The 2021 NHL Draft was a strange one. To begin with, we had heard that there wasn’t this top-tier talent we’ve seen in years past. Add on the uncertain status surrounding many a prospect due to the COVID-19 restrictions and the lack of play time it meant.
When the Montreal Canadiens went up to the podium in the first round, at least I was expecting a forward to be selected. Due to the scarcity of quality defensive prospects and players like Carson Lambos and Corson Ceulemans having been taken just picks earlier, it seemed like a good opportunity to pounce on a Logan Stankoven or a Francesco Pinelli; both expected first-rounders who were yet to be chosen.
Instead, Montreal went with a towering right-handed defenceman, to possibly pair with the mountain of a left-handed defenceman they had selected the year before.
One day later, when Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins went back to the podium to pick back-to-back, I wasn’t sure what to expect. If the abbreviated season had made it difficult to get a grasp on the top-ranked players, it felt even more difficult to know which players would be favoured as the Canadiens’ draft picks late in the second round.
In the end, they went the local route with the first of their two selections, meaning the team got to welcome Halifax native Riley Kidney from Acadie-Bathurst Titan as their second choice of the 2021 Draft.
Here he is now, making his debut on the Top 25 Under 25 in spot number 17.
For being a new prospect in the system and on the list, the ratings on Kidney were surprisingly unified. All voters, including the community, had him in the top 22, with a vote discrepancy of only seven.
I myself had him at number 20, sandwiched in between the eldermen Rafaël Harvey-Pinard and Brett Stapley.
Nathan Ni: This was the new-toy syndrome basically. He got bumped because he was a new draftee with a more undefined ceiling compared to guys who are further along and have more defined ceilings.
Jared Book: I just put him behind established pros and behind guys ranked ahead of him going into the draft. The players I put ahead of him I like more more rather than having anything against him.
Scott Matla: His playoffs were impressive and he has talent. I would just like to see that playoff production become his regular-season rate. I’d like to see more consistency before putting him higher up the list.
History of #17
|2013||Jacob de la Rose|
Kidney is a highly skilled player at the QMJHL level. His vision stands out as a positive combined with his playmaking ability and scoring prowess. It all came together for him in the playoffs, where he carried his Titan past the Maritimes Round Robin. Ultimately, he drew a shorter straw in the series against Charlottetown, but Kidney had demonstrated a second gear. During the nine games, he fell just short of an average of two points per game. In the final two contests against the Islanders, Kidney assisted on five of his team’s six goals.
He’s a centre with flair and playmaking as his major assets. It sounds like a story we’ve heard before on this list, and Kidney mentioned in his post-draft interview that one of the professionals he models his game after is 2020’s reigning number one, Nick Suzuki.
We know from the development of players like Cole Caufield and Jesse Ylönen that average or subpar skating doesn’t have to be average or subpar forever. Nowadays, skating pace has become a skill you can improve even after you’re drafted. However, if you are a traditionalist hockey fan, you are not going to like hearing that both size and skating are considered Kidney’s main knocks going into his first year as a drafted prospect. Weighing in at 168 pounds and with average footspeed, Kidney has been able to outsmart many defenders on his way through the Junior ranks. Going forward, he would do well to both bulk up and get the help from a coach to raise his tempo.
So far, he is an offensive dynamo whose defence still needs refining. Then again, if he was already a fully developed 200-foot centreman, he wouldn’t have lasted until late in the second round.
At this point in time, Kidney is an unproven commodity. In recent years, we’ve seen Canadiens prospects like Allan McShane, Cam Hillis, and Cam Houde light up their Junior leagues, without (thus far) turning into names to be reckoned with at a higher level.
Getting drafted is not the end. It’s the beginning. Like Joshua Roy, Kidney has two years to prove his worth to Montreal. With that in mind, he would do well do build on his impressive playoff run and use this upcoming season as a personal improvement challenge for himself. There are dozens of players in the WHL, OHL and QMJHL who can quarterback a power play, and he will need to flesh out his game from that role.
When Cole Caufield noticed that he was getting too good for the NCAA, he continued to work not only on his lethal shot, but also the more lacking aspects of his game, like his defensive effort and his playmaking. If Kidney does similarly and demonstrates the urge to improve on his current deficiencies during the next few years, there is no reason why his hockey future shouldn’t be a bright one.