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Catching The Torch: QMJHL playoff grades

The QMJHL crop has left the playoff race. We review each of Joshua Roy, Riley Kidney, Xavier Simoneau, and William Trudeau’s post-season performance.

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

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.

The CHL playoffs are rolling on, and all three major leagues have either started or finished their finals. On the QMJHL’s side, the Shawinigan Cataractes eliminated the Charlottetown Islanders in five games, earning the President’s Cup awarded to the QMJHL playoffs’ champions.

Xavier Simoneau and William Trudeau’s Islanders put up a good fight despite the 4-1 defeat, climbing back from multi-goal leads, winning 7-0 in Game 4, and clawing away at the best one-two punch in the league in Dallas’ Mavrik Bourque and Edmonton’s Xavier Bourgault to try and neutralize them. Bourque and Bourgault were simply too talented to stop, as the two ended the series with eight and nine points respectively.

Just like that, all of the Habs’ QMJHL prospects have seen their playoffs come to an end.

This marks the final season of Simoneau’s illustrious QMJHL career as well. The 21-year-old leaves the league having earned 314 points in 252 regular-season games, as well as 38 points in 43 postseason matches.

In Joshua Roy’s case, who knows? He signed an Amateur Try-Out contract to join the Laval Rocket on their playoff run after being eliminated by Simoneau and Trudeau’s Islanders and didn’t look out of place in the slightest.

Both Trudeau and Riley Kidney are expected to stay in the Q for another year or two before joining the Habs’ pro pipeline, but also put up outstanding performances in the postseason.

We’ll grade the performances of each of the four Habs’ QMJHL prospects now that their playoff runs have come to an end, and look into how their projections have been influenced by their recent play.

Joshua Roy, C/W — Sherbrooke Phoenix

Result: semifinals elimination (1-3 vs. Charlottetown)

Playoff performance grade: A+

The QMJHL’s regular-season scoring leader with 119 points in 66 games, Roy decided he wasn’t done stepping up. His eight goals and 15 assists in 11 postseason games represent a QMJHL playoff-leading 2.09 point-per-game rate, which eclipsed his regular-season rate of 1.80, albeit in 1/5th of the sample size.

To the very end, Roy was involved, dedicated and gave his team the best shot to win, being kept off the scoresheet only once against Charlottetown and scoring three points in the 4-3 loss that kicked the Phoenix out of the playoff race.

His skating has improved a decent amount since the start of the season. He still doesn’t have anywhere near the work rate of Simoneau, but compared to where he was, there’s a mile of difference. His posture is slightly more projectable, with his knees bending slightly more and his ankles grabbing more ice with each stride. There still isn’t much flexion in his foot, which limits his skating power, but the technical improvements are noticeable — more crossover usage, hip activation, and stronger legs.

The more I watched Roy’s playmaking habits in the Q, the less impressed with them I came away. His scoring tools are outstanding — the shot, the hand-eye coordination, the off-puck positioning, all project very well — but it seems like Roy likes to constantly feed pucks to the front of the net, whether that’s the right play or not. It works at his current level, but it won’t in the pros. That’s why it was imperative for me to watch Roy in his game with the Rocket, to see if he is aware of that fact, and it seemed like he was.

After an attempt or two, which were probably just out of habit, the Habs’ 2021 fifth-round pick adjusted his play and started making reads, playing pucks to teammates in favorable areas to prolong offensive sequences and skating the puck into dangerous ice himself rather than throwing most of his passes towards the slot. Roy’s adaptability will help him greatly in climbing the echelons of pro hockey, and if he shows up to training camp next fall and shows he belongs in the NHL, there isn’t much use in playing a prospect at a level for which he is already too talented.

Riley Kidney, C — Acadie-Bathurst Titan

Result: quarterfinals elimination (0-3 vs. Charlottetown)

Playoff performance grade: B+

Kidney was the Titan’s second-best player behind Washington’s Hendrix Lapierre — he excelled in the faceoff circle and made strong reads in all three zones to drive pucks towards the opponent’s end. This was more apparent in the first round, as his team faced the Halifax Mooseheads and came back from 2-0 down to win the series 3-2. He earned eight points in those five games, including a four-point performance in Game 3 to kickstart the series comeback and the triple-overtime game-winning goal in Game 4.

He was then kept off the scoresheet entirely in round two by Simoneau, Trudeau and the Isles, although the Titan were limited to a goal in each of the three games they played against the eventual QMJHL finalists. He struggled when faced with their top two lines, not seeing much of the puck despite fighting hard to try and get it back due to Charlottetown’s possession game being much more refined than the Titan’s.

His defensive positioning remains an issue, but he has added tools to his arsenal that will allow his offensive game to translate better, such as his improving shot and physical play. The main teaching for him moving forward will be to gain the middle of the ice more frequently. He tends to remain on the periphery with the puck, especially on the playmaking side. Executing through the middle of the ice and gaining that area off the boards is an essential tool of pro-level offence creation, and incorporating that into his game will make Kidney a much more projectable scorer.

His skating needs some work, as his stride lacks punch and explosiveness. He can struggle with exiting turns, although the way he receives pucks in motion and adjusts his skates to accept incoming passes makes up for his mechanical shortcomings. Expect Kidney to return to the Q next season and try once more to light it up.

Xavier Simoneau, C/LW — Charlottetown Islanders

Result: finals elimination (1-4 vs. Shawinigan)

Playoff performance grade: B+

Simoneau put a decent bow on his final games in the QMJHL, scoring four goals and adding a league-leading 17 assists in 14 playoff games. The only reason he doesn’t receive a higher grade is the number of avoidable penalties he took for the Isles, which even cost them Game 2 in overtime against Shawinigan in the finals when he batted a puck in mid-air with his hand off of a contested face-off.

Simoneau clearly didn’t agree with the call, but a rule’s a rule. Even more egregious, however, was Simoneau’s penalty for hitting from behind on May 30, which led to a five-minute power-play for Sherbrooke with the Isles up 4-1. This almost sparked a comeback, as Xavier Parent scored two goals (both assisted by Roy), during and right after the five-minute man-advantage.

Outside of his lack of discipline, there really isn’t much to criticize in Simoneau’s game. His playmaking is unmatched in the QMJHL — his ability to both find and create seams was on full display in this playoff run. On top of that, no one battles like he does. He would single-handedly prolong offensive sequences with his hard forechecking, creating turnovers out of nothing and being a thorn in the side of defenders throughout the postseason.

Simoneau should be signing his entry-level contract shortly, and will likely begin with Laval in the fall. I mentioned on the Habsent Minded podcast with Patrik Bexell that the 5-foot-7 forward might end up being a fan-favourite by the end of his development curve. His feistiness and leadership are infectious, and he has a bunch of pro-ready elements that are tailored to his lack of size. I wouldn’t be shocked to see him put an NHL defender on his rear in a couple of years, whether with his hands or his surprisingly effective physical game.

William Trudeau, LD — Charlottetown Islanders

Result: finals elimination (1-4 vs. Shawinigan)

Playoff performance grade: A

Trudeau was nothing short of outstanding in the Isles’ playoff run. He had already displayed some above-average offensive tools in his regular season, scoring eight goals and adding 36 assists for 44 points in 68 games, but he took a major step up on both sides of the puck throughout the postseason.

Trudeau scored seven goals in 14 games, adding four assists to his tally as well. He carried pucks into dangerous ice on numerous occasions and was great at defending the rush. He was able to use his mobility to close off dangerous ice and direct opponents towards supporting teammates.

Most of his goals came off of offensive activations like these — instances where Trudeau skated or retrieved pucks in the bottom half of the attacking zone. He didn’t hesitate to jump down into the cycle to keep plays alive and ended up on dangerous ice with the puck on his stick on numerous occasions.

Trudeau consistently made good decisions with and without the puck offensively throughout this series. He was second league-wide to his teammate Lukas Cormier in shots on goal, and third in points, despite getting much less time on the power play as a result of Cormier’s offensive dominance.

His defensive game still needs some polishing. With the puck in his own zone, he is consistently able to alleviate forechecking pressure and make tough decisions quickly with players on his back, but without the puck, he tends to struggle to clear the front of the net and keep up with cycles. His offensive habits are good enough to project him as a solid bottom-four transitional defender who can work out a power-play role down the line.

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!