Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects. We continue previewing the CHL for the 2013-14 season, going East to West across the country. After looking at the Maritime division this morning, we move on to the QMJHL’s East Division. As always you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
The QMJHL East Division should be one of the best divisions in Junior hockey this year. Going into the year, I would not be surprised to see the QMJHL champion emerge from this division, the question now is who as there are at least three clubs who could contend for the title if things fall their way. While the top 3 clubs seem to be a step ahead of the rest, there isn’t a really weak club in this six team bunch, and it should make for an interesting and competitive year.
Rimouski Oceanic: The Oceanic come into the season looking for redemption after falling in the first round of the 2013 playoffs. With 100 point scorer Peter Trainor leading an offence that also features Scott Oke, and Toronto Maple Leafs first rounder Frederik Gauthier; the Oceanic should be able to put the puck in the net. Add in a defence that is led by Flyers first rounder Samuel Morin and Jets prospect Jan Kostalek. Meanwhile in goal there is Dallas Stars second rounder Phillipe Desrosiers who led Canada to the Under 18 Champtionship last spring. This is a well rounded squad who can do it all and that is why many, including this analyst are putting their money on the Oceanic to win this year’s QMJHL President’s trophy and head to London for the Memorial Cup. The Oceanic will face challengers though, such as our next two clubs.
Baie-Comeau Drakkar: The Drakkar had the second best record in the QMJHL last year, went all the way to the President’s Cup Final, losing to powerful Halifax Squad, and return much of their team in 2013-14. Given all of this, they should be primed to give the Oceanic all they can handle this season. Upfront the Drakkar will be led by Los Angeles second rounder Valentin Zykov, Sharks second rounder Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau, Predators 4th rounder Felix Girard and Montreal Canadiens 6th rounder Jeremy Gregoire. On the blueline the Drakkar return their top four of Gabriel Verpaelst, Alexandre Chenevert, Julien Lepage and Dominic Poulin. Its an experienced bunch and should provide plenty of support in front of goaltender Philippe Cadorette, who also proved his worth last season. This is another well rounded team and the battles with the Oceanic are something to look forward to this season.
Quebec Remparts: The Remparts begin life without Patrick Roy behind the bench, and in the GM’s chair this season. Philippe Boucher takes over behind the bench and the former Oceanic general manager has the QMJHL experience to get the job done. He inherits a strong club featuring Lightning second rounder Adam Erne, Ducks second rounder Nick Sorensen, Rangers third rounder Anthony Duclair, Kurt Etchegary, and incoming Leafs prospect and import Fabrice Herzog. The group combines to form one of the deeper offensive clubs in the league. On the blue line, veteran Dillon Donnely, a former Avalancher pick combines with 2012 Flames 5th rounder Ryan Culkin to form a strong one-two punch. Duncan MacIntyre and Cody Donaghey are youngsters on the blueline who have a lot of potential and could be drafted this year. Roy has of course left the squad in strong shape between the pipes with Senators prospect Francois Brassard returning. He’s one of the QMJHL’s top goalies.
Players to Watch
Samuel Morin, Defence, Rimouski Oceanic: The Philadelphia Flyers first round draft prospect is a giant at as he is already listed at 6’7″. Morin is an imposing physical specimen at the back end who plays a strong defensive game, using his size and physicality in his own zone. Morin throws big hits and battles hard in front of the net and along the boards. He is not afraid to drop the gloves either and with his size, its no surprise that he has been very successful when doing so. Morin’s size literally makes him a man amongst boys in the junior ranks. Flyers scouts and fans will be watching to see if Morin can develop an offensive game this season. There is some untapped offensive potential that hasn’t shown up in Morin’s stats yet. He has a hard slapshot. If he can keep it low and on net, it can become an effective weapon for him from the point. Morin is also very poised with the puck on his stick. He keeps his head up and makes good crisp passes out of his own zone, allowing his team to start the rush. If he can take this first pass ability and translate it to handling the puck in the offensive zone, he could be a real offensive weapon.
Frederik Gauthier, Centre, Rimouski Oceanic: The Toronto Maple Leafs first rounder is another giant on the Oceanic. Listed at 6’04″ and 219 lbs, Gauthier towers over most of his opponents and can often times look like a man amongst boys out on the ice. Gauthier has shown to be very strong along the boards and in front of the net. Especially good on the cycle, Gauthier is yet another powerforward in the making. He wins a ton of battles, and protects the puck extremely well, which extends plays and buys him time to set up teammates. He has good vision and can thread the needle on his passes out of the cycle game, setting up teammates with great scoring opportunities. Gauthier can also score goals on his own by taking the puck hard to net, or by utilizing his hard, accurate wrister and good release. For a big guy, Gauthier also shows really impressive skating with good top end speed and acceleration.Gauthier is also well-balanced and powerful, which allows him to protect the puck while fighting off checkers, and power through his man. Gauthier shows a good two-way game, in fact he was a finalist for the Guy Carbonneau award, given annually to the best defensive forward in the QMJHL. He wins faceoffs, and is a strong backchecker. He understands the game, and is able to diagnose plays and use his long stick and big frame to break them up. If there is a criticism, its that I’d like to see him throw more big hits given his size and strength advantage at this level.
Charles Hudon, Left Wing, Chicoutimi Sagueneens: A fifth round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2012, Hudon fell based on concerns about his skating and size. He silenced the critics last year though with a very impressive year in the QMJHL and by making Team Canada for the World Juniors. Unfortunately a back injury suffered in a pre-tournament practice took him out of tourney before it could begin. Hudon has shown that concerns about his skating were greatly over-stated and that he’s able to produce with his great stickhandling, passing, shooting, and most of all hockey sense. He’s also shown an ability to play a gritty two way game. Hudon should be a member of Team Canada’s junior team this year. However when he returns from Sweden he may not be a member of the Sagueneens as it is likely that the team will trade their captain as it is his final year of junior and Chicoutimi seems to be building a club for the future, not this season.
Valentin Zykov, Right Wing, Baie-Comeau Drakkar: The Kings secon- rounder, Zykov, is a big forward (listed at 6’1″ 215 lbs) who plays with a gritty edge and is developing into a potential power forward. He goes to the net very hard and knows what to do when he gets there. He has great hands in tight and can make slick moves, tip in shots, or bury rebounds. A natural goal scorer Zykov also has a strong wrist shot and quick release. Zykov also works extremely hard in the corners, winning board battles, and playing a gritty, physical game. Zykov is very strong on the puck and protects it extremely well in the cycle game. He uses his body to shield off checkers and is strong on the puck and rarely knocked off of it by contact. He does have some decent vision and passing skills and can set up teammates off the cycle, but his biggest strength is as a goal scorer. His skating is unorthodox and his speed needs work, but he has good agility, and great balance and power that allow him to fight through checks and to drive to the front of the net with power.
Adam Erne, Right Wing, Quebec Remparts: A second round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Erne is a power forward in training who plays a very physical game. He loves to get in on the forecheck and throw big hits, the type that can really set the tone for his team. He just loves to win battles on the boards and to fight for position in front of the net. Erne is at his best when he drives the net and uses his soft hands to beat the goalie in close. He can do this by taking defenders wide off the rush, or in the cycle game by just fighting through checks and barreling his way to the crease. He drives the net effectively without the puck as well. Erne also has a good wrist shot and a quick release which he can also use to beat goaltenders. His vision and playmaking ability have vastly improved this season, and he has shown off his ability to set up teammates for good scoring chances. Erne is already advanced in his defensive game and is reliable in his own zone. He brings the same strong physical play in the defensive zone as well as the offensive zone. Most times he plays his position extremely well, keeping his man to the outside and cutting off shooting and passing lanes. The only issue he can sometimes have is getting a little overzealous in his approach and looking for the big hit which will get him out of position in the defensive zone.
Brandon Whitney, Goalie, Victoriaville Tigres: A 2012 pick of the Chicago Blackhawks, Whitney will be relied upon by the Tigres to keep them in many games this year. He’s probably the best goalie in a division that seems full of top notch netminders. At 6’05″ Whitney possesses the ideal size that NHL teams are looking for more and more in goalie prospects. He is a huge goalie who covers a lot of the net. This is especially apparent when Whtiney drops down into the butterfly, as he is still able to cover the upper portions of the net. Whitney is not a pure butterfly goalie however, as he plays more of the hybrid style. He has excellent positioning and is almost always square to the shooter. He also comes out of his net and cuts down angles extremely well. In this way he’s able to maximize his size and take away a large portion of the net from shooters. Whitney has excellent lateral mobility for a goaltender his size, as he glides quickly and effortlessly from post to post. This enables him to make saves on cross ice passes, and one timer opportunities. Whitney tracks the puck very well and possesses good anticipation. His rebound control is above average for a goalie his age. Given that it is his final year of junior, he could become trade bait at the QMHL Trade deadline, as the Tigres are a decent club, but not a true contender.
2015 NHL Draft Eligible Players to Watch
The division isn’t really full of high 2014 NHL Draft prospects, but it does have two guys who project to be amongst the top prospects available in 2015.
Nicolas Roy, Right Wing, Chicoutimi Sagueneens: Drafted 1st overall by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in this spring’s QMHL draft, Roy refused to report to the team. His family cited educational concerns and wanted the 16-year-old to remain with a team in La Belle Province. A few weeks ago the Sagueneens won the bidding war for Roy, trading three future first round picks to Cape Breton for the talented youngster. The 6’3″ Roy is seen as a future power forward with a strong shot, and a powerful skating stride. He is also said to have top notch hockey sense and is expected to develop into an effective two way winger going forward as well. It will be interesting to see how he does with the Sags.
Anthony Beauvillier, Centre, Shawinigan Cataractes: Anthony was chosen second overall in the QMJHL draft and will join his brother Francois Bauvillier in Shawinigan. He has great stickhandling skills, and excellent vision and playmaking abilities. Add to this a strong shot and a good release, and the quick and strong skating to put it all together and be a real offensive force in the QMJHL. He’s a little undersized at just 5’9″ right now, but he is just 16 and has two full years to grow before it is time to go to the NHL draft. With a bit of a growth spurt in that time, and living up to his offensive potential, he could be a high draft pick in 2015.
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