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Friday FTB: Here comes William Villeneuve

He's racking up points and tons of ice time.

Toronto Maple Leafs Headshots Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

I’ve made no secret that I love William Villeneuve. I profiled him ahead of the 2020 NHL draft, before the Toronto Maple Leafs ever took him with the 122nd overall pick.

He had his flaws (skating), but he was the top scoring defensemen in the QMJHL that year. He was also, by all accounts, just a really good person for his age. It was the combination of his wholesomeness and offensive potential that drew me to him.

Now, I’ll be honest. Since I’ve delved more into the world of prospects and scouting I can better see his flaws for myself, rather than wave them away by cherry picking what I read about him from other scouts. But that hasn’t made me love him as a prospect any less. Who he is now is a still flawed by fun defenseman. He was always a high event guy — lots of things would happen while he was on the ice, good and bad for his team.

Who is now is still basically the same, but he’s been on a hot streak lately that’s been fun to watch.

Carry into the offensive zone, draw defenders and hit an open, trailing teammate for the scoring chance

After a three point game last night, William Villeneuve brought his season total to 15 points in 19 games, which is respectable. But it’s basically the same offensive pace he had in his draft year, so it’s not exactly showing the growth you’d want. However, in his last 11 games (yes, a carefully chosen endpoint to mark the start of his hot streak), he has the following numbers:

  • 11 games
  • 2 goals
  • 12 assists
  • 24 shots
  • +11

Now that’s more like it. But what’s most impressive to me has been what’s been driving it. First, it’s not driven by a bonkers powerplay. He only plays on the second PP unit, and only 2 of his 14 points in this stretch have been on the powerplay. In fact, he has had as many short handed points in the same span!

Second, from watching some of these games he hasn’t looked like chaos incarnate on the ice — for good or ill. He has turned into his team’s most reliable defenseman in all situations, to the point that he gets the most ice time. A lot of ice time.

Elusive play like this helps Villeneuve keep the puck moving up the ice

I noticed it right away when I started watching his games this year. He was quite literally used every other shift for almost the entire first period. He is used on the powerplay. He plays on the top PK. The QMJHL boxscores do not track ice time, but I was positive that he must play well over 20 minutes a game. And thanks to Josh Simpson (@joshsimpson77) who is a prospect writer for MLHS, we can confirm that. He has access to InStat, a very advanced (and expensive) hockey scouting video platform that also pulls in advanced hockey metrics and manually tracked data well beyond what you can find publicly. When I asked about ice time, he said this:

And there is a good reason why he is so heavily used. He has started to harness more of his natural ability by simply making smarter decisions on the ice. He does not force things with the puck that causes unnecessary turnovers as much. He makes better reads defensively and is more positionally sound in his own end. And he’s done all this while not necessarily sacrificing his offense, where he still shows the same level of passing and play making on transitions and in the offensive zone.

Constantly shoulder checking to see where the pressure will come and where his teammates will be open for the easiest outlet pass

If you go back to where his points are coming, you can compare this season so far with his previous two seasons and how many of his total offensive production has come from the powerplay:

  • 2021/22: 2 of 15 points (13%)
  • 2020/21: 11 of 20 points (55%)
  • 2019/20: 17 of 49 points (35%)

So there are two things going on here. First, he’s not being used as much on the powerplay as he was before. In his draft year, he was on PP1 with Jeremie Poirier, another defenseman. Last year, he continued to be used heavily on the powerplay. The fact that more than half of his points came on the powerplay in a year where his offensive production declined overall is a testament to how much he was struggling last year.

Get open for a pass, skate it as deep into the zone as he can, and snipe a good wrist shot

But this season, he’s playing more than ever and scoring more points at even strength than ever before. Having more total ice time is a good way to score more points, but he’s been earning those minutes with his play all over the ice.

That’s all great, and he will hopefully keep this up over a full season. That is asking a lot, however. Playing 25+ minutes a night every game isn’t easy, but he’s managed it by being quiet and methodical with his play. It will be interesting to see if we see him in the AHL next year. Saint John is hosting the Memorial Cup, meaning that his team will be busy through the very end of the CHL season and he won’t be able to join the AHL at the end of the year like he did last year for a few games.

Short handed assist off a give and go

These are positive signs of improvement, but the odds are still against him becoming an impact NHLer. He'll have to really refine the rest of his game so he isn't such a defensive liability who is easily burned by speedy forwards due to his skating. He'll need one more big developmental leap forward, which isn't as likely for a 20+ year old.

But I'm still rooting for him!

LEAFS LINKS

Scenes from Leafs practice: David Kämpf skates, Joseph Woll to start tomorrow vs. Sharks | by TLN

“Yeah, it seems that way,” Sheldon Keefe said about Kämpf being good to play tomorrow. “It was a good day for him, so we’ll just see how he is tomorrow when he wakes up and comes to the rink. Call it a game-time decision, I guess. But a very positive day for him.“

Sheldon Keefe on Nick Ritchie’s 21-game goal-scoring drought: “I think he is a guy who is capable of scoring big goals for us at big times” | by MLHS

What is Ondrej Kase’s status?

Keefe: Similar in that we’ll have to see how he is tomorrow. It is a maintenance day. We will see how he is in the morning.

Was there something new with Kase, or is it more the accumulation of the way he plays blocking shots, taking hits, and so on?

Keefe: I think it is just accumulation. He has been through a lot, as we have talked about, throughout this season with how he plays. We will give him a good day today for things to settle for him and take it from there.

Auston Matthews and the Maple Leafs were due for a 5-on-5 goals explosion | by The Athletic

Despite all kinds of opportunity, Matthews hasn’t scored like that, like usual in other words, so far this season — at 5-on-5 in particular. He buried only his third 5-on-5 goal of the season Wednesday night, ending a personal 10-game drought. It’s been maybe the biggest mystery of the early season in Toronto — why it is that Matthews, and the Leafs as a whole, have struggled to convert 5-on-5?

And lastly, we have a potential rumour about the near future of Kirill Semyonov, who is likely getting close to his out clause deadline.

AROUND THE HOCKEY WORLD

32 Thoughts: Canucks slowly moving towards inevitable changes | by Elliotte Friedman

11. It’s going to be an interesting time around Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Prior to making its push for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Fenway Sports Group — through an intermediary — approached MLSE about the possibility of a merger. This was 12-18 months ago. It wasn’t the right time and didn’t go far, but that would have been one monstrous powerhouse, potentially featuring Liverpool, the Leafs, the Raptors, Toronto FC, Scotiabank Arena, the Argonauts and a baseball team. (That would have been the incredibly interesting one. FSG owns the Red Sox, while my employer, Rogers, owns the Blue Jays along with 37.5 per cent of MLSE. So, something would have to give.) There’s change at the top of our company and The Globe and Mail reported that could mean a sale of the Jays. “Everybody is watching what Fenway is doing,” one source in the banking industry said. “And it’s not going to be the last time MLSE is asked.” That same person, by the way, said Fenway is aggressive and far from finished, beyond the Penguins.

Just really not going well in Vancouver these days...

Jets’ Morrissey, Blue Jackets’ Domi fined $5K | by TSN.ca

Morrissey was fined for slashing Blue Jackets forward Alexandre Texier after an empty net goal near the end of the third period. He was given a two-minute penalty for slashing.