Surely, a permanent spot in the NHL can’t be too far behind, right?
Well, not so fast.
It’s the position 19-year-old goaltender Carey Price finds himself in after helping the Hamilton Bulldogs to the AHL championship. But even that standout performance alone isn’t enough to earn the former fifth overall pick a guaranteed spot with the Montreal Canadiens next year.
“Nothing’s going to be forced,” Trevor Timmins, the Canadiens director of player recruitment and development, said Friday. “We’ll just take it step by step . . .
“I’ve always preached patience ever since I got to Montreal. We can’t be impatient with a young goaltender, especially, because most of them don’t come into their prime until their late 20s.”
Even still, Timmins and the rest of the Montreal organization have plenty to be excited about.
Price is the first goalie since Patrick Roy in 1985 to play junior hockey the same season he was the starting goalie on a Calder Cup champion. Roy, of course, went on to win the Stanley Cup the following year in Montreal.
No similar success is written in stone for Price, but he will be given a chance to play in Montreal next year.
“He’ll come to camp with our other goaltenders and battle it out for a spot,” said Timmins. “I’m confident in saying that his development has been sped up by playing in the American Hockey League and going this far in the playoffs.”
The Canadiens already have two goalies under contract for 2007-08. Cristobal Huet has one year left on a deal that will pay him US$2.75 million while sophomore Jaroslav Halak is scheduled to earn $500,000 at the NHL level.
More than one can’t-miss goaltending prospect has taken several years to develop in the past, but Timmins believes Price has an advantage on other teenagers currently playing the position.
“He’s already up around 225 pounds and six foot two,” said Timmins. “He’s a big goaltender.
“He’s got big legs, big hips on him. He’s powerful. He doesn’t need that time to develop his size and strength like a lot of young players.”
Price was first thrust into the national spotlight earlier this year while backstopping Canada to a third straight gold medal at the world junior championship in Sweden.
He went undefeated and was named tournament MVP. Amazingly, when the team headed to Europe before the event, Price hadn’t even yet earned the starting job.
It was during an exhibition game in Finland when head coach Craig Hartsburg decided that he was the guy to lead the team.
“I looked at him and just felt very confident and comfortable with him in the net, ” Hartsburg said Friday from Calgary. “Not just the way he stopped the puck, but his body language, his size.
“What was very impressive was how he handled the puck. He just looked so confident.”
Price spent his junior career playing for the WHL’s Tri-City Americans and had never faced such pressure situations.
He passed with flying colours.
“The world junior tournament is such a big event, but you don’t really realize how much pressure is involved until you’re actually there,” Hartsburg said. “I don’t know if any player other than Jonathan Toews had to face more pressure in the tournament.
“You should take that experience as a player and realize that now you’ve done something. That fear or that self doubt shouldn’t be there any more and he certainly seems to have taken that step.”
Like the Canadiens organization, Hartsburg believes Price will one day take the next one.
But will it be next year?
“When he’s ready, he’ll handle it,” said Hartsburg. “That might be next year, who knows? That’ll be up to them to decide. I know when he’s ready, he’ll handle it because at this age he’s already handled two really high-pressure situations.”
Ultimately, Canadiens GM Bob Gainey and coach Guy Carbonneau will decide if and when Price is ready for the NHL. The young goalie has already come a long way since Montreal selected him fifth overall at the 2005 draft.
Timmins remembers being questioned at the time about why the team used such a high pick on a goalie, but doesn’t feel validated even after watching Price win the Calder Cup as a teenager.
“You’re never proven right until he’s successful at the NHL level,” said Timmins. “I’m pretty confident in what we have here in Carey. We just want to be there to help him with his development and get him to the next level.”