Welcome back 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.
After grading every prospect in the pipeline on their regular-season performances, it’s playoff time. The best time of the year to evaluate a prospect’s ability to respond to heightened pace of play, internal and external pressure, as well as their ability to dig deep and find extra gears within their game.
Despite a full season of intense physical strain, the prospects mentioned below have managed to extend, or even exceed, the impact they’ve shown throughout the campaign, and deserve a mention for their performances to date.
We’ll start with the QMJHL’s standouts, and work our way out West towards the OHL and WHL to continue our analysis of the Habs pipeline’s most clutch performers.
Joshua Roy, LW/C — Sherbrooke Phoenix
It’s almost comical to think that Roy could outperform his regular season with the Phoenix — his league-leading 119 points in 66 games set a bar that seemed too high to raise even further. But here we are, seven games into Roy’s playoff run, and he’s got five goals and 11 assists for 16 points.
He currently leads all QMJHL prospects along with his teammate Xavier Parent in playoff points and earned seven of his 16 tallies on the power play. He sits second league-wide in shots on goal (36) and ninth in dangerous shots (17). Simply put, he’s carrying his team offensively.
The variety with which he’s managed to create offence is what is especially promising. His hand-eye coordination, his off-puck positioning, his shooting off the rush and on the cycle, his open-ice playmaking, his one-touch play, so many areas are clicking for him at the moment. Even defensively it seems like Roy has found a second gear. He backchecks hard, gets involved in puck battles more regularly, and does a great job of anticipating passes and cutting them off.
With the way the Phoenix are performing at the moment, hopes of Roy joining Riley Kidney in Laval on an amateur try-out are dying off quickly. It’s still a possibility if his team somehow collapses, but the odds of that are slim with the team being 6-0-1 in their seven playoff matches to date.
William Trudeau, LD — Charlottetown Islanders
Trudeau has stood out massively in the Islanders’ post-season, especially since making himself a regular option on the power play. The prospect has scored three goals and added three assists in only five games, after posting 44 points in 68 games during the regular season, only eight of which were goals. He has been using his accurate release with more regularity, especially from the top of the left circle, taking one more shot per game on average than he did before the playoffs started.
Took a while, but #GoHabsGo William Trudeau opens the scoring between the Titan and Islanders in game one.— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) May 15, 2022
Just a textbook clapper on the power play. Third playoff goal for the defender. pic.twitter.com/WjpkLJZUpa
His defensive habits have also been impressive, continuing with the progress he had shown throughout the campaign. Despite the added pressure, Trudeau has remained composed and calculated in his timing, while still raising the overall intensity of his play. He holds both blue lines efficiently when defending transitions, choosing his moments well to either step up or step back.
His playmaking has also been a strength throughout the post-season, especially in terms of his breakout game. He finds small area passes to facilitate his team’s offensive transitions, an adjustment that is likely tactical in essence.
The Isles mainly relied on Trudeau to skate out of his zone and find a forward to carry the puck past the offensive blue line, whereas against the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, multi-pass sequences in transition were both frequent and lethal. The Isles have yet to win a game so far — small tactical and individual adjustments like these have contributed to that.
Trudeau’s defensive development would still be accelerated by playing in a league where more awareness is required — the main knock on the QMJHL is how offence-heavy it can be, and how little defenders need to do in order to stifle plays effectively. The sooner the Varennes-native turns pro, the better his odds are of making major steps forward in his game off the puck.
Arber Xhekaj, LD — Hamilton Bulldogs
While the 2022 post-season has been lackluster for most of the Habs’ OHL prospects, Xhekaj has stood out massively for the Bulldogs. After posting 34 points in 51 games split between the Kitchener Rangers and his current team, the 21-year-old has scored four goals and added four assists through nine playoff matches. The prospect also sits second among all OHL blue-liners with almost four shots on goal per game.
Overage @CanadiensMTL prospect Arber Xhekaj (@ArberXhekaj_) goes upstairs over the shoulder of Vrbetic to give the @BulldogsOHL a 5-2 third period lead.— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) May 21, 2022
WATCH #HAMvsNB ️ : https://t.co/N1uF6SWD9A pic.twitter.com/EXUHL9TBUM
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound defenceman’s aggressive mindset isn’t only prevalent in his shooting tendencies. His in-zone game has been just as punishing as it’s been throughout the regular season, and the prospect has accumulated 24 penalty minutes as a result. The Bulldogs also have yet to lose a game this post-season, and Xhekaj’s performances have been a contributing factor.
To a certain extent, these playoffs have added some intrigue to Xhekaj’s profile as a prospect. To be able to perform at a high level as a physically dominant 21-year-old in a Junior league is one thing, but to display intelligence, composure and growth in terms of puck skills is another. Xhekaj doesn’t exclusively rely on his physique to drive results, his game is becoming more and more polished, and he’s found an extra gear in this post-season.
Kaiden Guhle, LD — Edmonton Oil Kings
The Oil Kings have only lost one game so far this post-season, and Guhle has been a major part of that success. The left-shot blue-liner sits second on his entire team in points with four goals and seven assists in 11 games and has looked even more dominant than usual on the defensive side.
There were nights when absolutely nothing could get past him. His tremendous positioning and physicality along with his fluid edgework and aggressive mindset made him a nightmare for opposing forwards to try and overtake. On top of that, his offensive game has taken off and improved in a massive way. Small blueline angle adjustments, patient offensive zone incursions, give-and-go plays, and more are among his skillset where there was once a noticeable lack of offensive poise.
A great example of Guhle’s offensive growth is this goal in Game 3 against the Winnipeg Ice. In his draft year, he likely would have angled left slightly, without taking actual steps towards the middle, and whipped a wrister through traffic. Two years later, the prospect is now comfortable taking three steps to the inside in order to free up a shot lane and maximize his chances of getting the puck on net. When that option doesn’t present himself, Guhle is more than comfortable readjusting and finding a free teammate to prolong the offensive sequence.
It’s almost unanimous: Guhle will be an NHLer next year. There shouldn’t be any doubt about his projectability on the defensive side, and even though his offensive game still requires some tweaks, he’s making strides towards improving the details of his puck skills and his decisions in the final third.
Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for more on Habs’ prospects, and to keep up with the rest of my scouting work!