For the 63rd selection in the 2021 NHL Draft, the Montreal Canadiens looked to their own backyard so to speak, taking Riley Kidney from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the QMJHL. The general consensus around Kidney is that he will be more of a long-term project for the club, but there is a lot to like about his game.
Birthplace: Halifax, Nova Scotia
Date of birth: March 25, 2003
Weight: 168 lbs.
Team: Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)
He had a solid 2020-21 season with the Titan, putting up 38 points in 33 games. What likely put him on the Habs radar, however, was his explosion of 17 points in just nine playoff games that same season. I actually caught one of his playoff games and have to say he stood out a lot as a highly skilled player at the junior level.
In his zoom interview after being drafted, Kidney was asked who would be his model in the NHL and he gave a rather interesting answer. He told the media he sees himself as an offensive centre and tries to model his game after the likes of Nick Suzuki and Mitch Marner. Lofty comparisons to be sure, but he possesses some of the same elements as those players.
He specifically mentioned their high hockey IQs, which is apt considering that was one of the things scouts praised about him heading into the draft. From Hockey Prospect:
“To conclude on Kidney, we love players who have a top-notch hockey IQ, and Kidney fits that category perfectly. If he can improve his speed and his dynamism on the ice, he has the potential to become a good pro down the road.”
I think that quote pretty much sums it up. Kidney has high-level puck skills and can embarrass defenders with his moves. Similar to the aforementioned Suzuki, however, he often likes to use those moves to set up space to engage his elite vision and passing skills to provide gifts to his teammates. You see him often throwing perfect, no-look passes to trailing linemates to give them easy goals.
His areas for improvement mostly lie in his skating and strength. With a 5’11” frame, he needs to fill out a little more to compete better in puck battles. Most scouts note some great edgework from him but agree that he needs to work on his acceleration and top-end speed to succeed at the NHL level.
Also noted has been the need for him to increase his shooting frequency. Scouts have nothing but good things to say about his passing but do agree that he can sometimes look too hard for the passes where taking a shot would be the better option.
From Mitch Brown’s tracking, we can see why skating and strength are areas for improvement. His offensive numbers are sparkling, but he is lacking a little in offensive zone retrievals and defensive plays. Getting a little bigger and a little quicker on his feet should help him improve those numbers moving forward.
Conversely, this same tracking tells us some positives about his IQ and transitional play. Great numbers for controlled exits and entries suggest this is a player who thrives in transition. With the direction the Canadiens have been going in the last few years, this is something that will fit well with the team’s identity if and when he’s ready to make the jump.
It is also interesting that his shooting numbers stand out despite one of the knocks against him being that he doesn’t shoot enough. Perhaps it’s just a perception issue because he does focus so much on the passing game because Mitch’s data suggests he does get plenty of pucks on net.
He’ll surely be back with the Titan next season and is definitely a player to watch in our Catching the Torch series. The Titan will certainly lean on him and with a non-shortened season, a big year from him could go a long way to making the Canadiens look good for having chosen him.
Overall, I really like this pick. The puck skills and IQ are tough things to teach, and the areas where he needs work are things that you can absolutely fix with time. The Canadiens have decent centre depth at the moment, so there is no rush for Kidney to be an NHL player. They can take their time, and he really might look like a steal with hindsight in a few years.
That he’s already comparing himself to the likes of Marner and Suzuki shows some real confidence. Again, these are lofty comparisons, but he really does have some of the traits that make those two excellent NHL players. We can only hope the comparisons end up ringing true in a few years.
The level at which he processes the game is elite for his age, he just needs some of those tools to catch up with his brain.