There has been lots of talk over the years about the Canadiens’ ability to draft and develop their prospects. I have personally gone on record to say that I am not a fan of Trevor Timmins’ recent body of work (from 2012 to 2018) and strongly feel like a change is needed in that regard.
Nonetheless, the Canadiens brass has acquired a great deal many prospects over the last 4 drafts than in the previous 6. This has allowed the Canadiens to amass many prospects (especially outside the first round). Their prospect pool depth was once seen as some of the best in the NHL (at the time included Suzuki, Caufield, Poehling, Romanov, etc), but since many have graduated or are in the process of graduating to the NHL, a new wave of prospects has taken up the ranks.
At first glance, prospects like Riley Kidney, Joshua Roy, Kaiden Guhle, Jesse Ylönen, Jan Mysak and Sean Farrell aren’t as “sexy” as past prospects like Suzuki or Caufield (MVPs in their own junior-level leagues). Yet, with Guhle being the only 1st round pick of the lot, it’s the extra value being brought by these later round picks that grabs the most amount of attention.
Players like Kidney, Farrell and Roy have exploded onto the scene this season and are really showing that the Canadiens continue to make solid picks outside the traditional top-60 picks of an NHL Draft. Other like Mysak, Ylönen, Xavier Simoneau and Jordan Harris took a little time to get going, but look to be in full control of their game moving forward.
There’s a great deal of depth to be had in the Habs’ prospect pool, and the hope is that one or two of them will be impactful NHL players once they reach maturity. Let’s take a look at who’s had the most promising start to the season this year and could possibly rise well above expectations to be an impact player in the NHL:
The case of Riley Kidney is a unique one. He was a little hidden playing in the Maritime Division last year in the QMJHL. Since live viewings weren’t allowed in the 1st half of the season, due to Covid-19, it wasn’t possible for scouts to truly be at games and see the little things he did to control games. When the QMJHL re-opened in 2021, Kidney was one of the most dominant players in the league. His playoffs production (putting up 17 points in 9 games) cemented him as a 2nd round pick with a lot of upside.
Luckily, the Canadiens were able to get a lot of viewings in and caught the best of Kidney. His style likely reminded him of a young Nick Suzuki, as they play a similar game based on elite hockey IQ and deceptive skill.
A few months removed of being drafted in the 2nd round, Kidney has started his 2021-2022 season right where he left off last year. He’s put up a staggering 13 goals and 17 assists for 30 points in just 20 games, good for 6th place in scoring in all the QMJHL. It’s not just the point total increase over last season that’s impressive, it’s also how he’s utilizing his skill, vision and on-ice awareness to impose his pace on the ice.
What I find is different this season vs last season is how much more confident he is in driving toward the net and swooping on lose pucks. This has resulted in a sharp increase in goal scoring. Kidney put up 13 goals in 33 games last year, and has matched already matched that goal production in 20 games so far this season.
He’s using his hands and making elite plays around the net to get shots off faster and with more confidence than last year. This highlight reel goal is an example of how Kidney has really begun breaking out of his shell and using his elite hands, in-tight and under pressure, to add to his goal totals so far.
I honestly feel like Kidney has a lot of untapped potential left in him and is one of the Canadiens’ best prospects. With a few years of training to grow into his frame and improve his speed, he has all the makings of an NHL Center. The question is simply where will he slot in the lineup?
The former 1st overall pick in the QMJHL did not have a good go with the Saint John Sea Dogs and requested a trade halfway through the year. He was traded to the Sherbrooke Phoenix, where they got him on the right dietary and training plan and the youngster dropped 25 pounds in a few months. As this was happening, you saw his game evolve, as he had more jump in his first few steps and began scoring much more regularly (putting up 13 goals in his 20 games with Sherbrooke, good for a 42 goal pace in a regular season).
Since being drafted by the Canadiens in the 5th round of the 2021 draft, Joshua Roy looks like a man on a mission. He impressed at Habs Rookie Camp, outplaying all the other prospects, and then impressed at Habs Training Camp. Since being sent back to the QMJHL, he’s hit the ground running in the QMJHL so far this year. He sits 3rd in scoring with 12 goals and 20 assists for 32 points in 19 games. This in spite of the fact that people thought the Sherbrooke Phoenix would be a bottom-feeding club this season.
He and overager Xavier Parent formed one of the more dangerous duos in the league (probably second only to Shawinigan’s Xavier Bourgault-Mavrik Bourque combo). Together with import players David Spacek and Ivan Zhigalov, they’ve vaulted the Phoenix up the standings, but, make no mistake, Joshua Roy has been at the head of this march to the top and deserves a ton of praise.
Roy’s greatly improved his on-ice awareness and the speed of his decisions. Couple these improvements with a 25-pound drop in weight and he’s absolutely flying out there. He provides great support for his teammates and is always headed toward the net to unleash his cannon of a shot. He’s extremely dangerous on the powerplay at the left circle and is often facing double-coverage, yet still manages to find ways to shake off defenders and gets pucks past all those bodies and in nets (a skill that will serve him later on).
He’s always been known as goal-scorer first and foremost, but he’s getting to areas faster and with more power, and this allows him to make a multitude of offensive plays (instead of always relying on his shot). Case in point, the below sequence shows Roy’s hustle, as he chases down a puck. In the past, that puck would have been a low-percentage shot aimed at the top, short-side corner. This season, Roy has much more confidence in his playmaking ability, fooling all the defenders on this play and make a slick pass to teammate Julien Anctil, who couldn’t believe the puck got to him, for an easy tap in goal.
Roy has been the surprise of the Canadiens’ 2021 Draft class in my opinion, with many fans already ready to anoint him a steal coming out of the 5th round. He’s on pace with 1st round selections like Bourque or Bourgault at the moment and fans do have something to be excited about here. His messy situation with Saint-John and the lack of an NHL Combine this year likely helped the Habs scoop up a player that evidently went far too late in this draft.
Is this really a surprise or more of the same? After putting up over 100 points for the USHL’s Chicago Steel last season, many wondered what Farrell’s transition to the NCAA would look like. Short answer: More of the same.
Playing for the Harvard Crimson, Farrell plays on a dybamite team that also includes Calgary 1st rounder, and former Chicago Steel teammate, Matt Coronato. The chemistry between the two remains as sizzling as it was last season. However, it’s the changes in Farrell’s individual game that I appreciate the most since the start of the season.
Labeled as a perimeter player in his draft year, Farrell now goes to the high danger areas and sets up shop there fearlessly going to where many shy away from. Farrell has the ability to evade the eye of defenders and find holes in coverage quite well, this allows him to attack the high danger areas and creative offensive chances like the one below.
It’s also important to point out that he isn’t shying away from the physical player either. He’s going in the corners and being combative, another added element to his game that I find pleasantly surprising from his draft year (where former teammates Sam Colangelo and Brendan Brisson used to do most of the dirty work). Yet, despite playing against bigger, tougher and older competition, Farrell seems to have just adapted to the environment and plays with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder (which is great when you’re a smaller player). As an example, on the sequence below, he and Jordan Harris (Canadiens 3rd round in 2018) battle for a puck, and he outworks Harris to the puck, cycling back to a teammate and up to the point for the goal.
These little details in his game explain why he’s started off so strong this season. He’s put up an impressive 5 goals and 7 assists for 12 points in just 8 games (Harvard started the season far later than most NCAA programs). He’s tied for the lead in scoring with teammate (and Maple Leafs prospect) Nick Abbruzzese and is one of the most productive players in the entire NCAA at this moment from a points-per-game standpoint. Certainly a player to watch throughout the season, as he continues to prove he had no business being drafted as late as he was. Of all the Habs’ prospects, he’s the one with the bigest boom or bust potential, but the boom could be huge.
More to Come
That’s a wrap for this week. I’ll be checking in next week to review the early season successes of other Habs prospects like QMJHL leading scorer Xavier Simoneau, Jan Mysak and, possibly the next callup for the Canadiens, Jesse Ylönen.
Keep it posted on Scrimmage and Stats and check out our podcast The Hockey Flow for more prospect and Habs-relate content.