InGoal Interview: Newly Signed Panthers Prospect Samuel Montembeault
When the Florida Panthers selected goaltender Samuel Montembeault with the 77th overall draft selection at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, he had never represented Canada on the international stage.
That changed this year, though – and recently ranked as Florida’s Goaltender of the Future in InGoal’s Future Watch 2016, it’s easy to see that the former unknown is becoming a bigger name.
One year after getting drafted, Montembeault – a native of Becancour, Quebec – has gotten a World Junior Championships experience under his belt, a personal best regular season with the QMJHL’s Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, and some of the most memorable experiences of his career under his belt.
That, combined with a new entry-level deal for the Panthers, could mean that this is only the beginning for the netminder.
Montembeault caught up with InGoal on Wednesday morning, and was quick to mention how special it was to get drafted by the Panthers in their own arena.
“It was the best day of my life,” said Montembeault. “It was a dream come true.”
“My friends and family came out there with me to Florida. It was so special to be drafted by the home team, getting picked in their own arena in their own city, it was such a great feeling.”
To the 19-year-old Quebec native, the Panthers have been wonderful. During rookie camp, he wasn’t slated to play in an exhibition game in Nashville – so the team let him stay back in Florida, and he got to spend a day working with Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo.
It was his first taste of spending time with one of his goaltending idols, and he took the experience back to Boisbriand with him this year.
World Juniors and Playoff Underdog Stories
As much fun as training camp was, though, Montembeault’s next big ‘wow’ moment this season came at the World Juniors – when the Quebecois goaltender got his first chance to represent team Canada.
“After the World Juniors, I felt more comfortable and confident in my net.”
The experience of spending time with the best players in Canada, even as the third goaltender on the roster, helped Montembeault with his mental outlook in the year.
It was easy to see, too. While the Armada weren’t a high seed in the postseason, their spring play was led by an improving Montembeault; between his World Juniors experience, time spent on tracking with his coach in Boisbriand, and plenty of visits from Florida Panthers goaltending coach Rob Tallas, an already good raw game started to see refinement and maturity.
That carried into the postseason.
“We [the Armada] finished 13th so everyone was betting against us in the first round, but we surprised a lot of people – and after that we got to face the best team in the league.”
To Montembeault, a five game series loss against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies was nothing to be ashamed of. With one year of QMJHL eligibility left, the Panthers prospect feels his team went out on a high note; they may have lost the series, but they played some of their best hockey.
Tweaking his game
As the first hockey player in his family, Montembeault has always wanted to be a goaltender.
He recalled finding ways to stand in net even during his first season of hockey, when he was just five or six – and the team was still rotating every player into the net throughout the season.
“Every time someone didn’t want to play, I would volunteer,” he laughed. “The next year I asked to do it all the time instead.”
That natural pull to the position has served him well; he’s got great instincts, and an impressive awareness of his game even at a young age.
Puck-handling? That’s something Montembeault would like to improve on. His timing and his communication with the defensemen – both in regards to letting them know what he needs to know and trying to verbally help them out throughout the game – are things that he’s tried to emphasize from game to game throughout his time in the Q.
“The defensemen need to talk to me,” he insisted. ”
I like when they go in the corners, so I can pass them the puck. But it’s the same thing for me – I have to talk to them, let them know what’s going on and what I’m going to do. I think communications are important both ways.”
Then there’s his depth; an area of his game Montembeault is already proud of, he still talks about how he could get better.
From making sure to keep his toes at the edge of the paint (rather than regularly coming out past his heels like some goaltenders) to staying calm, Montembeault knows what it takes for his game to be successful and how important it is to make sure that he keeps fine-tuning things.
“I want to play more games [next year]. I want to be more about anticipation during every game, I want to develop more reading of the play and reading with heavy traffic in front of the net.”
This summer, he’ll spend time in Boisbriand with his QMJHL goaltending coach, working on the things he’s been fine-tuning all year even during the offseason. Tracking the puck has become a huge emphasis, but actively blocking the puck rather than just pushing away from the net is something that he wants to keep pinpointing as well.
For the Panthers, Luongo – a hero of Montembeault’s – has been one of the team’s biggest constants through two stints on the team. As a veteran netminder, though, the team will need to pass on the torch soon enough; the way things are headed, that could easily be the team’s newest ELC player.
For a player coming off one of his best seasons to date, that’s even more reason to be excited.