“He’s a smaller player but he’s so tenacious.”
Samuel Poulin (drafted 21st overall by PIT in 2019)
“Really hard to play against.”
Jeremie Poirier (72nd overall, CGY, 2020)
“He’s a talented player who understands the game.”
Dawson Mercer (18th overall, NJD, 2020)
These three NHL prospects know how good Xavier Simoneau is, but the Drummondville Voltigeurs center just can’t seem to get any respect among NHL amateur scouts.
Despite being projected as a mid-round selection in both 2019 and 2020 by most points-based prospect models, no team has had the gumption to use a pick on the Voltigeur’s captain.
Byron Bader’s Hockey Prospecting model, which relies on age and league-adjusted offensive production, had Simoneau in a similar class as winger Jakob Pelletier - another undersized QMJHL forward born in Spring 2001.
Yet Pelletier was picked 26th overall in his first year of eligibility while Simoneau would have to wait until 2021 if is he to be drafted at all.
In the scouting world there are two ways to “project” a prospect’s future potential:
Quantitatively: Use a statistical model to find comparables
Qualitatively: Use the eye test to identify technical/tactical elements which may or may not translate to the next level
Quantitatively both Simoneau (left) and Pelletier (right) look at have an above-average chance of becoming full-time NHL players given their histories. Neither are likely to become top-line stars, but the same can be said for almost every player selected outside of the Top-10.
Qualitatively Simoneau and Pelletier are once again fairly similar. Both are small but play bigger than their height. They don’t rely on one outstanding physical tool to power through the competition. Instead they use their instincts and competitiveness to influence the game by always being in the midst of the action.
Inside a Scouting Meeting
Smart scouts and front offices seek to make the best possible decisions using a mix of quantitative (statistics) and qualitative (eye-test) tools.
It is likely that Simoneau represents an edge case in such methodologies. If team relied solely on offensive boxcar stats, statistical comparables or microstat tracking (exits, entries and shot creation), Simoneau would certainly be off the board by Round Three of last year’s draft.
Scout A: “He’s listed at 5’7” but he is really 5’5” at best. That’s just way too short for an NHL player.”
Scout B: “His legs. They’re so stubby. There’s no way he could skate well enough to keep up with pros.”
Scout C: “I really do like him as a player right now. I’d take it any day to play on my junior team. But I just don’t think he’s gonna make it at the next level.”
The entire case not to draft Simoneau, then, is built upon the idea that his game is unlikely project to the NHL due to qualitative factors.
He’ll be physically dominated
He’s too slow to play at that height
He puts up points but they won’t transfer
But to echo a thought expressed by hockey analyst Shawn Ferris, these arguments just don’t hold water when you closely examine Simoneau the player.
The Case for Simoneau
Yes. Simoneau is short, he’s stubby and he doesn’t have the speed or skill of a Martin St. Louis or a Theo Fleury. But compared to the quantitative and qualitative warts of a typical late-round draft pick, the center’s flaws are inconsequential.
Moreover, he is actually the opposite of the stereotypical 5’7” undrafted forward who puts up points.
Here are three reasons why I think he has a good a chance as any player in his age group of succeeding in the NHL:
Simoneau is only listed at 5’7”, 174lb on EliteProspects. Yet for me the most outstanding aspect of his game is how tough he is to play against - an opinion shared by QMJHL rivals Poulin, Poirier and Mercer.
Not only does Simoneau hit, chirp and agitate like a young Brad Marchand, but he also possesses the Bruins foward’s knack for initiating contact offensively.
As an undersized player, Simoneau learned from a young age to cut through bigger defensemen’s hands, proactively lift their sticks or bump them when they least expect in order to gain an offensive advantage.
2) Hockey Sense
The typical undersized junior player does his best work on the perimeter, where he can use his speed and skill advantage to make plays without putting himself in harm’s way.
Simoneau doesn’t do that. Instead he looks to create high-quality plays in the middle of the rink even when under pressure.
At 5v5 he works to gain the dot lane before making a play to a teammate, rather than throw pucks off the boards when challenged or shy away from traffic. On the powerplay he controls the left flank, uses deception to open up seams and sets up one-timers for his left-shooting partner on the opposite flank.
Simoneau’s greatest attribute as an offensive player is not what he can do by himself, but his ability to elevate the talents of those around him.
He started his QMJHL career on a stacked Drummondville squad alongside first-round picks Joe Veleno, Nicholas Beaudin and Dawson Mercer. But now he find himself as the best player on a rebuilding team. Rather than being a complementary player he is now the focal point, and he’s been even more excellent in these trying circumstances.
3) Learning Ability
Simoneau’s aptitudes for playing inside contact, making plays for teammates and adjusting to (and thriving in) radically different circumstances speak to his growth potential.
Instead of stagnating he is only putting up more points and taking on bigger responsibilities, signs of a player who projects.
During my time on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ hockey ops staff, I pushed for Simoneau during amateur scouting meetings because I saw the possibility for greatness where others didn’t.
We didn’t end up picking him in the 2019 draft in Vancouver, but he did accept an invitation to join us for rookie camp and for the 2019 Traverse City prospects tournament.
As his video coach that week I saw a player who worked hard and kept up, but who didn’t necessarily stand out. At the conclusion of the event Simoneau asked me what he needed to do in order to improve and perhaps get drafted the next time around.
Here’s what I told him:
1) “Become more of a shooter.”
Simoneau will always be a pass-first player, but improving his shot will help him be a dual threat and force defenders to respect his ability to score himself.
In 2018-19 he showed a strong preference for shooting off his left, back leg. During rookie camp we worked on transferring weight through the shooting motion, onto his right, front leg for more power.
In 2019-20 he led his team in goals with 28, a career-high.
2) “Be available every game.”
As a feisty, undersized player Simoneau has a history of injuries and suspensions. I challenged him to keep playing a fearless and aggressive game, but to prepare better and play smarter to give himself the best chance to contribute each game.
After missing seven and 13 games in 2017-18 and 2018-19, Simoneau only missed two games in the COVID-shortened 2019-20 season.
For these reasons I have big faith in Xavier Simoneau’s potential.
Remember the name.
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