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Catching The Torch: QMJHL prospects shine in return to play

Joshua Roy, Xavier Simoneau, Riley Kidney and William Trudeau have taken no time getting involved in their teams’ wins since the QMJHL resumed its activities on February 4th.

NHL: SEP 17 Canadiens Rookie Camp Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to Catching The Torch, where we keep an eye on the Montreal Canadiens’ North American prospects and how their development is progressing week by week.

This time around, we’ll be looking at some of the interesting storylines that have developed in the past few weeks involving Habs prospects developing in the QMJHL, which resumed its activities on February 4.

I’m glad to be back after taking time away last week. We’ve got a lot to talk about, so let’s get right into it.

Roy, Simoneau, Trudeau and Kidney shine in QMJHL return to play

When the QMJHL postponed its return to play from mid-January to early February, not much confidence rested in that postponement being the last of its kind. With cases soaring after holiday gatherings, the league didn’t seem anywhere near close to resuming its activities at the scheduled time, but things have gone relatively smoothly for the Quebec Major-Junior circuit since then and it reopened its doors on February 4.

Joshua Roy, C/W — Sherbrooke Phoenix

The Habs’ fifth-round pick in last year’s draft took no time at all to get himself back in the thick of things, scoring the Phoenix’s first goal seven minutes into the first frame with a slick move to the inside. He went on to add a short-handed assist in the second period en route to a 7-3 win.

His next game went even better, as the prospect netted a goal and two assists to bring his season total up to 52 points in 29 matches, good for third place in the league behind the Habs’ own Xavier Simoneau, and Islanders prospect William Dufour.

The main thing that’s improved greatly about Roy’s game since last year is his ability to regularly turn bad pucks into good pucks. Prior to this season, his lack of conditioning made him less likely to gain the middle of the ice off the boards efficiently, and much less efficient in puck battles. His first step lacked explosiveness, and his upper-body strength was truly a deficiency, which led him to skate into problems without the tools to skate out of them.

Seeing him maintain his midseason form despite almost two months off, away from the regular conditioning that comes with playing games on a consistent basis, is very promising. It seems that Roy’s issues from his days with the Saint John Sea Dogs are a thing of the past.

Concerns regarding his power-play time driving most of his results don’t hold up, analytically. His primary-point production at even strength is better than 98% of his peers, and in those situations he is involved in his team’s points at a rate only matched or exceeded by 5% of his fellow QMJHLers. His goals rate and his ability to drive positive results for his team at even strength are also among the top 10% in his league. The more I watch him, the less concerned I am about Roy’s future at the next level.

Xavier Simoneau, C/LW — Charlottetown Islanders

Moving on to Simoneau, an undersized forward selected by the Canadiens in the sixth round of last year’s draft. The forward’s ability to set up plays for his teammates is near-unparalleled within his league, as the prospect has earned himself 38 assists on the year, three clear of second-place in the QMJHL. Since the league reopened its doors, Simoneau has featured in three games for the Charlottetown Islanders, scoring two goals and adding five assists for a total of seven points.

He started his return with a two-point game against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, followed it up with three points in an 8-1 thrashing of the Chicoutimi Saguenéens, and most recently earned two assists in a 4-0 win against Patrick Roy’s Québec Remparts. His dominance on the puck is close to unimpeachable, with very little preventing him from getting the puck, keeping it, and leaving it in a better condition than he got it.

On average, Simoneau sets up eight shots for his teammates per 60 minutes on the ice, and passes to the slot with a regularity only matched by Mavrik Bourque, Dallas’s first-round pick in 2020. These are high-end numbers that encompass how dangerous Simoneau is with the puck. What’s even more impressive is that Simoneau averages the least amount of turnovers per 100 puck touches in the entire QMJHL, meaning that he manages the puck better than anyone else in his circuit.

An interesting addition to his already well-stocked toolkit has been his confidence when driving at defenders. On his final point of the night against Chicoutimi, Simoneau dangled two opponents on his way to the net and finished his drive with a backhand slot-pass to a wide-open teammate. He uses two different dekes, once to gain the middle (an essential element of pro-calibre offence generation) and once again to fake a shot and get to his backhand for the primary assist.

This type of flash and flair has been an inconsistent occurence in Simoneau’s game when looking at his last two years, but as he has started to understand that he figures among the oldest and most developed players in his league, the 5’6” forward is finding more and more comfort in making these plays. If he continues to integrate this to his toolkit, Simoneau might just tip his NHL potential over the edge into top-six contention. The rest of his game is also very hard to knock, making him difficult not to visualize in a Habs jersey sooner than later.

William Trudeau, LD — Charlottetown Islanders

Xavier Simoneau’s teammate over in Charlottetown hasn’t put up any points since the QMJHL’s return to play, but has certainly put in the work in those two months off to continue growing his game in small increments. The prospect’s play on the defensive side has grown in leaps and bounds since his draft year, as his ability to get in the way of his opponents on the rush as well as his in-zone ability to stifle threats have developed from weaknesses into slightly above-average tools, while his offensive game continues to trend positively.

As his analytical profile indicates, Trudeau shies away from the hard-hitting game that the Habs’ scouting team seemed to favour in recent years, but is very efficient at getting possession of the puck in his zone and carrying it out. Once he reaches the second third in possession, Trudeau looks to pass it to a forward who is tasked with entering and setting up shop in the offensive zone. This is mainly how Trudeau has managed to put up more primary assists than 97% of defenders at his level, and the reason why he sits tied for eighth in the league in points. He manages the puck very well.

As Trudeau continues to play next to the likes of Lukas Cormier and behind forwards such as Simoneau or Patrick Guay, his production should continue to creep closer and closer to the point-per-game mark. The last three games might have set him back in that objective, but the way Trudeau tends to think the game is translatable and should lead to more consistent results, so long as his game without the puck continues to improve.

Riley Kidney, C — Acadie-Bathurst Titan

The Habs’ second-round pick in 2021 has played one game since the QMJHL resumed its activities, earning two assists against the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in a 5-2 win, showcasing his premier tool in his playmaking ability. His craftiness on the puck is visible on a game-to-game basis, but the way he handles the puck (ahead of him with one hand locked to his hip, rather than in his hip pocket) as well as his choppy strides and hunched-over posture, still need fine-tuning.

Kidney’s game has developed in one specific aspect that very seldom sees improvement with skilled forwards at the Junior level: his physical game. It’s one thing to gain muscle and become better along the boards as a result, but it’s another to see improvements in a skilled forward’s technique at this level. While Kidney previously struggled to cut off forwards’ access to the puck with well-timed, calculated board pins, he now seems much more comfortable doing so along the boards, showing savvy in when and how he uses his body.

What’s more, his physical game on the puck — the way he protects it with his feet, the way he uses his shoulders to maximize his reach — has taken a huge step forward since his draft year. Kidney’s added muscle is definitely one piece of the puzzle, but someone, somewhere in his development environment is watching tape with him and coaching him on these things, and he seems receptive to it so far. This is a great sign that the aforementioned elements of his game which need fine-tuning will see improvements as his development continues.

QMJHL Season to date - 2/9/2022

Player Draft Pos. League Team GP G A P P/GP PIM
Player Draft Pos. League Team GP G A P P/GP PIM
Xavier Simoneau 2021 C/LW QMJHL Charlottetown Islanders 27 15 38 53 1.96 35
Joshua Roy 2021 W/C QMJHL Sherbrooke Phoenix 29 19 33 52 1.79 20
Riley Kidney 2021 C QMJHL Acadie-Bathurst Titan 30 17 26 43 1.43 30
William Trudeau 2021 LD QMJHL Charlottetown Islanders 31 6 19 25 0.74 27

Thanks for reading — follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for more on the Habs’ prospects, and to follow along with the rest of my scouting work.