Sylvain Michaud was passed over in his first year of eligibility during the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. In the 2003-04 season, Michaud had a solid, but unspectacular season with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL, and was not ranked by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau. But in the last round of the draft, the New York Islanders selected Michaud with the 276th overall selection. Michaud returned to Drummondville this year as a 19-year-old, but was traded mid-season to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, who he backstopped to the Western Division title, earning the team a bye to the QMJHL’s quarterfinals where they met the Moncton Wildcats.
After splitting the first two games of the season in Rouyn-Noranda, the teams played in Moncton, where Sudarshan “Sudsie” Maharaj, the goaltending coach for the New York Islanders caught the game.
“I’d seen him on video last year,” Maharaj said. “In October I went to Drummondville where he was previously and worked with him for a week in Drummondville. So I had a chance to get to know him as a person and a goaltender in October.”
Because of the lockout, Maharaj spent much of his time this season with the organization’s AHL franchise in Bridgeport, but also went on a number of scouting trips to look for future potential Islanders.
Michaud is a bit under-sized by NHL standards as a goaltender at 5’11, 188 lbs and subsequently tends to play a more aggressive style between the pipes. Michaud says he likes to try to confront shooters and moves towards them to improve his ability to stop the puck because of his size.
“It’s not a problem, but an adjustment. I have to be higher in my goal, and I have to challenge more the puck because I can’t be hit by the puck because I’m too small. Certain goaltenders, to stop the puck, just have to let it hit him. My part of the game is to be high on the puck and just challenge players.”
“I think I’m not really a technical player. I was more a driving goaltender, I just wanted to stop the puck first, and after put my technique, something I need to, I don’t know how to say it…(in French) I need to work practicing my technique.”
However, Michaud needs to work further on this as he was caught in his crease on shots during odd-man rushes a number of times in games three and four in the Moncton Coliseum. The most noticeable trait of Michaud, however, has nothing to do with stopping the puck. Michaud loves to handle the puck and usually does so extremely well. He is very willing to come a long distance out of his crease to retrieve loose pucks and has very good control with making long passes to center ice to hit his forwards if the opponents are making a change. Michaud is extremely confident with the puck and very calm handling it, not afraid to wait for his teammates to get open before getting rid of the puck. He can, however, get too adventurous with this skill and it is something Maharaj feels Michaud will need to tone down to improve as a goaltender.
“Sylvain will need to continue to work on not forcing things with the puck. He’s a bit of a gambler with the puck. So he’s going to have to read situations a little bit more. And, as any goaltender, he’s going to have to consistently work on his technique. His technique is good, but like any goaltender it can get better.”
It is not surprising that Michaud himself feels he plays a similar style to NHL All-Star Martin Brodeur, who is famous for his puck-handling skills.
“I think Martin Brodeur because I move the puck like him. But Marty I don’t think is a perfect technical goaltender too. He was a big inspiration to me.”
Michaud also demonstrated a quick glove hand, making a number of saves by catching the puck with his left hand. Maharaj agrees, and identifies this as one of Michaud’s greatest attributes.
“You know what, Sylvain, being a former baseball player, catches pucks very well. His use of his hands is very good. A lot of the younger goalies coming up through the ranks right now don’t catch pucks particularly well. And Sylvain definitely does that. He is also, as his maturity has gone as a goalie, he has become much more patient in the net, so he’s not scrambling as much as I’d seen earlier in the year. And his lateral quickness has improved a little bit.”
Michaud has a tendency to sometimes cheat towards the middle of the net when a winger is streaking down the side of the ice carrying the puck. He nearly got burned on the short side on three different occasions. However, as expressed by “Sudsie”, Michaud gets across the crease quickly. He also has quick reflexes and performs well under the pressure of a loose puck in front of the net or a scramble.
Mid-season, Michaud was traded from Drummondville, who, ironically, Moncton eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. The move had an impact on Michaud, as he explains that he feels the team in Rouyn-Noranda has much more confidence in him.
“The confidence of the guys with me. I think I have good position with this team. The guys can score goals and that puts less pressure on me because in Drummondville we had a big defense but we had lot of difficulties to score goals.”
During the course of the season Michaud appeared in 58 games, tied for second behind only Julien Ellis (VAN), finishing with a record of 28-19-6, a GAA of 2.87 and a respectable .906 save percentage. Michaud also posted one shutout during the season. Not surprisingly, Michaud is very happy with his strong season.
“Oh, great. The second part of the season was better than the first. I think I was more happy to play in Rouyn-Noranda.”
With the lockout, more attention in general has been paid to prospects by most franchises. However, Michaud realizes that with many other things going on for the organization, he may not be the highest priority. Maharaj’s visit is the only direct dealing with the club Michaud has had since the season began.
“Um, no, it’s too early. And I think they have more important problems to put together like the lockout and I just play at Rouyn-Noranda and keep my goal well. It’s the only thing I can control.”
At this point Michaud is just happy to have been drafted, and is trying to focus on his team’s current playoff run more so than the Islanders organization or what may happen to him in the future.
“The way it is now, I just focus on the moment. Because I am in the playoffs and my goal is to go the longest I can. Maybe this summer I think about my future, but right now it’s very important to have a good head to focus on the playoffs with Rouyn-Noranda.”
It is no secret that the New York Islanders have one of the most promising young goaltenders in the NHL with Rick DiPietro. The organization also possesses another good goalie in Wade Dubielewicz. However, beyond these two, especially considering Garth Snow is no longer under contract, the Islanders are extremely thin at the goaltending position. Because of this fact alone, Michaud has an excellent shot at playing professional hockey, although the level he reaches is very much uncertain. Maharaj discussed Michaud’s future.
“As far as where Sylvain goes, we’re currently looking for an East Coast affiliate. We are currently looking for, depending on what happens with the NHL, whether Wade Dubielewicz or Dieter Kochan moves up. Whether we resign Garth Snow, we really don’t know what’s happening. So a young lad like Sylvain may end up in the [ECHL] starting up, he may end up in the American league. There are so many variables that we haven’t gotten a definitive answer for that yet.”
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