Catching The Torch: CHL update — Roy, Kidney, Beck, Mesar, & Davidson

Welcome back to Catching The Torch, where we keep an eye on the Montreal Canadiens’ North American prospects and how their development is progressing week by week.

This time around, we’ll take a look at the local Junior circuit and break down the red-hot start of the Habs’ only two current QMJHLers — Joshua Roy and Riley Kidney — and make our way west. We’ll stop in Mississauga and Kitchener for Owen Beck and Filip Mesar, and end our trajectory in Seattle, where Jared Davidson will be playing out the final season of his WHL career.

Joshua Roy, LW/C — Sherbrooke Phoenix (QMJHL)

Starting off: without cheating, how many points has Joshua Roy accumulated through seven games with the Sherbrooke Phoenix this season?

If your answer was anything below 17, you’re thinking rationally, but unfortunately, you’re wrong.

Last year was not a fluke, after all. Roy has taken his experience in training camp and applied it to his (hopefully) final season with the Phoenix, using his physicality extremely well along the walls to start or extend possession for his team in all three zones.

He has also added a level of patience and awareness with the puck that has made him an even more dangerous threat offensively. So far, the Hail Mary passes to the slot that were a common occurrence for him in the final third are much, much less prevalent.

Fifth-round picks just don’t put up these kinds of performances at the Junior level. They don’t win scoring titles at 18-19 years of age, and certainly don’t set themselves up to win two of them in a row. What Roy has done with the Phoenix so far post-draft is, by definition, exceptional.

Now, Roy isn’t without his limitations. He still needs to iron out his skating stride and work on making plays inside of contact, initiating it rather than benefiting from the poor defensive coverage of the QMJHL to find open space. NHL defenders aren’t going to be as generous.

However, the skill, especially the shooting ability, is unquestionable. Roy has the shot versatility and quickness of mind to make a great NHL scorer.

Riley Kidney, C/LW — Acadie-Bathurst Titan (QMJHL)

Kidney is also back in the Q for another year despite signing his entry-level contract, this time wearing an A for the Titan in a leadership role that is befitting of how much of their offence he carried single-handedly last year.

He once again leads the squad in points with 12 through nine games on the season, although his current pace of 90 would be 10 points behind his total from last year. He is also one of only six players on the squad to not figure in the minus column, despite playing the most out of any forward so far.

His goal in the above clip shows some inside-driven tendencies that simply weren’t an occurrence last year. Head fakes, changes of pace and direction, and quick handling moves allowed him to find a breach to access the slot and release a shot in motion.

Although all of these individual skills were already part of Kidney’s arsenal, he had very rarely, if ever, put them together in this specific manner in order to access high-danger ice last season. Mostly, Kidney used these tools in 2021-22 to open a passing lane while remaining at the perimeter.

If this clip repeats itself, this greatly affects Kidney’s projectability. His major setback, the main reason he has been difficult to project, was how unwilling he was to cut to dangerous ice with the puck. A larger sample size is needed, but so far, so good.

Owen Beck, C — Mississauga Steelheads (OHL)

Beck was off to a quiet start after leaving his calling card in an eye-opener of a pre-season run, remaining scoreless in his first two games despite playing more than well enough on both sides of the puck. He remains penciled in on the second line behind Luca Del Bel Belluz in a shutdown role, and has been performing that role admirably so far.

Beck then tallied two goals, including the overtime winner, in a 5-4 win over the London Knights, where he seemed uncharacteristically shy defensively while focusing on offensive creation. He has since added a goal in his last two games, bringing his tally to three goals in five games, with no assists to his name as of yet.

He continues to use speed differentials and his outstanding processing to solve problems on the fly, rushing through defenders with ease and finding breaches in coverage to exploit. While his puck skills themselves aren’t the most refined, he has benefited from power-play time to stretch the box, draw a checker in, and open up space for his teammates, showcasing how much of his game flows through his elite brain.

On my recent guest appearance on the Game Over: Montreal podcast following the Habs’ 3-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, Marc Dumont compared Beck to current Tampa Bay Lightning assistant coach Jeff Halpern, a defensively-gifted centre who managed a quietly illustrious career, including a season on the Canadiens’ 2010-2011 roster.

Halpern put up career highs of 21 goals in 2000-2001, and 46 points in 2003-2004, both with the Capitals, while guaranteeing his longevity down the stretch in a support role as a faceoff-taker and penalty-killing specialist. The comparison is apt — Beck’s consistency of effort and performance, as well as his multi-faceted game, should ensure a similar level of longevity — but I believe Beck to be a better version of the forward who spent 14 seasons in the NHL.

Beck should be able to earn more points than Halpern due to how well he crafts offence, while starting his NHL career at a younger age due to how refined his game already is. Stylistically, and in terms of their adaptability and longevity, the two are quite similar — but Beck has untapped offensive potential, which is well-served on the Steelheads’ power play but would be even better served on their top line.

A note on Filip Mesar

After playing a few minutes on the Rocket’s fourth line and not seeing a lick of overtime, Mesar has been sent down to the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL to continue his development. The forward should sort out his IIHF transfer issues on time to play on October 21, according to Jeff Marek.

The Rangers represent a more apt learning environment for a first-round pick who will need lots of time on the puck to continue to develop his ability to take on dangerous ice with possession. In my recent scouting report video on Mesar, I pointed out how intelligent his off-puck movement is, and how impressive his perimeter play can be, but the main flaw in Mesar’s game is a lack of inside-driven play.

He makes plays from the perimeter well and finds space in dangerous areas away from the puck impressively, but rarely does he combine his understanding of spacing and his ability to get loose pucks along the boards to drive the centre lane and challenge netminders from the slot.

Despite many protests among those who look at his underwhelming size (5’9”, 168 pounds) and shudder, I maintain my stance that Mesar is a natural centre, and will excel in that position. He is too smart and too transitionally-gifted to stick on the wing. Enhancing his strengths will be the key to unlocking his top-six potential.

Jared Davidson, C — Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL

Davidson is off to a hot start with the Thunderbirds, with an A on his jersey to boot. His three goals and eight assists in six games represent the third-highest tally on his team, and place him in the WHL’s top 10 for points per game.

I’ve watched a fair bit of Davidson since the Habs picked him up in the fifth round, and there isn’t much that stands out other than his goal-scoring ability. His skating is outright concerning, with very little agility or explosivity to his stride, stiff knees, poor ankle flexion and an arched back. From the bottom up, there’s a lot of work needed.

While physically capable and skilled at cutting off opponents’ hands along the boards, I don’t see much in terms of high-end awareness or playmaking ability. As a centre, if he isn’t contributing on transitions and isn’t connecting plays intelligently, he is fairly limited.

Good on faceoffs and well-off defensively when hustling isn’t a concern, Davidson has some secondary strengths that could serve him well, but the road to the NHL is long and paved with many improvements required in his case.

Thanks for reading. Follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for more on Habs’ prospects, and to keep up with the rest of my scouting work!

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