The Canadian | Cayden Primeau, behind the mask

With the departure of Jake Allen, Cayden Primeau officially became number 2 goalie in the NHL, one more step in a career that he hopes will be long and fruitful. So who is the man behind the mask, who we will see more and more from now on? The Press the encounter.

(Edmonton, Alberta) There are two Cayden Primeaus. There is the one in front of the cameras, clearly intimidated by the numerous microphones, who sticks to short, often conventional answers. Three-quarters of the season spent talking about the menage a trois in front of the net obviously did nothing to break that version of him.

It rarely makes for very good copy, except for his famous “It’s only just beginning” thrown at Marc Denis on the Bell Center ice rink, after his shutout against Columbus last week.


Cayden Primeau waves to the crowd at the Bell Center on March 12 after shutting out the Columbus Blue Jackets, his first career shutout in the NHL.

And there’s the one who’s a lot more relaxed, who you can catch on the sidelines, in the locker room, and who lets his guard down. He is the one who will sometimes greet the French speakers he meets in French. “Have a good afternoon,” he said to the author of these lines one afternoon earlier this season. His classic: the jerky “thank you very much”, pronounced with a strong Quebecois accent, like your cousin Kaven would do in Lachute.

“He’s always like that. He often asks how we say this or that thing,” confirms Chantal Machabée. Speaking of Primeau, of course. No Kaven.

Our man arrived in Quebec equipped. “I took French classes for four years in high school in New Jersey. We learned it by reading stories, so I do quite well at reading, I understand enough words to grasp the context. But I don’t speak it and I have trouble understanding, because people speak quickly! But for two years in Laval and even here, there are a lot of French speakers, so you hear things here and there. And I’m curious, I ask questions. »

He also says that he intends to take French classes online during the summer.

You will have understood, at this point, that it is the affable version of Primeau who was waiting for us at his locker, after training earlier this week, his face still red after a commendable effort.

That day, he concluded training by offering himself as cannon fodder to Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Juraj Slafkovsky and Mike Matheson, who wanted to practice shooting on receptions. These exercises are often done in an empty net, but “Eric [Raymond, l’entraîneur des gardiens] told me to go in front of the net.”

“Suzy perhaps has the best shot,” he analyzes. Cole has the most powerful shot, Slaf’s is too, but it was going in all directions. Guardian, it’s sometimes ungrateful! »

If there is one who is well placed to talk about the thankless side of his job, it is Primeau. Raised in the orbit of the Flyers, drafted by the Canadiens, he experienced up close the two markets that have the most twisted relationships with masked men.

He also names several goalkeepers from these two teams when asked to list those who inspired him when he was younger. “Carey, Pekka Rinne, Martin Biron, Sergei Bobrovsky… Jonathan Quick, too. I watched a lot of them. I tried to take elements from each. »

Of Price, he says he admires the “calm”. No surprise here; this was perhaps the primary quality of number 31.


Cayden Primeau

Biron and Bobrovsky wore the Flyers jersey, even if they were more striking elsewhere. But in his younger days, Primeau witnessed all these goalkeepers who ended up being eaten alive by a merciless market. Since the tragic end of Pelle Lindbergh, in fact.

“People say there’s a goalkeeper curse in Philadelphia,” he recalls. [Ilya] Bryzgalov was criticized, even Bobrovsky was. Steve Mason played very well in Columbus. In Philadelphia, I still thought it was good, but many people didn’t agree with me! So he was criticized. I saw that and felt bad for them. »

Knowing this, there is reason to believe that the young man is well equipped to deal with the melodrama that comes with the goalie position in Montreal.

Nothing can fully prepare you to deal with outside noise.

Cayden Primeau

“What helps me the most is that my father [Keith] played pro, even if it was as a striker, Primeau believes. It allowed me to be immersed in the hockey environment at a young age, to be exposed to this environment early in my life. When you’ve lived in this environment, you understand a little more about what it’s like. »

Primeau is doing quite well so far in the Montreal market, but it should be noted that he is entitled to a watered-down version. The calibration of expectations in times of reconstruction allows the goalkeepers and Martin St-Louis to benefit from a leniency that would make their predecessors jealous.

At 24, Primeau arrived in the NHL full-time at a completely normal age. This season has allowed other goalkeepers born in 1999 to establish themselves as permanent players in the circuit: Samuel Ersson in Philadelphia, Pyotr Kochetkov in Carolina, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen in Buffalo, Arvid Soderblom in Chicago.


Cayden Primeau during a game against the Vegas Golden Knights, at the Bell Centre, November 16, 2023

Except that Primeau has now been playing professionally for five years, almost to the day. And his first steps suggested that he was going to move ahead of schedule, particularly for a goalie drafted late (199e in total) in 2017. As a reminder:

2017-2018: Goalie of the Year in the NCAA Hockey East division;

2018-2019: winner of the Mike Richter Award, given to the best goalkeeper in the NCAA;

2019-2020: Elected to the American League All-Rookie Team.

Primeau, however, assures that he has not let these awards go to his head. “In college, Coach Madigan [Jim Madigan, entraîneur-chef de Northeastern à l’époque] said individual honors were a reflection of the team’s play. I couldn’t have done this without my teammates. »

What helped me the most was not thinking about speeding up the process, not looking too far ahead, not wanting to be somewhere just because it’s cool to be there, without necessarily being ready.

Cayden Primeau

Primeau also recalls that the pandemic slowed him down. “The gyms were closed and I was getting to a point where I needed to get stronger. The options were limited. The following year, the schedule was different, we started later, the Canadian made it to the final, so that summer was also short in terms of training. These are not excuses and I don’t want it to come out like that! But these are elements that were beyond my control. »

Primeau does not intend to stop there. “All year long, I wanted to prove myself and I will continue to do so. Nothing changes. The goal is to become a starter in the NHL. It won’t be perfect, it won’t always be beautiful, but I’m going to give it my all. »

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