I’ve long been of the belief that an AHL team can’t have too much depth at one position. Laval is going to be putting that to the test next season as they are extremely deep between the pipes.
Charlie Lindgren was at one point a realistic consideration for Carey Price’s backup spot but his struggles over the last couple of years hurt his chances of getting that role. Adding Keith Kinkaid in free agency completely killed those chances. That should have him back with the Rocket for next season.
While it’s true that he will need to clear waivers, he should be able to without much concern. Most teams have their backup slots figured out and if a team wants to take a chance on a youngster, there will be better players than Lindgren on the waiver wire at some point in Pittsburgh’s Tristan Jarry and Winnipeg’s Eric Comrie. This means that he’ll likely be in the mix between the pipes for the Rocket next season as his trade value is next to non-existent at this point. (It will actually go up once he clears in training camp.)
Then there are the returning players. Michael McNiven will be back for his third season in Laval where he will look to build off a sophomore season that saw him post a considerable improvement on his rookie numbers although the inconsistency was still a problem. Connor LaCouvee played extremely well in his time with Laval which earned him a new contract. He did well enough to realistically contend for a spot with the Rocket in most years but at this point, he’s ticketed for Maine of the ECHL.
On top of those three, Cayden Primeau will also be around after turning pro following his sophomore year in college. At this stage, he’s clearly Montreal’s top goaltending prospect so they’re not going to want him in a spot where he’s seeing limited playing time.
This is where it starts to get tricky. Loaning Primeau to another ECHL team feels like a waste. The other team won’t really be obligated to play him much and the quality of competition isn’t that great. It’s worth noting that Primeau’s junior rights are held by OHL Mississauga though he’d be an overager there. It’s not a great option either and is extremely unlikely to happen. Accordingly, it’s safe to say he’ll be one of the two seeing regular action in Laval.
Lindgren’s not going down to the ECHL at this stage of his career. He can block an assignment there as he’s not on his entry-level contract and quite frankly, he’d have no reason to accept one if the Habs were to ask him to (a scenario that is extremely unlikely to happen). Perhaps the Canadiens would entertain the idea of trading him when he clears waivers but at the same time, he’s probably the only goalie they’d be comfortable recalling if one of Price or Kinkaid gets hurt.
That would appear to make McNiven the odd man out. Keeping him as a third-stringer in Laval isn’t ideal. Sending him to Maine isn’t ideal when LaCouvee is already there (and the Rangers, their primary affiliate, may want to send someone there too). They loaned him to Brampton (ECHL) last season but Ottawa is their primary affiliate and the Sens somehow have six goalies on NHL contracts. It’s safe to say at least one is going to the Beast which means McNiven would only be a backup at best there.
What’s the best option for McNiven? The better question may be is there an option that isn’t completely bad? Number three in Laval isn’t great nor is loaning him to someone else’s ECHL team. His trade value isn’t particularly strong at this time either.
Therein lies the drawback to having this much quality goaltending depth. There just isn’t going to be enough quality minutes to go around and unless someone gets injured, someone’s going to get the short end of the stick.
Laval is going to be an intriguing team to follow next season. Seeing how they navigate this logjam between the pipes is certainly going to be one of the more intriguing storylines to follow.