With the 122nd overall selection in the 2020 NHL Draft, the Toronto Maple Leafs have selected 6’1, 180-pound right-shot defenseman William Villeneuve of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs.

A second overall pick in the 2018 QMJHL draft, Villeneuve led his Sea Dogs team as well as all QMJHL defensemen in scoring last season with 58 points in 64 games on a below-average Saint John team, earning the Sherbrooke native a nomination for the QMJHL Defenseman of the Year award. Villeneuve has been relied on heavily in all situations (PP, PK, and top-four minutes at 5v5) on a Sea Dogs club that has struggled since Villeneuve entered the league, including a woeful 13-49-2-4 season in Villeneuve’s rookie year (2018-19).

While he has some clear weaknesses in his game in the strength department and in the first few steps of his skating stride, Villeneuve has strong puck poise and a good head for the game with and without the puck. His production stands up really well statistically: He led all QMJHL defensemen in even-strength primary points in 2019-20 with 29 and finished second in even-strength points with 39 behind only Kings prospect Jordan Spence.

Villeneuve outproduced fellow Saint John Seadog defenseman Jeremy Poirier, who went 50 picks earlier to the Calgary Flames in the third round, by five points in the same number of games. According to the 2020 Blackbook, Villeneuve, “doesn’t have high-end skills of a Poirier, but he’s a notch above him in terms of defending and hockey sense.”

Villeneuve’s pre-draft rankings:

  • Ranked #104 by TSN’s Craig Button
  • Ranked #105 by McKeen’s Hockey
  • Ranked #99 by NHL Central Scouting (NA Skaters)

Villeneuve is a pretty unusual prospect to evaluate. He led his team in scoring this season and did most of his damage at five-on-five, so that’s very impressive. He sees the ice well and can really thread the needle with his breakout passes. Having 49 assists in 64 games does not seem like a fluke, as he had plenty of highlight-reel stretch passes throughout the season. While he offers a pretty good shot as well, it’s his passing that really stands out.

When you combine his offensive production, with the fact that he’s not undersized, you would think that he would be a clear-cut first-round pick. However, his skating is a significant concern. If he doesn’t get a step quicker, he’s going to have a real tough time against top NHL forwards. He carries and protects the puck well, so he certainly has potential on the offensive side of the game, but he really needs to gain a step over the next year or two. He also needs to get stronger.

A lifelong Leafs fan, Villeneuve won the day for the best tweet by a Leafs draft pick:

Director of Amateur Scouting John Lilley on William Villeneuve

I believe he had about 50 assists last year. A really good puck mover. He is a little bit raw. He has some things to work on with his skating. But he’s really offensive. He is good on the power play. He is a competitive kid. We liked him and valued him.

He has development here yet, like all of these guys. I think he is going to be a puck-moving defenseman. I think he defends well. He is raw. He has got to get stronger, like a lot of these guys. I think he is going to be a puck mover at the end of the day and a good two-way guy. Whenever we watched him, he seemed to do the right thing and make good plays, move the puck up ice, defend hard. We just see a raw ability there that has potential.

William Villeneuve Scouting Report

courtesy of the 2020 Blackbook (buy now)

Villeneuve has decent skating abilities; his top speed is good when he’s rushing the puck, but he has work to do on his level of explosiveness, which would help him reach that top speed faster. He’s quite efficient and elusive when he rushes pucks from his own zone, and he has enough puck skills to beat the first player from the forecheck. However, he lacks some athleticism; his fluidity is lacking and can look ugly on the ice at times. Once he gets stronger physically, his overall speed should get a tad better (more specifically, his explosiveness). Offensively, he’s a smart player with good on-ice vision.

He also has good poise with the puck and makes good, creative plays. Villeneuve scored nine goals this season and not one of them was scored on the power play, even though he had quite a bit of ice time on the man-advantage. He’s not a threat from the point with his shot, as his shot is average in terms of velocity. His release could be quicker as well, but it does have good accuracy. He’s still valuable on the power play due to his ability to distribute the puck; he finished fifth in the QMJHL in power-play assists with 17. But at this point in time, he’s a bit one-dimensional. His opponents simply don’t respect his point shot, and in order for him to add value to his game, his shot will need substantial improvement. Villeneuve only took 26 shots on goal on the power play (in 64 games) compared to teammate Jérémie Poirier’s 65.

Villeneuve tends to try too much with the puck on his stick, which leads to some turnovers. The Sea Dogs as a whole play a very risky offensive game, which is worth noting, as fellow Saint John blueliners Poirier and Charlie Desroches both have the same issue. One thing to remember about Villeneuve was that he led all QMJHL defensemen in even-strength primary points this year (29) and finished second in even-strength points (39) behind LA Kings’ prospect and Moncton Wildcats’ defenseman Jordan Spence. Another interesting thing about Villeneuve’s performance this year was his month-per-month consistency in terms of production. He had 11 points in October, 11 in November, 8 in December, 10 in January, and 12 in February.

Defensively, Villeneuve is easily the best defender out of the three Saint John blueliners eligible for this draft (Poirier and DesRoches being the other two). He has better hockey sense, a better compete level, and he is also quite good at breaking up passes with his good, smart stick.

On the flip side, he lacks physical maturity right now. He’s a willing combatant but he doesn’t always win those one-on-one battles. He is also sometimes unable to physically handle his opponents. We have seen him hold players instead, leading to penalty trouble. He’s very aggressive in closing his gap; in the neutral zone, this can get tricky as he’s aggressive there as well. If he gets caught flat-footed, he can get himself into trouble. He doesn’t always have the speed to come back in time, and holding penalties can occur when he tries too hard to recover.

He also struggles to defend against speed; the lack of fluidity in his footwork hurts him when playing against quicker skaters. Not only that, his lateral agility is not on point, either. However, he does have a good sense of anticipation, which is one of his best assets as a defender. That’s why he’s always quick to challenge the puck-carrier in the neutral and defensive zones.

His compete level helps him win some battles that he would not win otherwise due to his current lack of physical maturity. On the PK, he uses his long stick well to block passing lanes in the slot and dig pucks out of the corners. He also a willing shot-blocker in his zone; he doesn’t quit on any play, but he has not had a lot of help in his zone over the last two seasons.

To conclude on Villeneuve, he doesn’t have the high-end skills of a Poirier, but he’s a notch above him in terms of defending and hockey sense. We are hoping that as he continues to physically mature, some of those skills will continue to improve, such as skating and shooting. He has some two-way upside, but his lack of athleticism and high-end skills might hurt his chances of one day playing in the NHL.

William Villeneuve Video

William Villeneuve Statistics

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