Zachary Fucale was the first goalie selected, going to his hometown Habs (The Associated Press)
NEWARK, N.J. — No pressure, kid.
A 23-person media throng amassed around one player's podium is atypical with a second-rounder. But Fucale is a Québecois goalie headed to the Montreal Canadiens as the first netminder off the board at the NHL draft after being taken No. 36 overall. Minutes after accepting a jersey from Habs GM Marc Bergevin, the Halifax Mooseheads' Memorial Cup-winning goalie seemed well-aware that whatever scrutiny he was under as a top draft prospect is a trifle compared to what awaits him as he tries to travel up the hockey food chain.
"I haven't been there yet," the 18-year-old Rosemère, Que., native said when asked to imagine the attention that awaits him next season, particularly when the Mooseheads play road goames in Quebec. "It's certainly something I have to live and experience to know what it's all about, but I've certainly seen it, growing up. I know a bit of what's coming.
"Every young hockey player dreams of playing for the Montreal Canadiens," Fucale added. "Today's the day I put the jersey on for the first time and I'm going to work hard to make sure I earn the right to put it on again."
The Canadiens passed on a 40-goal scorer from the QMJHL, Baie-Comeau's Valentin Zykov, to take Fucale after no one jumped to draft a goalie in the first round. It is too early to proclaim Fucale Montreal's goalie of the future, let alone project him as a starter. He will have a good litmus test this season, when the Mooseheads will likely be outshot on more nights with a younger roster that could lack top-3 NHL picks Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin than they were while winning 77 of 89 games. By the same token, it's further affirmation for the goalie who helped the Mooseheads surmount the loaded Portland Winterhawks in two high-skilled games at the Memorial Cup in May.
"It's happened so quickly," Fucale said on Sunday. "This is still happening a little too fast for me, not much I can do about it. For now, I'm just going to celebrate it, it just happened five minutes ago."
Those who were around Fucale the most across his first two seasons with Halifax describe him as remarkably grounded. That makes his addition to the Habs' organization a grand experiment in seeing whether this is a young Québecois player who can thrive in Montreal, rather than contribute to the convenient narrative that there is just too much pressure.
The fluently bilingual Fucale had plenty of on-the-job media training while playing for the Mooseheads, the biggest game in town in the Maritimes' hub city. In the crease, Fucale exudes a supple economy of motion, which helped him be a workhorse over two long seasons in Montreal. The flipside is that having good mechanics doesn't necessarily reveal if there is NHL-level athleticism that can be mined.
"To say it as simply as possible, I need to work on everything," Fucale said. "The difference between goalies and players in the NHL is so small. I have to develop every aspect of my game."
Along with attending Montreal's development camp in early July, Team Canada's August summer development camp in Brossard, Que., will practically be in Fucale's backyard. That will be another test of whether he's destined to put on the 'CH' crest again. Of course, he's put on a Habs jersey countless times. Just not the real thing.
"This one's different," Fucale said.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ice Hockey
- Sports & Recreation
- Montreal Canadiens
- Halifax Mooseheads