When Samuel Montembeault was a kid growing up in the Quebec area, he would play a youth-league hockey game, get home, call his friends and return to the ice for a pickup game or two.
Montembeault’s schedule isn’t quite as hectic these days … but it’s close.
The 21-year-old French Canadian, who is considered the Florida Panthers’ goalie of the future, has been in net for 11 of the past 12 Springfield Thunderbirds games, earning valuable experience.
“He’s playing a lot of hockey, and he’s coming up with some big saves,” Springfield coach Geordie Kinnear said. “He’s pretty dynamic.”
Montembeault wasn’t supposed to play quite this much, but Panthers starter Roberto Luongo injured his right leg while making a kick save Dec. 4, setting off a chain reaction.
James Reimer moved up to starter, where he has played exceptionally well, compiling a five-game win streak that was finally snapped on Tuesday night at the Minnesota Wild.
3At age 18, Samuel Montembeault was one of three Canadian goalies selected for the World Junior Championships — a huge honor in a hockey-crazed country.
In the meantime, Harri Sateri, who had signed a one-year contract to serve as Montembeault’s backup and mentor at Springfield, was called up to play behind Reimer. (Sateri, 28, made his NHL debut on Tuesday in relief of Reimer.)
That’s left more work for Montembeault in his first year in the American Hockey League, and he has responded by going 4-1-1 in the most recent six starts entering this weekend.
“It’s going to help my development,” Montembeault said of the heavy workload. “It’s going to help me make the jump [to the NHL] faster.”
Montembeault’s goal — which he came up with three years ago when he was about to be drafted — was to reach the NHL by age 23.
It will be interesting to see if he can get there that quickly because goaltending is the most stable position on the Panthers roster. Luongo, 38, is signed through the summer of 2022, and Reimer, 29, is under contract through 2021.
When they drafted me, I didn’t even hear who was picking. I was talking to my father because two goalies had been picked right before me … and then I heard my name.
Samuel Montembeault, Florida Panthers prospect
Montembeault is certainly well regarded.
At age 18, he was one of three Canadian goalies selected for the World Junior Championships — a huge honor in a hockey-crazed country.
Later that year, he was the Panthers’ third-round pick and the sixth goalie selected in the entire draft. There were only two goalies selected in the first two rounds before there was a run at the position.
That 2015 draft was at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, and Montembeault was there for the event, which was his first time in South Florida.
The Panthers’ first-round pick that year, left winger Lawson Crouse, has since been traded to the Arizona Coyotes along with Dave Bolland in what was mostly a salary dump. (The Panthers got two future picks.)
Florida had no second-round pick that year, leaving Montembeault and fourth-round pick Denis Malgin — a forward who is already with the Panthers — as the biggest hopes of that Panthers draft.
Montembeault is grateful to be part of the Panthers and loves how it all happened.
“To be in the building and to be drafted by the home team was really nice,” Montembeault said.
“When they drafted me, I didn’t even hear who was picking. I was talking to my father because two goalies had been picked right before me … and then I heard my name.”
Things have gone even better since then as Montembeault started this year ranked as the Panthers’ fourth-best prospect, according to The Hockey News.
The top three: forward Owen Tippett, who is in juniors; center Henrik Borgstrom, who is at the University of Denver; and defenseman Ian McCoshen, who made the Panthers out of camp.
Montembeault grew up trying to emulate Luongo and New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist — two excellent role models.
At 6-3 and 195 pounds, Montembeault has gotten much stronger since he was drafted. (He weighed 166 pounds back then.)
He’s strong with his glove, which comes from his days playing baseball, which was his father’s favorite sport, and he is highly athletic, especially for a big goalie, moving well side to side.
Montembeault said he is working to improve several facets of his game, including his ability to handle the puck and being more patient instead of being so quick to drop to his knees to stop the puck.
“Like any young player, ‘Monty’ is working to be more consistent,” Kinnear said. “It’s a long season, and you have to be mentally and physically ready to play every day.”
▪ Something special: Mike Matheson’s goal with 1.5 seconds left in the second period on Friday night against the Detroit Red Wings was a thing of beauty. The Panthers defenseman spun backward into the zone, held off a check, got the puck to his forehand and scored his fourth goal of the season.
▪ Rough start: The Panthers entered the new year on a five-game winning streak but lost the first two outings after the calendar flipped — 5-1 to the Minnesota Wild and 4-2 to Detroit. In between, the Panthers’ game at the Boston Bruins was postponed because of a massive snowstorm.
▪ Debut: Goalie Harri Sateri, 28, got his first chance as an NHL goalie on Tuesday, playing 23 minutes after starter James Reimer suffered a neck injury. Sateri stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced before Reimer returned.
▪ Future watch: Center Aleksi Heponiemi, 18, represented Finland in the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships, which concluded this week in Buffalo. Heponiemi, a speedy 5-10, 150-pounder and the Panthers’ 2017 second-round pick, scored two goals in five games in Buffalo. Meanwhile, Alexandre Grenier, 26, was named an AHL All-Star this week. The forward, who plays for the Panthers’ Springfield affiliate, has eight goals and 19 assists in 36 games.
▪ Injury update: Right winger Radim Vrbata has missed four consecutive games because of an illness. Defenseman Ian McCoshen (upper-body injury) returned this week after missing four straight games.
▪ Look ahead: Sunday, Panthers at Columbus Blue Jackets; Tuesday, Panthers at St. Louis Blues; Friday, Calgary Flames at Panthers.