The Leafs generally stayed clear of the CHL throughout the 2020 draft, and Canada in general. Two players from Canada were taken in the draft, and William Villeneuve was the sole QMJHL player, taken 122nd overall in the fourth round.
The high scoring, right shooting defender was all over draft boards, but as the top scoring defenseman in QMJHL he was certainly a worthwhile gamble for the Leafs, and now we’ll see what Toronto has in him.
Position: Right Defense
Weight: 181 lbs
Drafted: 2020 4th Round, 122nd overall
What kind of player is he?
If you are looking for yet another source of offense from the Leafs blueline, then you probably like this pick a lot. If you are looking for a strong two way defender, well, Villeneuve isn’t your guy, but that’s not to say we aren’t incredibly early in his development process.
In addition to the concerns about Villeneuve’s defensive zone coverage, there are also issues with his skating. It’s not that he’s the slowest guy on the ice, he’s average by QMJHL standards, but the mechanics of his skating are unconventional and there will be a need for some serious work in this area to get him to where he needs to be. He’ll be a project for sure, and I don’t doubt that Barb Underhill will be kept busy with this kid.
The thing about all of this is that there are a lot of familiarities to what was said about Tyson Barrie, and while I’m not sure a lot of Leafs fans are thrilled at a Tyson Barrie compensation, finding a potential Barrie type player in the fourth round, rather than trading for his worst professional year is a big difference. And that’s not to say that Villeneuve is Barrie anyway, he’s just another defenseman who had skating issues heading into the draft, but a strong offensive skillset that was able to find his way in the NHL.
While you can’t learn a ton from the a players best moments, what we can see a little of is that Villeneuve pinches. He pinches a lot. Which is something you can do when you are in the QMJHL, but when you don’t necessarily have the skating ability to correct for this at the pro level, there might be some issues that will hinder his success.
It seems like the Villeneuve requires a partner who will do the defensive heavy lifting. He won’t be particularly reliable recovering pucks or defending strong competition, so sheltering Villeneuve seems necessary. He’s likely bound for utilization similar to what was done with Marc-Andre Bergeron throughout his career, where he could handle third pairing, sheltered utilization and played a quarterbacking role on secondary power play units. Whether or not that niche role will be something the Leafs ever need also remains to be seen, but there still seem to be enough offensive tools in Villeneuve’s tool kit that it’s worth finding out how engrained his shortcomings are in his game.
By the numbers
What we can see from above is that Villeneuve is a right side defenseman. He takes a lot of shots from where you expect that defenseman to be. The interesting thing is that rarely did his goals come from that location, and rather it was a catalyst for his assist total. When Villeneuve pinches down low he’s had some success, picking up four goals below the hashmarks, and like a number of defensemen he was more productive when teeing up from his wrong side, which also was his primary shooting area on the power play.
Again, offense isn’t everything, especially when it comes to junior defensemen, but if you do take it as something, Villeneuve had more primary points than the defenseman who went the highest in this draft class. Villeneuve had 58 points in 64 games, though only nine of those were goals. In his start to the 2020-21 season, Villeneuve hasn’t been particularly strong out of the gate with just a goal and an assist through nine games.
What’s next for Villeneuve?
Normally when we do these rankings it’s over the summer and we are making our best educated guess at where players will play, in this case we know that Villeneuve is once again in the QMJHL playing for the Saint John Sea Dogs. There’s no reason to expect that he won’t be graduating from junior after this season either, especially if his numbers remain down, and if the Marlies defensive depth continues to be a thing. We could see Villeneuve brought into the pro ranks to play on the Growlers, and to get him developing within their system, and given that Villeneuve is used to playing on the East Coast that wouldn’t be too much of a step for him, and give him a chance to work out his issues within the Leafs system.
As far as Villeneuve as a pick goes, he was a reasonable risk to take, but there is a lot of work to be done here. Perhaps we were even being optimistic when we put Villeneuve as a player that is 2-4 years away, but in Villeneuve’s case we are certainly leaning more towards the four years rather than the two.