Welcome back to the official Montreal Canadiens prospect review series!
The previous reviews focused on defencemen Lane Hutson and Adam Engstrom, but we’re going to change it up a little and take a closer look at a player that was chosen in the second round of the 2021 Draft: forward Riley Kidney.
By the Numbers
Kidney’s 2022-23 campaign was a tale of two seasons.
He started off the year with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, where he served as an alternate captain. In 31 games he earned 14 goals and 31 assists, good for 1.45 points per game, a respectable, if not somewhat underwhelming level of production when you consider he was playing in his fourth QMJHL season.
Of course, context matters.
The Titan were, for lack of a better word, terri-horr-awful.
They finished last in the QMJHL with just 20 wins in 68 games and were one of two teams that did not manage to qualify for the playoffs.
Riley Kidney all on his own 🤢
— Canadian Hockey League (@CHLHockey) November 19, 2022
Things got even worse for the Titan once Kidney was traded to the Olympiques. They only enjoyed just six wins following the blockbuster deal, three of which necessitated overtime to secure the victory.
And while his former team struggled after the trade, his new team surged to new heights.
The Gatineau Olympiques lost just two regular-season games after adding Kidney to their roster. The Canadiens prospect also thrived, earning a ridiculous 14 goals and 51 (!) assists in 29 games, which equated to 2.25 points per game.
Instead of being the only player worth shutting down on his team, he was suddenly just one among many talented players, which opened up a lot of ice and scoring opportunities.
Riley Kidney scores his 27th of the season and extends his point streak to 25 straight games #GoHabsGo
— Costa Rontzocos (@Rontzeeez) March 19, 2023
Despite missing some time as he attended Team Canada’s World Junior Championship camp, Kidney finished the season with 110 points, tied with St-Louis Blues forward first-round pick Zarachy Bolduc for fourth overall in the QMJHL. He also finished second in the league in points per game (1.83 P/PG).
He continued his strong play into the post-season, where he scored six goals and 16 assists in 13 games. His production slowed when the Olympiques were swept by the eventual Memorial Cup Champions, the Quebec Remparts, though it’s worth noting he still managed to earn two goals and two assists during the series sweep.
Riley Kidney nets his second of the game for the @OlympiquesGAT in the final minutes!
— QMJHL (@QMJHL) April 30, 2023
If I were to offer one criticism, or rather, an important piece of context to the mix, I’d point to his elevated shooting percentage once he arrived in Gatineau. Kidney, a career 10-12% shooter, scored on almost 18 percent of his shots with the Olympiques.
What The Prospect Experts Are Saying
David St-Louis: Kidney is a great Junior scorer. Contrary to Joshua Roy, however, he hasn’t changed his game all that much since his draft year. Rather, he improved the skills he already had. He’s a puck-dominant forward, a good handler and playmaker, who needs a lot of quality puck touches to dominate. Those are hard to come by in the AHL. We’ll see how he handles the transition. Improving his defence and the overall pace of play would help him translate his scoring game to the professional ranks.
Riley Kidney obtient aussi une passe sur le jeu! | Riley Kidney also has an assist on the play @CanadiensMTL
— Olympiques de Gatineau (@OlympiquesGAT) April 1, 2023
Florence Normand: Kidney’s development has been rather impressive. He’s a dynamic player. His speed of execution is fantastic. His ability to produce offence comes from his penchant for being able to read opposing players. His anticipation allows him to disrupt passing lanes. He lacks size and will have to work on his strength, especially if he’s to win 1v1 puck battles. His shot isn’t necessarily elite, either, it lacks speed. I think he’s an interesting prospect, but despite his exceptional production in the QMJHL this season, I’m not convinced he will be able to translate his skill set to the professional ranks. I see him as a player with a top-9 potential, at most.
Source: Draft Experts Discuss NHL Potential.
Despite St-Louis being one of my most trusted sources of information regarding Junior players, I disagree slightly about Kidney’s offensive potential in the AHL.
Admittedly, I am a little more bullish on Kidney’s potential than most.
He will indeed need to have the puck on his stick a lot to produce, but the Laval Rocket can ease that transition by making sure he’s playing with talented linemates, as well as giving him ample opportunities on the power play.
— Canadian Hockey League (@CHLHockey) February 10, 2023
Kidney is a smart player, and that will definitely serve him well as he transitions to professional hockey. His vision is great, and his playmaking is among the best in the Canadiens’ prospect pool.
His anticipation should allow him to mitigate some of the challenges involved in playing in the AHL.
Simply put, intelligent players are rarely a bad bet.
He also has a knack for generating second-chance opportunities with his shot, which is quite accurate and involves a deceptive release. I wouldn’t say his shot is a strength, but it does lead to high-danger scoring chances for his teammates.
Kidney will have to pack on muscle mass to his 6′, 175 lbs frame if he’s to survive in the AHL or NHL. Without getting stronger, there’s very little chance he’ll win many puck battles.
He also tends to shy away from driving the net and gaining position in high-danger areas, which is something coaches will quickly pick up on. Avoiding ‘dirty areas’ easiest way to lose ice time in professional hockey.
To his credit, he did a much better job attacking the middle of the ice once he arrived in Gatineau.
#gohabsgo Riley Kidney with a snipe of his own.
3-2 Sherbrooke great game going on here. pic.twitter.com/aBMyYFLKaW
— Matt Drake (@DrakeMT) March 23, 2023
Even if he hits the gym this summer, he’s likely to need two or three years in the AHL before the team would even consider giving him a roster spot in the NHL.
Seeing as he does not turn 21 until March, Kidney could return to the QMJHL for a fifth season. CHL teams are allowed three players over the age limit, and given that Kidney has already completed four seasons, he qualifies as an overager.
But that would be a disappointing outcome for a player that aspires to one day play in the NHL, even more so for a player who finished among the top 5 scorers in the league last season.
All things considered, Kidney is likely destined for Laval, where he’ll have an opportunity to carve out precious ice time as the team slowly transitions away from relying on hired guns toward developing legitimate Canadiens prospects.
However, he’ll need to do a good job impressing his coach, or he risks becoming a Canadiens prospect that will fall through the cracks, much like what happened to Jan Mysak last season.
Mysak ended up finding his rhythm later in the season, but there’s no denying he was used sparingly throughout the majority of the year, the type of usage would likely seal Kidney’s fate as a Canadiens prospect that failed to meet expectations.