Over the last few drafts, the Montreal Canadiens have used a unique strategy to select and eventually sign the top 20-year-olds of the QMJHL, and we could see it used again this year.
On Monday morning the Laval Rocket, the Montreal Canadiens AHL affiliate, announced the signing of 2021 6th round pick, Xavier Simoneau, to a one-year contract. Some were confused as to why Simoneau signed with Laval, rather than the Canadiens, as his junior career came to a close this past spring. It’s all part of a strategy that allows the Montreal Canadiens to secure the rights to top 20-year-old players in order to ensure they continue funnelling Quebec-born youngsters to their affiliate and developing local talent.
When a player is drafted out of Canadian Major Junior, the NHL club has exclusive negotiation rights with said player for two years, regardless of their age. This means that, if a player is drafted at 20 years of age, that player is still the property of an NHL team even after no longer being eligible for junior play at age 21. For a player like Simoneau, it means the Canadiens can control where he plays for the next two seasons, as they control his rights until June 1 2023. With no alternative to return to junior, the QMJHL standout accepted a contract with the Canadiens’ AHL affiliate for the upcoming 2022-2023 season, which will act as a sort of trial run at the pro level before signing his entry-level contract with the Canadiens next summer.
This isn’t the first time the Canadiens have ventured down this path, as 2019 7th-round pick Rafaël Harvey-Pinard had a very similar experience. He was drafted at 20 years old out of the QMJHL by the Canadiens, was sent back to junior for his overager season and ultimately signed a contract with the Laval Rocket the following season. After impressing as a rookie in the AHL during the 2020-2021 season, the Montreal Canadiens signed Harvey-Pinard to a full-fledged entry-level contract and he returned that confidence in kind by leading the Rocket in scoring during the 2021-2022 season.
With Harvey-Pinard looking like he may have a legitimate shot at a bottom-six NHL role, should his progression continue, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Canadiens look to draft a local player with upside during the 2022 NHL Draft to avoid bidding wars with rival clubs.
Will The Montreal Canadiens Try Again at the 2022 NHL Draft?
If the Montreal Canadiens decided they wanted to use of one of their many late-round picks on such a gamble this year, there are a few candidates that could be of interest.
At forward, the first name that comes to mind has to be that of Patrick Guay, who finished 5th in QMJHL scoring this season with 55 goals and 49 assists for 104 points in 68 games. Playing with other Canadiens prospects in Simoneau and William Trudeau in Charlottetown, Guay impressed many this season with his great deceptiveness and strong all-around play. Having put up respectable offensive numbers in the past, this season was truly his breakout year in the QMJHL. The main thing that may hold him back is his size (5’9, 178lbs), but that didn’t stop the Canadiens in the past when they selected Simoneau and Harvey-Pinard who are both 5’9 or smaller.
— LHJMQ (@LHJMQ) June 10, 2022
Another option could be defenceman Miguel Tourigny, who finished second in QMJHL in scoring for defencemen this season. His 31 goals and 49 assists for 80 points in 75 games were very impressive, and his defensive game improved by a notable margin this season. Tourigny possesses an interesting set of offensive skills; he has very soft hands, great vision and a bomb of a clapper. The concerns have remained the same however, as his lack explosiveness and size have scared teams off from trying to draft him in previous drafts. However, with the season he’s just had, and the improvements he’s brought to his skating and defensive game, Tourigny could be a solid game as of the 5th round.
3⃣0⃣ on the season for Tourigny.
— Titan Acadie-Bathurst (@ABTitan) April 21, 2022