The Montreal Canadiens signed Michael McNiven after a terrific OHL career. He is currently in the ECHL but is being blackballed by his current team and not getting on the ice.
The Montreal Canadiens signed Michael McNiven to an entry-level contract on the eve of the 2015-16 season. McNiven was just 18 at the time and had been passed over at the 2016 NHL Draft. He attended the Habs rookie camp that summer and attended their main training camp before signing a contract.
McNiven went back to Junior for two more seasons after signing with the Canadiens organization. He played well both seasons for the Owen Sound Attack and then was promoted to the Laval Rocket for the 2017-18 campaign. He had an okay rookie season, but was solid last year for the Rocket.
McNiven had a 2.52 goals against average and a .902 save percentage. He clearly outplayed Charlie Lindgren, but the Rocket struggled overall and missed the postseason. McNiven and Lindgren had a little extra competition at training camp this year with the arrival of top prospect Cayden Primeau.
Primeau played well during camp and earned a spot with the Laval Rocket to begin the year. The Canadiens elected to keep Lindgren as his backup, which left the 22 year old McNiven in a difficult spot. The Habs don’t have a proper ECHL affiliation, and carrying three goaltenders in the AHL is not the best way to set up young keepers for success.
So, the Habs made some calls and chose to send McNiven to the ECHL’s Adirondack Thunder. The Thunder are the ECHL affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, but they agreed to have McNiven loaned to them for the season.
This appeared to be a good fit for McNiven. Though he probably deserved to be in the American Hockey League after playing well last season, if that wasn’t available at least he should get to play lots of games in the ECHL. The Devils organization appeared set to use Cory Schneider and MacKenzie Blackwood in the NHL, Evan Cormier and Sean Gilles in the AHL and McNiven with Eamon McAdam in the ECHL.
However, that plan shifted course when all of the Devils NHL and AHL goaltenders struggled to begin the season. On November 1st, the Devils acquired Louis Domingue from the Tampa Bay Lightning. They sent him to their AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Devils and then sent Cormier down to the ECHL.
This has left quite the logjam with the Adirondack Thunder. I guess it should come as no surprise, but they have elected to use the two goaltenders from their own organization instead of McNiven lately. This is clearly a decision based on loyalty and not merit as McNiven has been dominant for the Thunder.
In four games this season, McNiven is 3-1-0 with a 1.75 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. With numbers like that, it is hard to believe he actually lost a game. However, McNiven’s first game of the year didn’t go as planned. He allowed five goals in a 5-2 loss. Since then, he has been basically unbeatable, but is having a hard time getting starts with two Devils prospects on the team now.
They couldn’t possibly ask McNiven to be better than he was in his last two starts. he played consecutive games on October 30th and November 2nd and didn’t allow a goal. He stopped a total of 62 shots in those two games leading the Thunder to back-to-back 2-0 victories.
Since then, the Thunder have played four games and McNiven hasn’t hit the ice. The first one made sense as it would have been McNiven’s third start in five days and even though he was perfect in the first two, it makes sense to not start a goaltender on back to back nights.
The Thunder have played a game in each of the last three days and went with Cormier who allowed four goals in a 5-4 shootout loss on Friday, then McAdam who allowed five in a 5-1 loss on Saturday. Then, instead of going back to the guy who doesn’t allow goals, they started Cormier again.
It is a tough spot for McNiven. He played better than Lindgren in the AHL last year and couldn’t have done much more for the Thunder so far. Yet he finds himself a third string goaltender in the ECHL for a different organization. He has clearly been the best goaltender for Adirondack but since he belongs to another team, they don’t seem to want to use him anymore.
This situation is highlighting the problem with the Habs not having their own ECHL affiliate. A team with as much money and power as the Montreal Canadiens have no excuse for not having a proper development stream. The ECHL doesn’t pump out NHL players on a regular basis, but Jordan Binnington was in the ECHL when he was 22 and just carried the St. Louis Blues to a Stanley Cup.
What can the Habs do to remedy this situation now? Well, Lindgren is a soon to be 26 year old goaltender that is struggling to get his save percentage above .900 for the third straight year in the AHL. With Cayden Primeau quickly earning the role as the Rocket’s number one goaltender, does the organization still need Lindgren around?
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McNiven is three and a half years younger than Lindgren and posted much better stats in the same workload with the Rocket a year ago. I think it’s time they move Lindgren for whatever they can get to make room for McNiven at the AHL level. He’s being blackballed by another organization and needs a lifeline from the team that owns his rights.