BROSSARD, Que. — With all his accomplishments in junior hockey, Zach Fucale was expected to be making his mark in the NHL by now.
But the Laval, Que., native finds himself fourth on the depth chart of the Montreal Canadiens, where 2015 Vezina Trophy winner and 2014 Olympic gold medallist Carey Price rules the net.
Minor injuries suffered in camp this week by Price’s veteran backup Al Montoya and third-stringer Charlie Lindgren may give Fucale another chance to show what he can do in the team’s penultimate pre-season game Friday night against the Florida Panthers.
"It goes very fast in hockey so you have to stay ready at all times," Fucale said Thursday. "All I have to do is practise hard and wait for an opportunity."
Coach Claude Julien had yet to decide who will start because there is a chance that Montoya may have healed enough to return after being struck in the neck by a puck during practice this week. Lindgren has been out since suffering a lower-body injury during practice on Monday.
Fucale had been assigned to the Laval Rocket of the American Hockey League, but was recalled on Tuesday.
The 22-year-old spent nearly all of last season with the Brampton Beast of the ECHL, where he went 25-12-2 with a 3.17 goals-against average. Montreal preferred having him in the lower league so he could play a lot instead of languishing as Lindgren’s backup in the AHL.
Lindren was signed as a free agent from St. Cloud State University in 2016 and was impressive from the outset. He got into his first NHL game almost right away and won it 4-2 over Carolina. He started two more NHL games last season and won both of them.
And Fucale will have to watch his rear-view mirror because Montreal also has Michael McNiven, who was goaltender of the year in the Ontario Hockey League last season after going 41-9-2 with the Owen Sound Attack. It is expected that the 20-year-old McNiven will play in Brampton this season while Fucale moves up to the AHL squad behind Lindgren.
Whatever they decide, Julien likes what he has in goal.
"I like the fact that last year before I got here they sent (Fucale) to the E so he can play more," Julien said. "I like the fact that we do that with goaltenders instead of being backups in the minors.
"He’s gained a lot of confidence. He’s improved a lot. He’s done really well in camp. Our goaltending coach keeps working with him. The potential we see in him is good. You can never have too much depth in goaltending. We talk about McNiven. I like what he’s brought to camp too.
"So I like the fact that there’s some security there when it come’s to injuries. It’s an important position. You can never have too many of those guys."
When they will get their chance in the NHL is the big question. In the off-season, Price signed an eight-year US$84 million contract and looks set to be the starter for years to come. The dependable Montoya is signed through the 2018-19 campaign.
Fucale seemed bound for an NHL career of his own as he set wins records in junior with the Halifax Mooseheads, where his teammates included a future first-overall draft pick in Nathan MacKinnon and gifted forward Jonathan Drouin, who now skates for Montreal.
He backstopped Halifax to a Memorial Cup in 2013, just before the Canadiens drafted him 36th overall. Then Fucale started five games as Canada won the 2015 world junior championship.
But at the pro level, he’s had to wait for his chances.
"My plans are to play wherever they tell me, whether it’s in Montreal or Laval," said Fucale. "I want to play hard and help the team win.
"In Laval it’s going to be a good opportunity to learn and if I get the chance to play here it’s another opportunity to evolve and get better. From last year to this year, compared to all the other years, it’s been a big jump for me. I’m excited. I feel great in net. I feel big and that’s the whole point. You’ve got to feel confident going into games."
Whoever is in net, the Canadiens just want to win. It is only the pre-season, but they are 0-6-0.
Julien said he hasn’t finalized his roster, but forward Nikita Scherbak was recalled for one last look and defenceman Jakub Jerabek will play. The standout in camp thus far has been defenceman Victor Mete. The London Knight has been paired with blueline star Shea Weber so far, but is expected to skate with veteran Jordie Benn to see how he does with a different partner.
The Canadiens close their exhibition schedule Saturday at home against Ottawa.