The Montreal Canadiens officially got a big part of their next generation under contract this weekend with the signings of center Ryan Poehling and goaltender Cayden Primeau. The two American kids, both of whom helped Team USA take home silver at this year’s world juniors, will be very important to the future of the franchise. The question now is, how soon?
Poehling, obviously, will get the first crack. His season with St. Cloud State ended a little earlier than most expected when the Huskies were upset in the first round of the Frozen Four regionals by American International. The big, two-way pivot will spend the rest of the season with the Habs and while that may not be a long period of time, it’s always good for these kids to get a look at what the NHL is all about. Vancouver’s Brock Boeser is a prime example of a highly-touted college kid who got a sneak peek at the NHL before breaking out as a rookie the following autumn.
With Poehling being a center, his adjustment to the big leagues may take a little longer than it would for a winger such as Boeser, and Montreal fans need only to look at this year’s rookie pivot, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, as evidence. The talented Finn was actually a healthy scratch on the weekend, though I don’t think it’s anything to fret over: not only are the Canadiens life-and-death to make the playoffs, but the game he missed was against a heavy Winnipeg team. Watching how a top act like the Jets can attack (though they lost to the Habs 3-1) is certainly a good lesson for a young player.
A paucity of centers was seen as Montreal’s weakness this year and things weren’t as bad as expected thanks to the play of Phillip Danault and the conversion of Max Domi from the wing. Kotkaniemi jumping straight from the draft to the NHL wasn’t necessarily ideal, but the teenager got off to a good start and in protected minutes, he has been a very good possession player so far.
The Canadiens are so intriguing right now because they need kids to step into roles, but they’re also not rebuilding; Carey Price and Shea Weber aren’t exactly the type of players/contracts you carry around without some expectations of success, after all.
So say that Poehling sticks with the Canadiens full-time in the fall, while Kotkaniemi continues to grow as a young NHLer. To me, that’s not a recipe for contender status - and maybe not even a playoff berth, depending on what other teams do in the off-season (I’m looking at you, Florida). But the holes up front are getting plugged. If fans can be patient, the Habs will at least have the right roster structure soon.
Primeau, the other hot prospect now under contract, is a pretty interesting situation. He was amazing as a freshman with Northeastern University, then slipped a bit at the start of this season before rebounding and playing a key role in that American silver at the world juniors. Primeau was also excellent in the Hockey East conference tourney, which Northeastern won before getting throttled by Cornell in the first round of the national tournament (hence his availability).
Primeau only played two years with the Huskies and he will now join AHL Laval for the rest of the campaign. I would assume that Primeau is going to spend quite a bit of time in Laval for the next few years, as Price is naturally The Guy in Montreal. And that’s fine.
Goaltenders, as we know, take a lot of time to develop and even those who show the promise of Primeau need seasoning and starts. Heck, with Charlie Lindgren and Michael McNiven also under contract through next season, Primeau may even have to go to ECHL Brampton to get starts next year, but that wouldn’t be bad either: the more reps the better.
The key here is that Primeau has the time to develop at his own pace. Montreal has a good one here and now he’s officially on the payroll. The future is very interesting for the Canadiens.