Welcome to the 2021 Top 25 Under 25! Every year we rank the Toronto Maple Leafs players and prospects who are under 25 years old, and then make them fight for our love.
This year the one who just barely survived to make the list is a right-handed defender from the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, William Villeneuve.
Villeneuve has been playing in the QMJHL since 2018 - he was selected second overall in the QMJHL draft - and as he’s worked his way up in the roster, his offensive output has rapidly increased. He went from 19 points in his rookie year to 58 in his draft year where he was also runner up for defender of the year, and in the shortened season this past year he had 20 points in 33 games.
Ahead of the 2020 draft, our own Brigstew said he “might be the biggest steal among defensemen this draft”, who had a strong transition game and was a smart defender.
2020 NHL Draft Profile: William Villeneuve
His full stats are below, from Elite Prospects.
Villeneuve got into the list with a rank of 24.6, just above Alex Steeves who got a rank of 24.7, and Axel Rindell who had a 24.9.
2021 Top 25 Under 25: Honourable Mentions
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Yes, it was only two of us who put Villeneuve on the list. Myself and Brigs. I was a bit bullish on him, placing him in the bottom five of my list, but Brigs was much higher having him in the mid-teens.
I had him ranked lower because...I’m not exactly sure. It’s not a deep list this year so for me there isn’t much difference between rankings from 15 to 25. I suppose it’s his age, him being a fourth round pick, and a internal bias against the QMJHL.
He has all the tools needed to be a great defender for the Marlies, but my feelings about him making the NHL aren’t strong, like Mac Hollowell. He’s a name we’ll hear a lot of as hardcore Leafs fans, but ask someone less fanatical and they won’t know who he is.
A couple others have a bit more faith in him:
Brigstew: I ranked him the highest, and did so fully knowing I have rose coloured glasses on about him. Despite that, I would openly acknowledge that my initial profile of him ahead of the draft was too optimistic by far, and mostly based on his points and some scouting reports I read of him. That said, Villeneuve does some things that I really like: he can fire a mean stretch pass, he is very active and smart in the offensive zone, and can make some good, aggressive decisions defending transitions in the neutral zone. But I also fully acknowledge he has some big flaws to work on. His skating, mostly. But also his defensive reads in the neutral zone and defensive zone, where he can make some strange decisions that cause havoc. My ranking is me betting that he can improve enough to be interesting, plus me being pretty uninspired by the rest of the list.
Hardev: I ranked him as a throw-in from last year and because Brigs won’t stop talking about him. He’s a flawed defenseman, but it sounds like there is a very clear path and plan to turn him into a useful defenseman. He has a low floor as a third pair defenseman, but maybe he’ll be able to settle into that mediocre (in the good way) role. Maybe he can be a big, semi-mobile defenseman that can be a foil for a more talented puck-handling defenseman who will carry him in other ways. I’m curious how he, Kral, and Kokkonen are going to do on the Marlies when they all get there.
The QMJHL pre-season starts this week and the Sea Dogs first game is on Thursday the 19th, so Villeneuve will hit the ice soon and do his best to prove us wrong for ranking him so low.