After an impressive 17-point streak in nine games in the 2020-21 QMJHL Playoffs, Riley Kidney climbed onto some of the draft boards ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft. Montreal Canadiens He decided to make him a selection for the second round, and the hope was that he could show some progress in that round that opened after the season.
He did just that, leading the Acadian Bathurst Titan in points, and was one of seven players in the league to reach the 100-point plateau. The Halifax producer at least proved that the previous qualifying round wasn’t an anomaly.
He probably had the least amount of fanfare for a player to score 100 points in the CHL last year. However, not only did he break that plateau, his 70 passes were enough to tie him to the top of the league in QMJHL. The progress was there, it even put it on Team Canada’s map in the summer reboot of World Junior Hockey Championship.
He was such a deep member of that championship group, he hardly saw any ice in the championship, but just getting on the radar with them was a testament to how good his season was. He even got a call to join Laval Rocket as the Black Ace in the playoff round, and although he didn’t see any ice there either, he might find himself with that opportunity again at the end of this year.
He will be back with the Titan for the majority of this season, but with the Canadiens taking note of his stage, this could be his last season in QMJHL.
At this point in the list, we’re starting to see the voting ranges narrow a bit. All panelists, including community voting, see Kidney as a member of the Top 25 in various positions between 10 and 22.
I got that high vote, and picked him to round out the top 10. I find it rare for players of his age to see IQs like him paired with great puck skills, and I have great faith that he will eventually become a valuable player at the NHL level.
Top 25 under 25 in history
Kidney jumps two points from his debut at 17 last year. It’s not a huge jump, but given the depth of the set of expectations for this year, any rise should be considered impressive.
|2017||I want to ask|
|2016||Jacob the Rose|
|2015||Devante Smith Billy|
Kidney is an intelligent player who is about 19 years old as you will come across. His hockey IQ, positioning, cognition, and ability to anticipate playing on the ice are all evident when you watch him. He generates a lot of his offenses by getting to know what the other team is doing, cutting passes, and turning the opposing team’s transfer upside down.
Once he enters the attack zone, he becomes a pure playmaker. He has an elitist vision, and uses trick movement to push defenders and open space to feed his comrades. His passes are clear and precise and he can stitch the needle when his movement isn’t enough to open a wider passage. It makes it very difficult to predict where the disk is sent, and even if you can read about it, it can exploit the narrowest of traffic lanes.
This movement is another important force. He has those dangling, puck-on-a-string things that can embarrass defenders, and he scored a number of goals last year in distinguished solo efforts when he had a mind for it. It sometimes reminds us of Nick Suzuki on how to slow down a game when he wants to, and then displays a screen that puts potential checkers into the mixer.
He has a good shot, and while he lacks elite speed, the main blow to his game is the lack of size. To produce more at a professional level, he will need more variety in his shots, as his preferred method of undressing defenders and getting into the net will be more difficult in the next phase of his career.
I’m always hesitant to include size as a weakness, but the kidneys need more volume to compete as a center. At around 170 pounds, it’s not small, but it lacks the strength to truly compete in puck fights in both offensive and defensive areas. The decision whether to transfer it to the wing on a permanent basis can be based on this.
Interestingly, in the few turns he’s played as a deep striker for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships, he’s put on more body than I’ve usually seen during a QMJHL season. Hopefully this is a sign of the physical development he can handle in the coming season and beyond.
His IQ and ability to deliver plays enable him to be included almost anywhere in the squad, and this would make him a good bet to play in the NHL someday. His upside is his top six position, with the team’s knack for turning him into the winger depending on how things turn. An improvement in skateboarding and fitness would go a long way for him to realize this potential.
He is also a player with a relatively high pitch. I think the worst case scenario is that he’s a six-bottom striker who has the ability to play in the squad when needed. It would be surprising if he doesn’t at least become a regular in the NHL someday, as players who treat the game as he generally does can find themselves at home on a professional level.
Perhaps he will tell us what role he could play himself in this winter’s World Juniors. Although he didn’t get much ice time in August, quite a few players from this team are now heading into the National Hockey League or aging outside of the tournament, so he could get a shot at some important minutes.
Canadians can also take their time with him, so if he does well this year, I’m really impressed with his chances of joining Laval Rocket next year as we can see how much his game translates to the professional level.