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2022 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: #15 Riley Kidney

One of the best playmakers in the QMJHL clocks in at 15 on our list this year.

NHL: JUL 12 Montreal Canadiens Development Camp Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a stellar run of 17 points in nine games in the 2020-21 QMJHL Playoffs, Riley Kidney rose on some draft boards ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft. The Montreal Canadiens decided to make him a second-round pick, and the hope was that he could show some progression coming off that eye-opening post-season run.

He did just that, leading the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in points, and being one of seven players in the league to hit the 100-point plateau. The Halifax product at the very least proved that his previous playoff run was not an anomaly.

Elite Prospects

He had perhaps the least amount of fanfare for a player to score 100 points in the CHL last year. That said, not only did he crack that plateau, his 70 assists were enough to tie him for the league lead in the QMJHL. The progression was there, and it even put him on the map for Team Canada at the summer rerun of the World Junior Hockey Championship.

He was a depth member of that championship group, barely seeing any ice in the tournament, but merely getting on the radar with them was a testament to how good his season was. He even got a call to join the Laval Rocket as a Black Ace for their playoff run, and though he didn’t see any ice there either, he might find himself with that opportunity again toward the end of this year.

He’ll be back with the Titan for the majority of this season, but with the Canadiens organization taking notice of his play, it could be his final season in the QMJHL.

Voting

At this point on the list, we start to see voting ranges get a little tighter. All of our panellists, including the community vote, see Kidney as a member of the Top 25 at varying positions between 10 and 22.

I was that high vote, choosing him to round out my top-10. I find it rare in players his age to see IQ like his coupled with dazzling puck skills, and I have a lot of faith that he will eventually become a valuable player at the NHL level.

Top 25 Under 25 History

Kidney jumps two spots from his debut at 17 last year. It’s not a big leap, but given the depth of this year’s prospect pool, any rise should be considered an impressive one.

History of #15

Year #15
Year #15
2021 Logan Mailloux
2020 Jayden Struble
2019 Jake Evans
2018 Cale Fleury
2017 Will Bitten
2016 Jacob de la Rose
2015 Devante Smith-Pelly
2014 Tim Bozon
2013 Magnus Nygren
2012 Ryan White
2011 Andreas Engqvist
2010 Mathieu Carle

Strengths

Kidney is about as smart a 19-year-old player as you’ll come across. His hockey IQ, positioning, awareness, and ability to anticipate plays on the ice are all evident when watching him. He generates a lot of his offence by recognizing what the other team is doing, cutting off passes, and turning the opposing team’s transition on its head.

Once he gets into the offensive zone, he is a pure playmaker. He has elite vision, and uses deceptive movement to push defenders around and open up space to feed his linemates. His passes are crisp, accurate, and he can thread the needle when his movement isn’t enough to open up a wider lane. He makes it incredibly hard to predict where he is sending the puck, and even if you can get a read on him, he can exploit the narrowest of passing lanes.

That movement is another significant strength. He has those puck-on-a-string type dangles that can embarrass defenders, and scored a number of goals last year on highlight-reel individual efforts when he had a mind for it. He is at times reminiscent of Nick Suzuki in how he can slow the game down when he wants to, then put on a display that puts would-be checkers in a blender.

Weaknesses

He has a good shot, and though it lacks elite velocity, the main knock on his game is a lack of volume. To produce more at the professional level, he will need a little more variety to his shots, as his preferred method of undressing defenders and getting to the net will be much tougher in the next stage of his career.

I am always hesitant to include size as a weakness, but Kidney does need some more bulk to compete as a centre. At around 170 pounds, he isn’t small, but he lacks the strength to really compete in puck battles both in the offensive and defensive zones. The decision of whether or not he gets converted to the wing on a permanent basis could depend on this.

Interestingly enough, in the few shifts he got to play as a depth forward for Team Canada at the World Juniors, he was laying the body more than you typically saw during the QMJHL season. Hopefully this is a sign of physical development that he can take into the coming season and beyond.

Projection

His IQ and ability to connect plays enable him to be inserted almost anywhere in a lineup, and this will make him a good bet to play in the NHL one day. His upside is that of a top-six centre, with the versatility for the team to convert him to the wing depending on how things shake out. Improved skating and physicality would go a long way to him realizing this potential.

He is also a player with a relatively high floor. I think that a worst-case scenario sees him as a valuable bottom-six forward with the ability to play up in the lineup when the need arises. It would be surprising if he doesn’t at least become an NHL regular one day, as players who process the game as well as he does can generally find themselves a home at the professional level.

Perhaps the role he can carve out for himself at this winter’s World Juniors will be telling. Though he didn’t get much ice time in August, quite a few players from that squad are now headed for the NHL or aging out of the tournament, so he could have a shot at some significant minutes.

The Canadiens can also afford to take their time with him, so if he performs well this year, I really like his chances to join the Laval Rocket next year, where we can find out how well his game translates to the professional level.