Montreal Canadiens prospect Riley Kidney has gone from a late riser in last season’s QMJHL season to one of its most dangerous players this year, making him one of the most exciting players in major junior right now. His progress has been remarkable in his own right, building off an exceptional 2021 QMJHL playoffs and using that momentum to push his game to new heights this season.
“Riley’s a very gifted player. He’s a second-round draft pick for a reason,” said coach Jason Clarke on his first impressions of Riley Kidney. “You could tell Riley has a lot of puck skills; he has the ability to be a game-changer and an impact player every time he was on the ice.”
Clarke applauded the growth in Kidney’s game during his time as head coach, but also pointed to Kidney’s growth as a person. He highlighted how Kidney’s maturation process this season as being one of the main reasons he’s been able to take his game to the next level. Montreal Hockey Now decided to dig a little deeper by circling back with Kidney and teammate Bennet MacArthur to see what that process has been like this season.
Growth in his Game
Kidney started his season with a little bit of a detour, making his way to Montreal Canadiens’ yearly Rookie Camp during the week of September 15th. He soaked up everything he could from that experience, something he believed served him well in helping him set clear goals for improvement headed into this season.
“It was a good learning experience for me. I realized what I needed to improve on to play at the next level with the pro guys,” said Kidney. “I feel I didn’t have my best camp, so I took a lot out of it in terms of what I need to improve on. I need to get a lot stronger and improve my explosiveness because everyone at the next level is strong and fast.”
Pointing to the strength and speed of the more mature players he faced at the Montreal Canadiens Rookie Camp, Kidney made it a point to try and execute quicker and smarter plays, and it paid off early, according to teammate Bennet MacArthur. MacArthur and Kidney have been a lethal combination for two seasons now, with the latter being one of the QMJHL‘s most prolific goal scorers with 39 goals in 44 games. MacArthur credits their instant chemistry to the combination of his shooting ability and Kidney’s ability to protect the puck and play with deception in the offensive zone.
“The way he can drag so many guys to him on the ice and then dish a puck through lanes is crazy sometimes,“ said MacArthur on Kidney’s play. “I try to get open in an area where I think he can get me the puck, and then, just like that, the puck is on my stick. He lugs the puck around with him and protects it, and that will serve him well at the next level.”
Kidney’s playmaking abilities and puck protection skills were some of the things that stood out the most in early-season viewings during the QMJHL. However, his game really began to grow to another level after the Acadie-Bathurst Titans proceeded to a coaching change on November 29th, naming Jason Clarke as the new bench boss for the young club.
Kidney opens the scoring with a shorty!
— Titan d'Acadie-Bathurst (@ABTitan) April 7, 2022
A Turning Point
Kidney started the season off as one of the five most productive players in the QMJHL by the end of October, but slowly began losing his offensive pace as the club’s overall performances began to suffer. When Clarke came in, his initial evaluation of Kidney was quite positive.
“His puck protection, his vision, his positional play and his competitiveness are all at an elite level for me,” said coach Clarke on Kidney’s game. “He needs to pay a little more attention to the small details on the defensive side; he already does do it, but he needs to do it with more consistency. That’s completely normal for a player his age.”
Clarke was able to help them adjust their systems and pinpoint aspects of the Titan’s transition game that could be improved in order to play to the strength of his players on the rush. The change has been well received by the team, which quickly became one of the highest-scoring teams in the QMJHL since Clarke’s hiring.
“Coach Clarke has let us open up a little bit more. He’s created a little more space for us by the way we break out of the defensive zone, and it helps us open up the ice,” said MacArthur on the impact of new head coach Jason Clarke.
Clarke paid special attention to Kidney’s progress, as he promoted the increased speed in his pacing and his penchant for a more complete game. The only thing Clarke feels Kidney needs to fix in his game is to move away from his pass-first mentality, because he has quite the underrated shot.
“He’s not selfish enough. He can stand to shoot the puck more; being that classic pass-first kind of guy,” said Clarke on what Kidney needs to tweak in his game. ”If he starts shooting the puck more, the goals will come; he’s got a great release and is very accurate with his release. He just needs to be more selfish.”
Beautiful wrist shot goal by Riley Kidney 🚨 pic.twitter.com/MiSOjuy9lz
— The NHL/MMA/Soccer/NFL guy (@AK93HSS) October 24, 2021
Maturity Leading to Success
Since the coaching change that brought Jason Clarke into the fold as head coach, Kidney has exploded for 54 points in just 33 games. Kidney has vaulted himself back to the top of the QMJHL scoring race with his 87 points on the season, good for 4th overall in the league.
“Ever since I’ve come in, Riley’s maturity and his character continue to evolve in a very quick and positive manner,” said Clarke of his young centre’s personal growth. “If you take a look at Kidney’s game since November, you can really see how he’s matured as a player and as a person off the ice.”
Coach Clarke points to Kidney’s personality as a competitor and a gamer as being major reasons behind Kidney’s constant motivation to improve, applauding how adaptable Kidney’s game has become as he prepares to become a pro.
“He’s got a lot of fire. Riley takes losing puck battles personally,“ said coach Clarke on Riley’s personality on the ice. “It’s a very important characteristic to have at our level, but even more so at the NHL level. To play at the pro level, you got to compete.”
Clarke believes that Kidney’s developmental curve has him tracking to be an impact NHL player down the line, even going as far as to say that Kidney would become a fan favourite in Montreal.
“I can tell you one thing right now: The Montreal Canadiens fan base is going to love Riley Kidney,“ said coach Clarke on what the future holds for Kidney. “He competes every shift, he’s got some fire, and his skill level is on another level. He’ll be a household name in Montreal; there’s no doubt in my mind.”
Kidney’s growth as a player continues. He and the Titans look to improve on last season’s playoff performances and go on a deep playoff run in the QMJHL. The added experience will set the stage for Kidney to elevate himself even further as he continues his path toward becoming a member of the Montreal Canadiens.
— Titan d'Acadie-Bathurst (@ABTitan) March 2, 2022