Overagers: Small Simoneau big on talent
Xavier Simoneau is big on talent.
If that talent was matched by size, the Drummondville Voltigeurs center wouldn’t be eligible for the NHL Draft for a second time.
“The left-handed forward has shown amazing competitiveness, work ethic and mindset on and off the ice, which is key for continued development,” FCHockey’s Quebec-based regional scout Andy Lehoux said. “His great offensive skill set, hockey IQ, defensive intensity and energy could put him into a favourable position to get a job in the bottom six someday.”
Simoneau, 5-foot-6, 169 pounds, has made great strides in his game — and in his offensive stat line — from his initial year of eligibility.
His versatility as a playmaker makes him extremely dangerous with the puck. He has great vision that enables him to make a variety of passes, including cross-ice to a teammate in stride.
It is difficult to force Simoneau, who had 89 points (28 goals, 61 assists) in 61 games in 2019-20, into a turnover as his patience with the puck is reminiscent of a seasoned veteran.
He’s taken strides, literally, in other areas, too.
“I think he improved his strength and skating the most,” FCHockey regional scout Guillaume Gervais said. “He’s covering a lot of ground in a small amount of time while maintaining good speed.”
Lehoux noticed other improvements, too.
“With the departure of multiple top-end players from Drummondville, Simoneau’s leadership was put to the test as Voltigeurs newest captain,” Lehoux said. “The 19 year-old center proved himself quickly in his new role, leading his team to surprising results while putting his heart and soul on the ice every night.”
For a player of Simoneau’s size, there can be concerns about how well he can transition to the NHL.
Gervais addressed some of these concerns with optimism.
“I think his game can translate because he’s very smart at finding passing lanes but he still needs to gain more strength and speed,” Gervais said. “He’s mostly making plays from outside so he will need to get quicker to get around big D in the pros.
“Even for a very skilled guy like Jonathan Drouin, it’s difficult to get around the defenders consistently so Simoneau will have to work ten times more to do the same.”
It’s not unheard of for a successful center in juniors to switch to the wing in the NHL due to the lesser positional responsibilities that come with that change.
This is not necessarily applicable to Simoneau, though, as he is best suited as a center in the eyes of Gervais.
“I don’t see Simoneau having success as a winger because he’s vulnerable along the boards, and lacks strength to win those battles,” Gervais said. “He’s much better as a center because he can see the ice better and has more options available to him due to his great vision.”
The need to improve his physical strength and speed is necessary if Simoneau, No. 133 in FCHockey’s Final ranking for the 2020 draft, is to progress to the next level.
This is further emphasized by that lack of overall size.
But Gervais was not overly concerned with Simoneau’s lack of size.
“As long as he improves his speed and strength, he will be fine,” Gervais said.
“If not, then yes his size will be a concern.”
Lehoux agreed that Simoneau’s size wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, but he will have an uphill battle to develop because of it.
“I don’t think his size alone will be what keeps him away from the NHL, but it’s definitely an additional challenge,” Lehoux said.
“As of now, Simoneau isn’t slowed down a bit by his size in the QMJHL, as he wins board battles and makes plays through traffic easily thanks to his superior IQ and quickness.”
While he stands a better chance of getting his name called at some point this year, Simoneau’s height may still scare some teams from even taking a chance on him.
At the end of the day though, the potential reward far outweighs any of the cons associated with drafting Simoneau.