Every draft consists of players that some refer to as “sleepers” due to their general ranking not holding up to what some believe their true potential is. Despite leading the QMJHL defenseman in scoring this past season, William Villeneuve has been referred to as a sleeper by some in the scouting community as many rankings see him falling anywhere from the 2nd or 3rd round. He isn’t even the top ranked defenseman on his team for this year’s draft as that honor belongs to his partner Jérémie Poirier who could very well be selected in the 1st round. Despite being overshadowed, Villeneuve has put together a solid draft campaign that warrants a closer look. This profile will take a look at his young career and future potential.
Who is William Villeneuve?
According to his QMJHL page, William Villeneuve is a 6’1”, 163 lbs. right handed defenseman. He comes from Sherbrooke, Quebec and was born on March 20, 2002. Thanks to his Elite Prospects profile, we can see his stats going back to the 2015-16 season when he was a member of the Triolet Harfangs organization. That season he split his time between AA and AAA hockey. In 27 games for the Bantam AA team Villeneuve put up 4 goals and 11 assists. His 0.56 points per game rate ranked 2nd among the U14 defensemen in the QBAA. With the Bantam AAA team he played in 12 games with an assist.
The 2016-17 season would see him move up to the Bantam AAA team with Triolet Harfangs while also getting some action with the Midget AA team. In 25 games at the Bantam AAA level he put up 5 goals and 27 assists. Those 32 points led all the defensemen in the QBAAA. Villeneuve had 2 assists in 9 games of Midget action in the QMEAA.
The 2017-18 season saw him move on to play Midget AAA hockey with the Magog Cantonniers in the QMAAA. In 40 regular season games he put up 9 goals and 25 assists. Those 34 points led all defensemen in the league. He put in a strong playoff performance with 4 goals and 11 assists in 18 games which tied him for the lead in scoring by a defenseman and was also good enough for a top 10 spot overall among skaters. This strong season saw him named to the QMAAA First All-Star Team and also pick up QMAAA Top Defenseman honors. It also saw Villeneuve selected #2 overall in the 2018 QMJHL Entry Draft by the Saint John Sea Dogs.
With nothing left to prove at the midget level, Villeneuve stepped right into the Saint John line up in the QMJHL in his age 16 season in 2018-19. His final stat line doesn’t jump off the page. In 55 games he had a goal, 18 assists, 26 PIM, -52, 1.49 SH%, and 1.22 SH/GP. It is important to note that Saint John was a team in a rebuild. In a league where 16 of the 18 teams make the playoffs, they finished 17th with a 13-49-2-4 record. That situation would be a tough for any defender, especially a 16 year old rookie. According to Pick 224, there were 11 defensemen in the 2020 NHL Draft Class that played at least half of that QMJHL season (34 games). Villeneuve had the 2nd highest estimated time on ice per game among that group at just under 21 minutes. No doubt he gained a lot of experience in those tough minutes that season. He also had the chance to play in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Representing Canada Red U17, he put up 4 assists in 6 games.
This past season would see Villeneuve take on a leadership role with Saint John, serving as an Alternate Captain. He also broke at with 9 goals and 49 assists in 64 games. Those 58 points led all QMJHL defensemen which is really impressive to do as a 17 year old. The rest of his stat line shows he had 50 PIM, -5, 5.55 SH%, and a 2.53 SH/GP. At the time of the cancellation, Saint John was the 11th place team in the league and had clinched a playoff spot. According to Pick 224, among the 123 QMJHL defensemen that played in at least 30 games, Villeneuve had the highest even strength primary points per game (0.4531), 2nd highest primary points per game (0.6094), 12th highest shots per game (2.53), highest points per game (0.9063), and the third highest primary points per estimated 60 minutes of time on ice (1.5621).
Where is William Villeneuve Ranked?
#99 North American Skaters - NHL Central Scouting (Final Ranking)
#46 - Future Considerations (March Ranking)
#110 - The Draft Analyst (March Ranking)
#84 - TSN - Craig Button (March Ranking)
#47 - Smaht Scouting - Josh Tessler (April Ranking)
Colin Cudmore’s (@CudmoreColin) “Expected Pick Range” tool which takes rankings from 34 sources has Villeneuve listed to go anywhere from 33rd to 87th based on the latest April rankings. On his Google Sheet which has a compilation of the rankings, Villeneuve is listed at #59 out of all the prospects that have been ranked by at least 50% of the sources.
What Others Say About William Villeneuve
Over at Last Word on Hockey, Ben Kerr has this extensive scouting report on Villeneuve, focusing on his skating, offense, defense, and projection. Here are some excerpts from that report.
Regarding his skating:
Villeneuve has good speed and acceleration in both directions. He also has good agility and edgework. Villeneuve’s lateral movement is extremely good...It allows him to walk the line to open up passing and shooting lanes, as well as helps him to maintain his gap control and keep attackers in front of him when defending.
Regarding his shooting and passing abilities:
Villeneuve can score goals from the point. He has a good arsenal of heavy shots, with a strong slap shot as well as an excellent wrist shot. His release is quick and the shots are accurate
He often starts the transition game with a good first pass. He also can use his skating and strong stickhandling to skate the puck out of danger and away from forecheckers. Villeneuve can carry the puck through the neutral zone and make plays, though he prefers to head-man the puck and join as a trailer. He has the vision and passing skills as well to quarterback things from the point on the power play.
Regarding his defense:
Villeneuve has a lanky frame right now and can be overpowered by stronger, more physical attackers. Villeneuve is a smart player. He reads the play well and cuts down passing as well as shooting lanes. Against the rush, he does a good job of forcing attackers wide to low-quality shooting areas. He also uses a quick stick to steal the puck from opponents.
His projection and comparison:
Villeneuve could develop into a top-4 defenceman with the offensive skills to run the power play.
Villeneuve’s game is reminiscent of Kris Letang but this is a stylistic comparison only and not one based on skill and ability.
That is certainly a favorable scouting report and I do suggests reading the entire thing to get more insight into what Kerr believes Villeneuve brings to the table. The lack of size is certainly an issue but not uncommon for a defender at his age. It seems like Villeneuve has a solid skill set at both ends of the ice to build on.
Back in September, Josh Tessler had this observation over at Dobber Prospects to make about Villeneuve. Here is some of what he had to say:
Villeneuve is a decent two-way defenseman. He will make quality shots from the perimeter and completes smart and efficient passes in the offensive zone. Fans should not expect Villeneuve to be one of the more dominant point-getters in the QMJHL as he is far from a true offensive defenseman. Yet, he is efficient in all three zones and has shown to be a dependable puck mover. In terms of his skating, his edgework is exceptional and he transitions well from forward to backward.
The first thing that pops out to me is that Tessler didn’t expect Villeneuve to be a dominant point producer in the QMJHL. Obviously, Villeneuve took a big step forward in his offensive game this past year and surprised scouts with his production. I also find it interesting that Tessler agrees with Kerr that Villeneuve’s skating is a real asset to the transition game and his edgework is a plus.
Last month, Sam Happi over at Draft Geek had this in-depth article that discusses Villeneuve’s game and his play with his defense partner and fellow 2020 draft eligible, Jérémie Poirier. He also breaks down some video highlights so be sure to check it out. A few things that I thought were notable in the article.
Regarding Villeneuve being a potential steal and his comparison to Poirier who has received a lot more attention from scouts:
In my viewings of the Saint John Sea Dogs, I’ve almost always come away more impressed with Villeneuve’s play than Poirier. Poirier is the flashier player with drastically more raw skill, but Villeneuve’s steady mobile game was arguably even more impactful. Whereas Poirier might disappear for a longer stretch and then reappear with an end-to-end rush or hard shot from the blueline, Villeneuve consistently made positive plays to move the puck forward and maintain possession for his team.
It seems that some out there attribute Villeneuve’s success to playing with Poirier, but here we see an argument that Villeneuve more than held his own on that pairing and was a big reason for Saint John’s success this past season.
Regarding Villeneuve’s potential:
I see Villeneuve as a player with a very real shot at becoming a top-four defenceman at the NHL level. He’s an all-around player capable of impacting the game in all three zones, with his influence being most pronounced in transition. His sense for space on the breakout and mobility to navigate forechecking pressure to create time for himself is a terrific base of tools that should allow Villeneuve to transition into a successful NHL player. He’s a two-way defender that shows the basic technical tools to develop into a positive defensive player and the 17 year old’s offensive skills, though not flashy, should make him a regular contributor to the scoresheet at the NHL level. Improved skating will be important for Villeneuve to translate his mobility to the faster pace of the NHL, but I don’t see it as a major point of concern as that’s one of the more improvable traits for a player his age.
Happi really makes a convincing case that Villeneuve could be one of the steals in this draft.
Finally, let’s take a look at what Bill Placzek had to say over on Draftsite:
Smooth skating defenseman with good size and skill. Cerebral defender who plays big minutes in all situations with a complete non-flashy game. Very effective in one on one situations with good anticipation and an active stick. Will need to gain strength against bigger attackers and add power to his stride. Has a frame that that has room get much bigger.
This seems to back up what the other reports had to say. Villeneuve seems to have good skating ability and instincts. For a defender that puts up a lot of points, he doesn’t seem to stand out, which when you’re a defender, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Placzek agrees that Villeneuve needs to get bigger but their is certainly upside to his game.
A Little Video
The Saint John Sea Dogs have provided this highlights package of Villeneuve on their YouTube page:
It opens with Villeneuve showing good instincts to collect the puck in the faceoff circle and quickly find an angle to beat the goaltender. The next play at 0:37 shows Villeneuve carry the puck down into the zone and deliver a low shot past the goaltender. If you like one-timers then the next highlight is for you at the 0:44 mark where he blasts one for a goal. Starting around 0:50 we get to see his passing on display as he collects a loose puck in the neutral zone, carries it into the offensive zone while creating an odd man scenario, and delivers a clean pass across the royal road for his teammate to pick up an easy goal. At 1:20 he retrieves the puck at his own blue line and then fires a quick, accurate pass to a teammate on the opposing blue line which leads to a goal. The very next highlight is a similar play where he passes the puck from behind his own net to a teammate at the opposing blue line who finishes it off for a goal. After watching this highlights package, I definitely like his offensive instincts and vision. I like that he can fire off a big shot or wrist one past the goaltender. In general, I like that he is willing to keep his shots low when he has teammates by the crease and that his passes or quick and accurate.
Here are a couple of tweets from Josh Tessler that show Villeneuve’s game. The first one shows him using his skating to maintain possession of the puck while under pressure in the neutral zone and then gain the offensive zone. The second tweet show’s Villeneuve’s defensive capability in a PK situation.
It's plays like this that make me regret being so low on William Villeneuve in my past couple of rankings. Brick wall at the blue-line. Great strip of the puck on the PK. #2020NHLDraft | @FCHockey pic.twitter.com/sgDPrrVhzl— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) March 1, 2020
An Opinion of Sorts
I think Villeneuve is an interesting prospect but it’s hard to say what his potential is. Offensively, he broke out and produced at an impressive rate this past season though some doubt how much of it will translate to the professional level. What I like in his offensive game is his instincts, shooting ability, and his clean, hard passes that he can use in all three zones to move the puck. His mobility, especially his edgework, is a real asset and that could really help him carve out a NHL career. Defensively, he still needs to bulk up to handle strong opposition, though it seems like he has the vision and understanding of the game to make plays in shutting down attacks. Some may feel that his impressive season was due to playing with Jérémie Poirier, a highly rated 2020 prospect, while others make the case that Villeneuve was a key part to both of their successes this past season. I suppose time will tell. With all that said, I do have interest in Villeneuve but would certainly not use a 1st round pick on him. If the Devils found a way to add a late 2nd or a 3rd round pick and he was still available, I’d be more open to selecting him. If he somehow fell into the 4th round where the Devils pick twice then I think he’d certainly be worth a shot there, though I suspect he’ll be gone by then. I think whichever team that drafts Villeneueve will be excited about his two-way, mobile game.
What are your thoughts on William Villeneuve? What round do you expect him to be drafted in? Would you want the Devils to try to find a way to acquire a 2nd or 3rd round pick to take this prospect? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!