Welcome to Catching The Torch, where we keep an eye on the Montreal Canadiens’ North American prospects and how their development is faring week by week. This edition will gravitate around the Habs’ prospects in Quebec, specifically those playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The team has made a push in the last couple of years to select more local talent with their late-round picks, resulting in decent late pickups such as Rafaël Harvey-Pinard, among others.
Montreal currently owns the rights to four QMJHL prospects, all of whom they selected in 2021, and a few of them are off to an excellent start. I wanted to check in on the four as they try to build off of previous performances and reach a new level.
Joshua Roy, C — Sherbrooke Phoenix
We’ll start off with Joshua Roy, a name you might recognize from his standout training camp, in which he showed the team just how pro-ready his game is with some very decent showings against bigger, older players in the scrimmage.
The centre was named to both the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and QMJHL’s team of the week, with a three-game, eight-point performance for the Sherbrooke Phoenix. This brings his season total up to an outstanding six goals and 15 points in seven games, which places him firmly in first place of his team, his division, and his entire league. In comparison, Xavier Bourgault, the Oilers’ first-round pick from the same draft in which Roy was selected 150th, has 11 points in six games.
Roy showed off his outstanding off-puck movement and ability to play between checks in his games for the Phoenix, as he always seemed to show up in the slot with possession of the puck. Especially on the power play, the prospect was able to push off of opponents and locate open ice in the high slot to fire wristers or pinpoint passes. He often played a hybrid bumper/left half-wall role in the Phoenix’s structure, which made his ability to play the puck in tight quarters all the more evident.
Although Roy isn’t the fastest or the strongest, he uses extremely smart, proactive reads and controlled small-ice sprints to gain positional leverage on his opponents. This ability to control short races and gain an extra inch of ice to work with doesn’t tend to dissipate at higher levels, and he has the added comfort of being able to blend everything together nicely. He can shoot inside of movement, on his forehand or his backhand, can connect with teammates while pivoting or accelerating, and generally does a lot of work defensively to pry pucks loose and play them the other way.
It’s unclear how high Roy will be able to reach in his career, but he’s a safe bet to make the Habs’ roster at some point in the future. Whether that’s in a bottom-six checking role or as part of the team’s core remains to be seen, but he is definitely off to a hot start in the Q, and should continue to build off his current success.
Riley Kidney, C — Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Kidney’s QMJHL performances so far have placed him fifth overall in the league’s scoring race through seven games, with six goals and six assists to his name at this point in his draft-plus-one season. The prospect’s playmaking has always been a strength — his blend of unpredictability and passing precision in all four directions makes him almost impossible to prevent from reaching his target — but the prospect has an added confidence with the puck that was not as prevalent last year, which has led him to taking more shots.
He sits four points clear of his nearest teammate, Cole Huckins, for points on his team, and has been the team’s lead chance-creator and rush generator through seven games. On a roster rife with older talent, Kidney’s ability to outplay opponents two or three years ahead of him developmentally on a regular basis has been impressive to see.
The prospect’s six goals also sit atop the QMJHL, tied with none other than the aforementioned Joshua Roy. Compare this with the Titan’s playoff run last year, in which Kidney tied New Jersey Devils rookie Dawson Mercer for points with two goals and 15 assists in nine games, it’s clear that Kidney’s scoring touch has taken a step up since then. His goals this year have come off of self-created plays and clean shots, which is promising given how variable a player’s shooting percentage can be depending on teammate quality and sheer puck luck.
If he can keep this type of dual-threat offence going and integrate it as a central part of his game, Kidney could very well increase his offensive potential massively over the course of this season. A return to Earth in terms of his shooting percentage wouldn’t be damaging, however, as his playmaking ability more than compensates for any shortcomings on the shooting side.
Xavier Simoneau, C — Charlottetown Islanders
Simoneau’s season was off to a decent start, as he netted two goals and earned six assists in five games to start the season, but the prospect suffered a head injury on October 11 after receiving a wrist shot to the helmet against the Saint John Sea Dogs. He remains week-to-week, but still leads the team in points despite missing two games for the Islanders as they battle their way through an injury-stricken season start. Simoneau skated off on his own, however, which bodes well for the prospect’s short- and long-term health.
When the Canadiens took a chance on Simoneau in this year’s sixth round as a twice-over-age prospect, it was much to the delight of the analytics and amateur scouting communities, who have been blaming the centre’s short stature (5’7”, 175 pounds) as the only factor that led to him being ignored in both 2019 and 2020. The prospect’s grit and hockey sense make him one of the most difficult forwards to play against in the QMJHL, and he has shown consistent growth and improvement every year in that league.
Now 21 years old and heading into his final Junior-eligible season, Simoneau will need to stop his injury list from growing even further while maintaining his mean and physical side, which is a tough line to toe. If a player of his stature is to make the NHL, he has to be available every game; any further lacking in that aspect and he’ll either constantly have to regain his spot with each injury, or learn to become cautious and lose what makes him great.
William Trudeau, LD — Charlottetown Islanders
Compared to his fellow Habs prospects and how they’ve been faring so far, Trudeau’s season is off to a pretty cold start, with only a goal and an assist to his name in seven games for the Islanders. While teammate Simoneau has been leading the team in points and looking dominant, Trudeau has been struggling with breakouts and connecting plays, generally having difficulty keeping the puck out of his zone. He can usually read opponents quite well and work his way through a maze of sticks with control of the puck, but lately has been unable to push past opponents and get involved in zone exits with consistency.
The hope for Trudeau is to improve his posture and lower-body strength in order to grab more ice with each stride, as he’ll often have to fight opponents for control of the puck while lacking the separation speed to escape their grasp. This is a large factor in Trudeau’s shortcomings, as the prospect shows great problem-solving and opponent manipulation to send them the wrong way on a puck-carry, but simply can’t get past them due to below-average explosivity. The next year will be crucial for evaluating Trudeau’s development curve, and how much more there is to learn for the blue-liner.
QMJHL Season To Date
|Joshua Roy||2021||C||QMJHL||Sherbrooke Phoenix||7||6||9||15|
|Riley Kidney||2021||C||QMJHL||Acadie-Bathurst Titan||7||6||6||12|
|Xavier Simoneau||2021||C/LW||QMJHL||Charlottetown Islanders||5||2||6||8|
|William Trudeau||2021||LD||QMJHL||Charlottetown Islanders||7||1||1||2|