- Samuel Montembeault was claimed off waivers by the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 2, 2021.
- Only expected to be a third goaltender, injuries have forced him into action.
- Montembeault has established himself as the goalie of the future for the Canadiens.
When the Montreal Canadiens claimed Samuel Montembeault off waivers on Oct. 2, 2021, he was intended to be the third goaltender behind Carey Price and Jake Allen.
That’s not how it’s worked out.
With Price on long-term injured reserve and Allen only recently back from an upper-body injury, the 2022-23 season has seen the 26-year-old Montembeault rise at a meteoric rate. It’s an inspiring sign for a rebuilding team focused on developing talent for long-term success, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
On Jan. 18, Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes made his position on the young goalie very clear.
“It’s tough to think that we can predict Sam’s future with a small sample size, but we obviously see he’s got a certain potential,” Hughes said at a recent press conference. “He’s clearly going nowhere.”
It’s rare for players to get that sort of reassurance from higher-ups, especially when they’re still in the early years of their careers. For Montembeault, a Quebec native who has followed the Canadiens since he was a child, it was sincerely appreciated.
“It felt great to hear [Hughes] say that,” Montembeault recently told me in Montreal. “He said I’m not going anywhere, and I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m from two hours north of [Montreal] — it’s great to be so close. I’m really happy to be here.”
Sam!!! 🛑#GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/MYFX6ERb9C
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) October 17, 2022
Montreal Canadiens Goalies
Widely considered one of the best goaltenders in the world, the Canadiens took a hit when they lost Price to long-term injured reserve.
After undergoing knee surgery in July 2021, Price was expected to return at the start of the 2021-22 season, but alas, the best-laid plans often go astray.
On Oct. 7, 2021, the Canadiens announced Price would be entering the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program, later revealed to be for mental health and substance abuse treatment. He returned from the program on Nov. 9, 2021, but ongoing and interrupted rehabilitation on his knee kept him far away from the ice.
To fill the gap at the start of the 2021-22 season, Allen was made the Canadiens’ starting goaltender, and Montembeault was moved up to the primary backup after just one week with the team.
When Hughes announced on Aug. 18, 2022, that Price would be out for the entirety of 2022-23 and would require further surgery if he was ever to return at all, the temporary arrangement of Allen and Montembeault became a lot less temporary.
Samuel Montembeault throws it all on the line for this save. 😳
📺: @Sportsnet ➡️ https://t.co/4KjbdjVctF #NHLonSN pic.twitter.com/JfWZh8khJK
— NHL (@NHL) March 6, 2022
Once the 2022-23 season got underway, it wasn’t long before fans saw Montembeault’s talent rival that of veteran Allen. Discussion swirled about whether head coach Martin St-Louis should be splitting time in net more evenly between the two goalies, but Allen quickly shut down any rumors of tension or rivalry.
“I’m super happy for [Montembeault],” Allen said at a press conference on Jan. 25. “He’s probably played the best in the league the last couple of weeks. He’s been patient; he’s been confident. I’m glad that he’s getting a chance.”
And Montembeault has taken advantage of every opportunity to shine. When Allen suffered an upper-body injury in early January, his ability to step up was tested with eight consecutive starts.
His preparation paid off.
“I worked hard through the summer, especially coming back from an injury, so I didn’t do much for a few months,” Montembeault said, referencing his offseason wrist surgery. “I really had to work hard in the gym to get ready for games, but now playing eight games in a row, I felt great. It shows that I was ready.
“It’s probably the first time in my pro career that I have the chance to have that many games in a row, and it was fun.”
This time last year, many fans didn’t expect Montembeault to emerge as a long-term option in Montreal’s net. But, now the general manager is talking about him being the franchise’s future. A little bit of luck and a hell of a lot of hard work, and Montembeault has officially made waves across the league — but to the higher-ups, it’s more than that.
With their backs against the wall and turning to a last-minute waivers-claim from the Florida Panthers, the Canadiens may have accidentally stumbled upon their next Carey Price.
Canadiens Player Development
Injuries allowed Montembeault the opportunity to prove himself, but his talent kept him there. In January 2022, Montembeault posted two consecutive games with 48 saves or more, becoming the first goaltender in franchise history to do so. Just a month later, he recorded his first NHL shutout win.
Not bad for a goalie who was only supposed to be a fill-in.
Montembeault is a perfect example of what the Canadiens want to create and replicate. Player development is the focus of the rebuilding team, and they’ve been taking active steps over the last year to ensure talented young players are nurtured for future success.
Sam dit non. 🙅♂️
Sam shuts the door.#GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/rGPXMEZPe6
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) February 12, 2022
With five rookies on the team, the Canadiens are loaded with young players still finding their feet in the NHL. Speaking on how goaltending is different with four rookies on the blue line, Montembeault sang nothing but praises for the young players in front of him.
“These guys are all doing a really good job, all four of them,” he said. “Every game, they show up and do a really good job. I think something we can do to help them is maybe freeze the puck a little more, slow the game down a little bit so they can take a breath, but they’re all doing great.”
As of Feb. 8, Montreal is eighth in the Atlantic Division with a record of 20-27-4, but that isn’t an accurate representation of what the team is doing. The Canadiens are playing the long game in a league often overwhelmed with a win-now mentality. Will it work?
Only time will tell, but if Montembeault and rookie defenseman Johnathan Kovacevic, Kaiden Guhle, Jordan Harris, and Arber Xhekaj are anything to go by, things look promising.
Canadiens Hometown Hero
The 2021-22 season saw Montembeault firmly establish himself as a force to be reckoned with in the NHL, and his growth through 2022-23 proves his future is bright. And for a young man from just outside Montreal, it couldn’t be happening on a better team.
“The Canadiens were my favorite team growing up,” Montembeault told me. “They were my dad’s favorite team.”
It’s clear from talking to Montembeault that being close to home, particularly in a province as culturally rich as Quebec, is extremely important to him. His family’s ability to come to games matters to him — even if none of them know how to play hockey.
“I’m the only one in my family that knows how to skate,” Montembeault said. “They can, like, walk around on skates, but really skate — I’m the only one. My dad was a baseball player growing up, so I played baseball. I was a catcher, which I guess is a bit similar to a goalie.”
So is a move to Major League Baseball on the horizon?
“Probably not,” he laughed.
That’s technically not a no, but still, Montembeault won’t need a career change anytime soon.
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