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 World Juniors are now in the rearview mirror, with Joshua Roy’s eye-opening performance at the tournament leaving a lasting impression on scouts and fans alike in Canada’s gold-medal run (not to mention his linemate, Connor Bedard, who broke records left and right on his way to becoming the highest-scoring draft-eligible prospect in the history of the tournament).
What immediately follows the World Juniors, however, is just as interesting. The CHL’s trade deadline has just passed, and, as usual, it was full of blockbusters.
From arguably the best defenceman in the circuit, Anaheim Ducks prospect Pavel Mintyukov, joining Vinzenz Rohrer’s Ottawa 67’s in exchange for nine draft picks, to Shane Wright being sent down and immediately traded to Daniil Sobolev’s Windsor Spitfires in exchange for two players and seven draft picks, it was a wild one.
In fact, two Canadiens prospects were directly involved in the action, and we’ll start there.
Riley Kidney, C/LW — Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Formerly an Acadie-Bathurst Titan, Kidney leaves his den in the Maritimes in search of a playoff run with the loaded Olympiques, who were looking for some offensive punch to push them ahead of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies for first place in their division.
In exchange, the Titan receive Carolina Hurricanes prospect Robert Orr, undrafted winger Donovan Arsenault, and a first-round pick in 2025 for the QMJHL entry draft.
Kidney’s puck skills and manipulation tools were the primary drivers of his 45-point tally in 31 games for the Titan. Although he rarely uses the middle of the ice, he would cut through the neutral zone with surgical precision, and use his creativity to find passing lanes off the boards. His desire to put pucks into dangerous ice was constant and unwavering.
It took the Habs’ second-round pick in 2021 exactly one game of growing pains in Gatineau before finding his comfort zone, exploding offensively in his second match with his new club with two primary assists and the game-winner in overtime. The lack of production in his first game can be easily explained by the fact that he was still a Titan that same morning — he caught a plane to Quebec in the afternoon, and was on their first line against the Remparts that very night.
#GoHabsGo Riley Kidney (#19 Black) with some great work in his second game with the Gatineau Olympiques as they won 4-3 in overtime against the Québec Remparts:— Hadi Kalakeche (@HadiK_Scouting) January 11, 2023
- Two great primary assists
- Overtime game-winning goal
- Inside play
- Strong in transition and in the faceoff dot pic.twitter.com/Vutx51mECF
It started off on the power play from the left half-wall, as it usually does for Kidney. He received a pass from Tristan Luneau at the left dot, and found Cam MacDonald in the bumper spot.
The setup for that pass was key. Kidney didn’t tap it his way, but rather loaded the puck in his hip pocket before feathering it into the slot, forcing the opposing box to respect him as a shooting threat.
The second primary assist was vintage Riley Kidney. He received a breakout pass at the opposing blue line on a line change, delayed and played an area pass right into Samuel Savoie’s path for a partial break. Kidney’s ability to find areas to play pucks ahead of his teammates and allow them to skate into them unopposed has always been a strength.
Then, in overtime, Kidney benefited from a passive defender and some open space to drive inside, and although that would not have been a goal against an NHL netminder and an NHL defence, the forward manages to squeeze it in while falling down to secure the win for his new team.
The impact that Kidney could have in this system, especially with the likes of Alexis Gendron, Olivier Nadeau, or Savoie as his wingers — all players who drive the net hard, know how to get open, and cut inside every chance they get — is difficult to overstate. The Habs prospect is just getting started, and with some newly-formed pro habits (hip pocket utilization and cutting across opponents’ hands), he is looking better with each passing game.
Don’t expect much more than a third-line offensive playmaker out of Kidney at the pro level (not yet at least), but he is showing some improvements in his overall game, and the progress is promising.
Owen Beck, C — Peterborough Petes (OHL)
In exchange for two players and four draft picks, the Mississauga Steelheads have ceded Owen Beck to the Petes, who add to an already loaded forward roster featuring the likes of Brennan Othmann, Connor Lockhart, and Tucker Robertson. Beck probably slots in as their second-line centre, but it’s hard to tell as the Habs’ 33rd overall pick in 2022 will join the team in the midst of a five-day break before they resume action on January 12.
The former Steelheads assistant captain and author of 40 points in 30 games — a team-leading 1.33 point-per-game average — will likely act as the Petes’ shutdown centre, as the team has struggled to keep the opposition’s score low and dropped some points as a result. Beck is one of the top faceoff-takers in the entire CHL, on top of playing a stifling defensive game centred around proactive involvement, smart positioning, active stickwork, and a non-stop motor.
Owen Beck is to replace Colton Dach. Many people were questioning Team Canada's decision to cut him. He is a @CanadiensMTL prospect.— Mitch Giguere (@Mitch_Giguere) January 1, 2023
Let's watch all of his points in the OHL since getting cut by Team Canada.#WJC #WJC2023 #MondialJunior #RDS #Tradition #ECJ @DLCoulisses pic.twitter.com/aPGWEZ43Z1
Beck’s defensive prowess doesn’t come at the detriment of his production, however. On the contrary, what makes the centre such a consistent and prolific point-getter is how often his team has the puck when he is on the ice, and how often it is a direct result of his involvement. He covers so much ground with his tremendous skating stride and top speed, his brain more than keeps up with his feet, and he offers an impressive display of relentlessness and tenacity in every puck race.
Beck is a pro. There is no doubt about it. Everything about his habits, his motor, his foot-speed, his mental speed, and to a certain extent his puck skills, screams middle-six centre. His pre-season wonders with the Habs weren’t a fluke; his game scales extremely well to the NHL. He has a chance to show how he can dominate when paired with the likes of Othmann and Robertson, if he is given the chance to be more than a shutdown centre.
Now, the next player in this breakdown wasn’t traded, but his team was very much involved at the deadline, and that leaves him in an awkward spot given who they’ve added.
Jared Davidson, C — Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
Davidson is the most prolific Junior scorer in the Canadiens’ system. In 32 games for the CHL’s number-one--ranked team, the fifth-round NHL pick in 2022 has scored 21 goals and added 30 assists for 51 points.
There is some context to that, however, which begs the question of whether Davidson will develop past just that: a prolific Junior scorer.
First and foremost, as previously mentioned, the Thunderbirds are the top ranked organization in the entire CHL this year. They boast a solid, experienced core, multiple first-round picks (Kevin Korchinski, Reid Schaefer, and Nolan Allan), and a great netminder who just returned from the World Juniors with a gold medal around his neck in Thomas Milic.
At the forefront of that is Davidson, who leads the team in goals and points. The prospect has been placed in a favourable spot, however, acting as a main trigger man for the T-Birds on the first wave of their power play, where he gets more than his fair share of looks like these:
The prospect has a weapon of a one-timer, and the physical tools to get open even when pressured. He does lack severely in the skating department, and there isn’t much advanced manipulation or forethought in his game, which are two elements he can do without at this current level. He overpowers and out-positions his opponents most of the time.
What doesn’t help him is that Seattle just added two centres who played in the World Juniors to their roster before the deadline. First, they acquired Colton Dach from the Kelowna Rockets, then added another first-round pick in Brad Lambert, who was sent down to the WHL by the Winnipeg Jets despite a strong showing in the AHL so far.
Dach is out until March. Kirby’s younger brother sustained a tournament-ending injury in the World Juniors and will need a couple of months before being cleared. But Lambert’s presence on this roster poses a problem. Davidson could very well see himself relegated to the second line as a result.
An easy solution would be to work Davidson out to the wing and have Lambert be his pivot. And there isn’t a better fit for the 20-year-old than Lambert. Where Davidson struggles to contribute in transition due to his heavy stride and heel-strikes, Lambert has just about a perfect skating stride. Where Davidson is a reliable finisher with strong physical tools, Lambert is a smart playmaker with limited contributions along the boards due to subpar strength and mechanics. Pair the two together, and you have a transition ace and playmaker with a goal-scorer and puck-winner. Complementary skills are what make a line better than the sum of its parts.
Once Dach comes back from injury, however, something’s going to have to budge. A first line of Dach-Lambert-Ciona is more likely once that time comes, leaving Davidson in the backseat as the second-line centre.
Lane Hutson, LD — Boston University (NCAA)
After winning a bronze medal with Team USA in an absolute barn-burner of a final game against Sweden (8-7 scores very rarely happen that far into the World Juniors) and earning four points in seven games as the youngest defenceman on that blue line, Hutson immediately hopped on a plane and headed to Arizona to partake in the Desert Hockey Classic with BU.
After playing Canada on January 4 and Sweden on January 5, Hutson played the Air Force Academy on the 6th, and then Michigan Tech on the 7th, making it four games in four days for a jetlagged Hutson.
He earned an assist in a 5-1 win for BU against the Air Force Academy, while being on the ice for four of those five goals, and then earned another assist the next day in a losing effort against Michigan Tech. Fellow Habs prospect Luke Tuch also earned an assist in that game, but wasn’t as dominant as Hutson looked in that back-to-back.
All the typical, jaw-dropping Hutson work was there despite the loaded schedule — head fakes, stops-and-starts, blue-line carries, highly intelligent breakout and slot passes, all of the things we have come to expect of Hutson were just as present in this showcase.
To go back to Hutson’s World Juniors performance, here’s a stat sheet that more or less summarizes the prospect’s strengths and weaknesses:
There are a lot of reasons for MTL to be excited about Lane Hutson. Maybe the best playmaking blueliner in the tournament at 5v5, tons of pucks to the middle and advantages created overall. Struggled to defend the rush, but did better in-zone. #GoHabsGo https://t.co/aQ0bMu8Fwc pic.twitter.com/4JxcxZFCjz— Lassi Alanen (@lassialanen) January 6, 2023
He provided lots of passes to the slot, lots of pucks off the boards and toward the middle of the ice, lots of advantages created all over the ice, but also a lot of trouble preventing opponents from entering the defensive zone. If you had shown me the data sheet without the name at the top, I would have guessed this was Hutson.
The lack of proper footwork and backward mobility hinders Hutson in transition, especially against the raw speed displayed throughout this tournament by more than one team. It wasn’t easy, however, based on overall impact, Hutson was outstanding. Especially as a freshly drafted prospect with one more year of eligibility for the tournament. His ability to come right back from two of the biggest games of his young hockey career and pick up right where he left off is worth noting.
Everything hinges upon his ability to improve his four-way mobility and overall posture. If he manages it, the Habs have something special on their hands.
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!