By Sam Laskaris
For the past decade the fortunes of the National Hockey League’s Montreal Canadiens have relied heavily on the performances of Indigenous netminder Carey Price.
With one season left on his contract, it remains to be seen how much longer the 29-year-old Price, a member of British Columbia’s Ulkatcho First Nation, will stay with the Montreal organization.
Price could conceivably be traded before or during the upcoming season. Or he could simply sign on as a free agent next summer with another franchise.
Of course, the possibility also exists the Canadiens will re-sign Price to another deal.
If Price does indeed leave Montreal, there’s a chance another Indigenous goalie will play a key role with the Canadiens.
That’s because 19-year-old puckstopper Michael McNiven, whose birth mother was Métis, is considered a highly-touted Montreal prospect. He’s currently starring with the Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League.
McNiven and his teammates are now battling the Pennsylvania-based Erie Otters in the OHL’s best-of-seven Western Conference final. The Attack lead the series 2-1. Game 4 in the series is scheduled for Wednesday in Owen Sound.
The winner of the Owen Sound/Erie series will square off against the Eastern Conference champs in a best-of-seven series to determine the OHL champs.
The Mississauga Steelheads have a 3-0 lead over the Peterborough Petes in their Eastern final series.
McNiven would obviously love to capture a championship in this his third OHL season.
“We’ll see how everything works out,” he said. “It would be nice to win an OHL championship. And it would be even nicer to win a Memorial Cup championship.”
The OHL champs will advance to the national Memorial Cup tournament next month. The OHL’s Windsor Spitfires are hosting and will also participate in the four-team tourney.
Also taking part will be the Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champs.
Though he was born in Winnipeg, McNiven was for the most part raised by his paternal grandparents in Georgetown, Ont. And it was in Georgetown that McNiven really started making a name for himself in hockey circles.
As a 16-year-old he earned the majority of starts with the Georgetown Raiders, members of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, during the 2013-14 season.
McNiven posted a 21-10-0-0 record and a 2.60 goals-against average. He also was tied for a spot in the league with five shutouts.
He became an OHL regular in Owen Sound the following season.
Following a solid rookie campaign with the Attack, there was some speculation McNiven would be selected in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. As it turned out, all 30 clubs bypassed him in that seven-round draft. But it didn’t take long for him to become a Canadiens’ prospect.
Though he was not drafted, McNiven received an invitation to Montreal’s development camp in July of 2015. He sufficiently impressed the club’s brass there and earned a spot with the Montreal rookie squad that participated in a four-team tournament in September of that year in London, Ont.
Shortly after his efforts in that tourney, the Canadiens inked McNiven to a three-year entry level pro contract. That deal kicks into effect when McNiven joins the pro ranks. That could come as early as next season.
Since he turns 20 in July, McNiven could only play in the OHL next season as an overager. Clubs are allowed to carry a maximum of three overagers on their rosters.
McNiven is uncertain what the Canadiens’ management has planned for him. They might want him to hone his skills as an OHL overager. Or they might prefer he turn pro with one of their minor league affiliates.
The Newfoundland-based St. John’s Ice Caps are the Canadiens’ American Hockey League affiliate. Montreal also has an East Coast Hockey League affiliate club, the Ontario-based Brampton Beast.
McNiven realizes it will be awhile yet before he would be ready to become an NHL regular. He’s uncertain how much time he might need to spend in the minors.
“I’m guessing it would be a couple to a few years,” he said. “It’s obviously what I need.”
Since the Canadiens own his NHL rights, McNiven admits he does think about minding the crease in Montreal one day.
“That’s the dream,” he said. “But it’s going to take a lot of hard work and determination to get even close to where Carey Price is now.”
Like Price, who’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 226 pounds, McNiven also has some decent size; he’s 6-foot-1 and 208 pounds.
McNiven said it’s challenging to try and emulate the play of the star NHLer.
“It’s very hard to model yourself after Carey Price,” he said. “He is the best goalie in the world in my opinion.”