Montreal Canadiens: Michael McNiven Seizing Opportunity He Waited All Season For

LAVAL, QC, CANADA - MARCH 13: Michael McNiven (Photo by Stephane Dube/Getty Images)
LAVAL, QC, CANADA - MARCH 13: Michael McNiven (Photo by Stephane Dube/Getty Images) /

The Montreal Canadiens have a solid goaltending prospect in Michael McNiven. He was stuck in an awkward situation for months, but finally was given an opportunity with the Laval Rocket.

The Montreal Canadiens have a great starting goaltender in Carey Price. They also have one of the best goaltending prospects in hockey with Cayden Primeau earning the majority of starts for the Laval Rocket lately.

They also have an interesting prospect in Michael McNiven who has been twisting in the wind most of the season. He has been in an awkward position with the organization for much of the year, though he has finally been given an opportunity. So far, he has made the most of the little he has been given.

The 22 year old goaltender had a great Junior career with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League. He was named to the year end Rookie All-Star team in 2014-15 and also played in the CHL Top Prospects game that season.

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Still, he went undrafted at the NHL level and continued to play with the Attack. Hie final year of Junior, McNiven was named the top goaltender of the OHL and the entire CHL. He sure looked like a solid pro prospect and the Canadiens were fortunate when they signed him to a three year entry-level contract.

McNiven split the next two seasons between the AHL and ECHL but spent most of his time with the Laval Rocket of the AHL. Last season, he was part of a crowded crease that included himself, Charlie Lindgren and then Connor LaCouvee who played well for the Rocket. McNiven played 30 games, posting a 2.52 GAA with a .902 SV%.

They aren’t fantastic, dominant numbers by any stretch, but they were even better than Lindgren’s in the same number of games and were an improvement on his first season. I, for one, was excited to see if McNiven could continue to grow this season and build upon last year’s numbers.

Then, Cayden Primeau somewhat unexpectedly left college after two years with Northeastern and immediately became a big part of the Laval Rocket roster. When the Habs signed Keith Kinkaid on July 1st, it left them with five professional goaltender to fill four jobs.

It was obvious from the day he signed that Kinkaid was brought in to backup Carey Price with the Habs. It was also a guarantee that Primeau would be playing in Laval and did not leave the NCAA after two dominant seasons to toil away in the ECHL. This left the final job as a battle between Lindgren and McNiven.

Lindgren won that battle and it left McNiven without a team to call his own. The Habs do not have an ECHL affiliate so they could not assign McNiven there. They did eventually find a team willing to take him and they loaned him to the Adirondack Thunder. He was terrific for Adirondack, posting a 1.75 GAA and .941 SV% but was used sparingly. They are an affiliate of the New Jersey Devils and shortly after taking on McNiven, the Devils acquired Louis Domingue and shuffled their goaltenders around which sent another one to Adirondack. This made McNiven the odd man out.

He was then moved to the Jacksonville IceMen for a while and then on to the Norfolk Admirals who have already used seven goalies this season and can’t seem to win games with any of them.

Finally, after Kinkaid was sent down and Primeau and Lindgren took turns as Price’s backup, Kinkaid was shifted out of town. He was loaned to the Charlotte Checkers a week ago, and that finally meant the number two job in Laval was McNiven’s again. It has only been a couple of starts, but McNiven has taken full advantage of finally being given an opportunity inside the Canadiens organization.

McNiven was given one spot start in early February for the Rocket when they faced the Utica Comets. He allowed four goals on 35 shots but got the win. He was no seen again in the Rocket crease until last Saturday. With Kinkaid suiting up in Charlotte, McNiven finally had a place where he knew he would be staying for the remainder of the season.

The Rocket beat the Comets again that night, with McNiven stopping 28 of 30 shots fired his way. He was in goal again on Friday night as the Rocket took on the Cleveland Monsters. McNiven turned aside 20 of 21 shots, leading the Rocket to another big win over a division rival.

The Rocket currently sit sixth overall in the AHL’s North Division. They are two points back of the final playoff spot in the division with 15 games left to play.

It is a tight race for the playoffs in the AHL. Every point counts for the Laval Rocket and so far, they are six for six in gathering points when McNiven is in goal this season. He showed last year he was capable of playing at this level and was then bounced around the eastern seaboard all year playing for various ECHL teams.

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He has finally been given an opportunity with the Rocket and has been terrific in a pair of starts since Kinkaid left town. Hopefully the organization can find him some consistent playing time as he has shown to be a promising prospect.