American Hockey League

Primeau could be diamond in the rough for Canadiens

Son of former NHLer Keith Primeau was named best goalie in NCAA last season after Habs selected him in seventh round of 2017 NHL Draft.

If it was up to Cayden Primeau’s father, the kid never would have become a goalie.

Keith Primeau played 15 seasons in the NHL as a rugged, 6-foot-5, 220-pound centreman with the Detroit Red Wings, Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers, posting 266-353-619 totals in 909 career games, along with 1,541 penalty minutes.

Cayden said he was about 8 years old when his father finally let him play goalie. The Canadiens selected him in the seventh round (199th overall) at the 2017 NHL Draft.

Cayden Primeau takes part in the Montreal Canadiens’ development camp at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on June 26, 2019.

John Mahoney /

Montreal Gazette

“It took some persistence,” Primeau said at this week’s Canadiens development camp in Brossard, which wrapped up on Friday. “My dad did not want me to be a goalie, but he finally caved in and I stuck with it ever since. He just got tired of me asking and I wanted no part of being a forward. I’d skate by the bench with my head down and my stick behind me (as a forward), so he finally caved in.”

Primeau, who turns 20 on Aug. 11, was born in Voorhees, N.J., and grew up with his father playing for the Flyers. Primeau was 6 when his dad’s NHL career came to an end because of concussions. His father has since worked to spread awareness about head injuries in sport.

“I’m fortunate because not everyone gets to grow up in a hockey family, so I’ve always been around it,” Primeau said. “I was young, but just being around the rink and seeing how guys carried themselves helped me.”

Not playing the same position as his father lessened the pressure and eliminated any comparisons with him as Primeau came up through the minor-hockey ranks. While he didn’t want to play the same position as his dad, Primeau did inherit his size and is 6-foot-3 and 201 pounds.

Primeau has been a late bloomer in goal and is starting to look like a diamond in the rough the Canadiens were able to uncover in the final round of the NHL Draft. Primeau won the Mike Richter Award this past season as the best goalie in NCAA Division I hockey after posting a 25-10-1 record with a 2.09 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage with Northeastern University. He also helped Team USA win a silver medal at the 2019 World Junior Hockey Championship, posting a 4-1 record with a 1.61 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.

“Obviously, you get stronger and everything kind of falls into place as you get older,” Primeau said about his development. “So it’s just taking advantage of the experiences.”

One of those experiences was being named to Team USA for the IIHF world championship last month in Slovakia, where he was the No. 3 goalie behind Corey Schneider of the New Jersey Devils and Thatcher Demko of the Vancouver Canucks.

“It’s not every day you get to practise with Schneider and Demko,” Primeau said.

Primeau and his family attended the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago and sat there as 198 players were selected ahead of him. There was a total of 217 picks in the seven-round draft.

“It was tense,” he recalled. “You don’t know, so you’re sitting there. But once I got called, it was a lot of excitement and the emotions were insane that day.”

Asked why he was such a late pick, Primeau said: “It doesn’t really matter as to why. The number is significant now because I use it as motivation. But it doesn’t really matter what number you get drafted or what round. The biggest thing is the organization and I’m fortunate enough to be part of the Montreal Canadiens.”

The Canadiens signed Primeau to a three-year, NHL entry-level contract on March 31 and he is expected to play with the AHL’s Laval Rocket next season. He might have already passed Charlie Lindgren and Michael McNiven on the depth chart when it comes to the Canadiens’ goalie of the future.

When GM Marc Bergevin was asked about the backup position behind Carey Price for next season before last weekend’s NHL Draft in Vancouver, the GM said: “For sure, I’d like to give Cayden some time in Laval. Charlie has shown at times that he could be a good backup. It’s something that I’ll be looking to, but also I’ll look at the (free-agent) market, what’s available and what’s the price and I’ll make a decision there.”

Price, who will turn 32 on Aug. 16, still has seven seasons remaining on his eight-year, US$84-million contract with an annual salary-cap hit of $10.5 million. Primeau got to meet Price for the first time before the Canadiens’ final regular-season game at the Bell Centre in April.

“I was quiet, but it was good,” Primeau said. “He just wished me luck and have a good summer.”

When asked about the possibility of becoming Price’s backup in the future, Primeau said: “I don’t like to think too far ahead. I just try to take things day by day. The only thing I can try to do is get better every day.”

He has done a very good job of that since the Canadiens drafted him.


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