008-11, where they were the worst Junior team in the country. They certainly got a shot in the arm from Nathan MacKinnon, but Fucale was the backbone of the franchise resurgence.
Fucale took the reins of a talented, but very young QMJHL team and set a league record for most wins as a 16 year old with 32. He posted solid numbers in the high scoring, fast paced league with a 3.16 Goals Against Average, and .892 Save Percentage.
Zach stepped up his play in the postseason, helping the Mooseheads team to become relevant in Halifax again, backstopping the squad to a surprise trip to the QMJHL semi-finals, with a 2.88 GAA and .904 SV Percentage. Fucale really shone through in the second round of the playoffs, when the much favored Quebec Remparts found themselves up three games to none, before the Mooseheads were able to reel off four straight victories, thanks to Zach allowing only 9 goals in the four wins. The Remparts were one of the highest scoring teams in the QMJHL that season, averaging well over four goals per game over the course of the year.
The Mooseheads entered the 2012-13 season with high expectations, and exceeded the loftiest of goals, with Fucale posting a record of 45-5-3. Zach was somehow able to keep the pace in the playoffs, with a 16-1 record, coasting to the QMJHL’s President’s Cup. Fucale upped his number to 2.35 GAA and QMJHL third best, .909 SV% in the regular season, before, once again, stepping up in the playoffs and posting miniscule 2.02 GAA and .918 SV%, again third best in the league.
What must be kept in perspective here, is Fucale was only 17 years old, and posting much better numbers than any other goalie in the league, most of whom are 19 and 20.
The Mooseheads would travel to Saskatoon to represent the Q, at the Memorial Cup, and once again, Fucale added to his win total, taking home the top prize in Canada, and reaching Junior hockey supremacy, before turning 18 on May 28th.
Fucale was a member of the Ivan Hlinka, Under 18 Tournament in August, and helped backstop the Canadian entry to a Gold Medal win. He posted a shutout in the final against Finland, proving yet again, to be unflappable under pressure.
While Fucale already holds an impressive resume, and fills a dire need of organizational depth in net, he still has a long road ahead of him before he begins stealing starts from Carey Price.
Fucale will return to Halifax next season, and will face a difficult task, as the Mooseheads roster has been depleted due to graduation after winning the top prize in the Canadian Hockey League. Assuming Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin are off to the NHL, the Mooseheads will begin next season without their entire first line, second line center, two third liners, and two of their top four defenders from this past season.
Fucale is already on a very short list of possible goaltenders for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships in December, and with his impressive resume in big games, could be the answer in goal that Canada has not been able to find since Steve Mason was MVP in 2008.
With two years of CHL eligibility remaining, Fucale will face plenty of rubber in Halifax over the next two seasons on a rebuilding club. Following that, he will dip his toes into the professional hockey pool with the Hamilton Bulldogs and will likely be given plenty of starts to get used to the older competition.
If after one year in Hamilton he is ready for the next step, he will follow the Cory Schneider and Jonathan Bernier route, and play second fiddle for a season or two before he is ready to be handed the keys to an NHL net. That is at the very least four years down the road, if everything goes according to plan, meaning there is likely no decisions to be made until Price’s current contract, has run out, five years from now.
The Canadiens now have options when it comes to their future netminder. A lot can happen to a goaltender in five years, but if Fucale develops as expected, worst case scenario for the Canadiens is they are forced to deal him, or Price, to improve other areas.
As we have seen over the past few weeks with Schneider and Bernier, there will always be someone willing to pay a premium for a good, young goaltender.