A few years ago, an aspiring young netminder had been dominating at the junior and minor pro levels, and, being a top-five draft pick—rare for a goalie—many had him pegged as one of the league's next great puck-stoppers.
However, it was not all rosy in the beginning, and he faced quite a bit of adversity. And I am not talking about Carey Price.
That young man was Marc-Andre Fleury.
Like Carey Price, Fleury was a star in major juniors and was equally dominant in the AHL. And the similarities don't end there. Both faced gargantuan expectations before they even played their first NHL game.
For Fleury, being selected first overall in what might be the best draft class in NHL history, especially as a goaltender, created lofty expectations that were simply unrealistic for an 18-year-old fresh out of major junior hockey. But he lived up to the hype early in his rookie season, turning in a 46-save performance against the Los Angeles Kings in his debut, and was named Rookie of the Month in October of 2003.
Price was selected fifth overall, also very high for a goaltender, and was labeled early on by fans as the next Ken Dryden or Patrick Roy. And, for a while, those comparisons didn't seem all that unrealistic, for Price went on to lead Canada to world junior gold at the 2007 IIHF World Junior Championship in Leksand, Sweden, and also led the Hamilton Bulldogs to the Calder Cup as a 19-year-old rookie, all in the same season.
However, after both being great early on, they both got their first tastes of adversity.
Halfway through his rookie season, Fleury was sent back down to the Penguin's AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he spent another season before returning to the NHL in 2005-2006, where he posted less-than-stellar numbers, recording a 3.25 GAA and a .898 save percentage.
It was a tough way to start an NHL career, but, since then, Fleury has become one of the NHL's best goaltenders after two deep playoff runs during which he proved he could be a big-game goalie. Fleury's heroics in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs led to his name being engraved on the Stanley Cup, something that all young netminders dream of.
As for Carey Price, he could learn a lot from Pittsbrugh's star in net. After an up-and-down sophomore campaign, which ended with Price giving the Montreal crowd a Patrick Roy salute after being harassed and booed by his own fans, Price is just beginning to learn what it means to play goal for the Montreal Canadiens.
If anything, Price could look at Fleury and see that, although things don't always work out, eventually everyone's day will come.
So if Price does in fact persevere through like Fleury did, much better days are ahead for the Montreal Canadiens and their fans.
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