Montreal Canadiens CHL Prospects: Midseason Update

As the Canadiens season continues at a record-setting pace, unfortunately, the worst in their 112-year history, fans are looking for any positives they can find to distract from the sudden and dramatic fall for last season’s Stanley Cup finalists. One positive can be the prospects. There have been 38 players selected between the 2018 and 2021 NHL Entry drafts. This is the mid-season update on those playing in the CHL.

Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL)

Joshua Roy LW — Sherbrooke Phoenix

Sometimes, such a small difference in a prospect’s mindset can be the deciding factor between becoming an NHL player or a late-round bust. In Joshua Roy’s case, it was to finally take his training and nutrition seriously. The Canadiens 2021 fifth-round pick is beginning to show he may be a late-round draft gem. Roy has been lighting up the QMJHL this season, scoring 16 goals and 45 points through 25 games. His chemistry with Sherbrooke Phoenix captain Xavier Parent has been a great help in his blazing start and making Sherbrooke one of the top teams in the QMJHL.

Roy is now at Team Canada training camp trying to earn a spot on the under 20 World Junior Championship (WJC) squad. When he left for camp, he was the top point producer in the league. 

Roy is considered a long shot to make the roster, but his camp has left an impression so far. The hope for Habs fans is that he makes the team and can further grow his game against the world’s best in his age group. But if he is unable to make the team, the hope is that he can refocus his motivation to continue his torrid offensive pace with his club team in Sherbrooke.

Xavier Simoneau C – Charlottetown Islanders

Xavier Simoneau re-entered the draft this past summer, and the undersized 5-foot-7, 179-pound center heard the Canadiens call his name in the sixth round. He entered the season as a key piece for the QMJHL leading Charlottetown Islanders, who are looking to make a run for the Memorial Cup. Simoneau leads the team with 42 points in 22 games played. Unfortunately, his season will be on hold for 4 to 6 weeks due to an undisclosed lower-body injury.

The 20-year-old is in his final junior season. Beyond helping his team win this season, his goal will need to be to improve on his skills that will translate to the professional game. His speed, his non-stop forecheck, and defensive positioning will be what gives him success this season, as well as earn him a pro contract.

Riley Kidney C — Acadie-Bathurst Titan

With 16 goals and 36 points in 25 games, Riley Kidney continues to be the centrepiece of the Acadie Bathurst Titans offence, remaining the highest-scoring forward on his team ahead of his linemate, 20-year-old Bennett MacArthur. 

Riley Kidney Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Riley Kidney, Acadie-Bathurst Titan (Acadie-Bathurst Titan/Tyson Gray)

Kidney’s offensive skills are his strength, with an accurate shot paired with a quick release, as well as top-flight playmaking skills, making him a threat every time he holds the puck. Defensively, however, he will need to improve, being the offensive leader that has a plus/minus of -4 on a team with a positive goal differential points to that end. He can lose track of his defensive assignments, but that is more to do with him being used as a top-line QMJHL centre for the first time this season. As his comfort in his new role grows, so will his defensive abilities.

William Trudeau, LD — Charlottetown Islanders

After a slow start offensively this season, William Trudeau has picked up the pace offensively with 17 points in 26 games. Being the Charlottetown Islanders’ power play (PP) quarterback, they needed this resurgence in his offensive game.

Related: Canadiens Prospect Update October

Defensively, Trudeau plays a mobile style that relies on gap control and active stick, which has looked effective in his usage as a second pairing defenceman behind two more experienced defenders. His style fits the new prototype of a two-way defender in the NHL, in which his projection ceiling is to become a third pairing, PP specialist.

Western Hockey League (WHL)

Kaiden Guhle, D – Edmonton Oil Kings

This is a key developmental season for Canadiens 2020 first-round pick defenceman Kaiden Guhle. He began the season as captain of the Prince Albert Raiders, scoring 15 points in 17 games. However, as his club team is in a rebuild, they traded one of the WHL’s top defenceman to the Edmonton Oil Kings, who are contenders for a league title. In his three games with Edmonton, he has one goal and three points.

Guhle is a virtual lock to play for Canada again. The 6-foot-3, 203-pound defender appeared in three preseason games for the Canadiens. He’s a physically punishing defenceman who is at nearly one point-per-game pace in juniors and also is considered to be a leading candidate to be the captain at this tournament 

Ontario Hockey League (OHL)

Arbor Xhekaj, D – Kitchener Rangers

The Canadiens invited the undrafted 6-foot-4, 225-pound defenceman Arbor Xhekaj to their rookie camp. From there, he impressed them to the point that he received an invite to main camp, played some exhibition games, and earned an entry-level contract from the Habs.

His physical style is a throwback to the old school of defender who punishes opponents. However, Xhekaj is also a mobile defender who can keep pace with the top forwards in the OHL. His 13 points in 16 games played shows he has some offence to his game, though he isn’t expected to be a point producer once he moves on the professional ranks.

Arbor Xhekaj has been recently suspended indefinitely, yet no one knows exactly why.

“We’re not sure if it’s for fighting, we’re not sure if it’s for gesturing, or if it’s for something else,”

Kitchener Rangers GM and head coach Mike McKenzie

While the prevailing sentiment seems to be that he received the suspension for making a “go to sleep” hand gesture to his opponent after a fight, the OHL hasn’t confirmed that, which makes things even more confusing.   

Jan Mysak, C – Hamilton Bulldogs

Jan Mysak split time last season between Europe and the American Hockey League Laval Rocket. He had played more than 20 games and was eligible for the AHL exemption, yet the Canadiens felt his return to the OHL Hamilton Bulldogs was more beneficial for his development. 

This season, Mysak has been more than a point-per-game player and leads his team with 17 goals and is third on the roster with 31 points in 25 games played. The Bulldogs sit in a playoff position at seventh place of the Eastern Conference with a 14 point lead over eighth-place, thanks in large part to the two-way play of Mysak. 

Mysak will also be playing for the Czech Republic at the 2022 WJC in a prominent leadership role as a top-line player and as the returning captain for his nation. 

Joe Vrbetic, G – North Bay Battalion

At 6-foot-6, Joe Vrbetic fits the new goaltending prototype, big and mobile. After missing all last season as the OHL canceled the year due to COVID-19, not much was known of the young goaltender, which explains why he was available to the Canadiens in the seventh round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. 

This season, Vrbetic is impressing the fans in North Bay, as well as his OHL rivals. With a record of 13-2-3 and a 2.59 goals-against average, he has been one of the few bright spots for the Battalion this season, even earning Goaltender of the Week honours.

Daniil Sobolev, D – Windsor Spitfires

This season is the first for North American fans to see Daniil Sobolev in action. The 6-foot, 209-pound, puck-moving defenceman was supposed to start play for the Windsor Spitfires last season, but visa and travel issues due to the Pandemic meant he lost an entire season.

Daniil Sobolev, Windsor Spitfires
Daniil Sobolev, Windsor Spitfires (David Jewell / The Hockey Writers)

Sobolev is an aggressive defender, someone who closes gaps quickly to make a hit or strip the puck, but this can lead to a missed assignment. Offensively, he has been able to improve the Spitfires transition game on the second pairing, as well as playing on their top power-play unit. He has missed games due to injury already this season and suffered another injury, this time to his leg while attempting to throw a hit. 

Logan Mailloux, D – London Knights

The Canadiens controversial 2021 first-round pick hasn’t played a game yet for the London Knights. There is obviously a larger issue having to do with the unacceptable criminal behaviour of this young man that must be addressed before he returns to the ice, but this is a hockey update only. Logan Mailloux will be eligible to petition the OHL to end his indefinite suspension on Jan. 1, 2022. If he is successful, the 6-foot-3, 212-pound defenceman would need to be eased into the London lineup as he has only been practicing with the team while he serves his suspension. 

While this NHL season may be painful for fans to watch their beloved Canadiens struggle, the upside is they can look to the success their young draft picks are having in leagues everywhere and feel hopeful about the future.

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