It wasn't just a matter of restocking the ranks with local talent, though that's certainly a key part of the team's strategy, seeing as they've recently introduced a third professional hockey team to the province, the Trois Rivieres Lions (ECHL).
There are plenty of crucial positions to fill, and the Canadiens are clearly focused on giving local talent an opportunity to thrive in those roles.
But there was also a logistics component to the draft.
Given the QMJHL played more games than the OHL, which cancelled its 2020-21 season, and the WHL, which scheduled a significantly shorter season than usual, there were simply more opportunities to watch QMJHL players in action this year.
The Canadiens also invited several players from the QMJHL to their development camp, including Miguel Tourigny (Blainville-Boisbriand Armada), Bennett MacArthur (Acadie-Bathurst Titan) and Charles-Antoine Pilote (Moncton Wildcats).
Six years ago we saw the number of players drafted from the QMJHL drop significantly, but we're seeing a steady bounce back in the last few seasons. That trend speaks to the cyclical nature of talent in various leagues, which tends to reset every 3 or 4 years.
The first player the Canadiens plucked from their backyard was Acadie-Bathurst center, Riley Kidney. Chosen with the 63rd overall pick, Kidney filters all the information available through his best asset: his intelligence.
Kidney turned 18 in late March, but due to his penchant for making the right decision at the right time, he quickly became one of the Titan's most trusted players. He shone particularly bright in the playoffs, where he led all players in scoring until his team was eliminated, with 2 goals and 15 assists in just 9 games.
To give you an idea of how impressive his playoff production was this year, one need just compare his scoring rate to the rest of the league. His 1.89 points per game were tied with 2020 first-round pick Dawson Mercer for first overall in the playoffs among players who played six or more games.
His playmaking and decision-making abilities are already bordering on elite, and he's improved his skating significantly throughout the last season, an area previously identified as a weakness for Kidney. But the most encouraging aspect of this young man's development has been his ability to produce at 5-on-5. He's not padding his numbers on the PP, as evidenced by the fact that 28 of his 38 regular-season points came during even-strength situations.
He projects as a responsible, versatile center, who may eventually make his way into the Canadiens' top-six, thanks to his underrated production, which should increase once he's allotted a little more time on the power play.
Defenseman William Trudeau (4th round, 113th overall) joined Kidney as the second QMJHL player chosen by the Canadiens. Trudeau was considered a steal by some, seeing as he was ranked between 65th and 75th by a few pre-Draft publications.
Thanks to his ability to make smart, efficient plays, Trudeau played in every situation for the Charlottetown Islanders this season, notching an impressive 31 points in 40 games, the 8th highest point total among all the league's defenders.
Like Kidney, Trudeau could stand to work on his skating, though when discussing prospects, a need to improve skating is certainly no longer the death knell it once was. There is a bevvy of training regimens available to help young players not only improve their overall speed but also their lateral transitions and opening strides.
But if you had to bet a nickel on the best value Draft pick in 2021, you may want to consider the Canadiens' 5th-round pick, Joshua Roy (C/LW).
There's always variance in Draft rankings, but the first overall pick of the 2019 QMJHL Draft was ranked in the early-to-mid-40s by several publications. The lowest available ranking had him going as a late third-round pick. The Canadiens managed to snag Roy with the 150th overall pick.
Tweet from @PhoenixSherbroo: F��licitations �� Joshua Roy qui remporte le 4e et dernier troph��e ROYER de la saison : il succ��de F��lix Robert au troph��e du joueur coup de c��ur de l'ann��e 2020-2021. Avez-vous h��te de le voir jouer en vrai au Palais des sports? 🤩F��licitations Josh ! 🏆🏆 pic.twitter.com/xOUnoaf4Xo
Roy is yet another intelligent player, one that thrives when controlling the puck in an offensive role. He creates time and space for his teammates, owing to high-end vision and very good playmaking, but his greatest strength is probably his shot. Roy scored 22 times in 33 games this year, a fairly impressive mark, made even more impressive by the fact that he split his time between two teams, Saint John and Sherbrooke.
And finally, we arrive at Xavier Simoneau, the player who epitomizes hard work and dedication.
Simoneau was passed over in his first two years of eligibility, possibly owing to his fairly diminutive, 5-foot-7 frame, but as we all know, size is only part of the equation. Much like Canadiens prospect Raphael-Harvey Pinard (5-foot-9), Simoneau plays much bigger than his listed height.
Tweet from @CanadiensMTL: Les Canadiens de Montr��al s��lectionnent, au 191e rang: Xavier Simoneau.With the 191st-overall pick, the Montreal Canadiens select: Xavier Simoneau.#NHLDraft | #GoHabsGo pic.twitter.com/IPP0irowPF
As the captain of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Simoneau notched 10 goals and 27 assists in 27 games. He led all Voltigeurs players in scoring, and by a significant margin, too. He also finished 15th overall in the league in terms of assists. The climb to the NHL will be difficult for this overager, but due to his ability to provide value both in the offensive and defensive zones, not to mention his work ethic, a future in professional hockey, whether it be at the ECHL, AHL, or NHL level, is a very real possibility for Simoneau.
Thanks to an exciting run to the Stanley Cup Final and the relatively low Draft position that comes along with it, the 2021 Draft class shouldn't be considered one that will make an immediate impact on the organization. But with enough time and proper development, it should provide the Canadiens with a significant number of quality players in the upcoming years.
And given the recent investment in professional hockey teams in Quebec at all professional levels, the Canadiens will be ready to place them in the ideal role to continue their development once their time in Junior hockey has come to an end.
Photo credit: QMJHL
Source : https://www.nhl.com/canadiens/news/keeping-things-local-at-the-2021-nhl-draft/c-3258160081372