Top Shelf Prospects: 2012-13 QMJHL Preview, East Division

Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. I’ve taken a couple of weeks off from the Prospect Beat since completing a review of the prospects of all thirty NHL teams. If you missed those you can find a complete listing of my previous articles here. You can also find my extensive NHL Draft preview here.

This past weekend, hockey started across the CHL, and now that the new hockey season is upon us I will be given my thoughts on this coming season. I’ll be breaking it down league by league, and conference by conference. We started Sunday with the OHL and now move on to the QMJHL East Division, home of the Memorial Cup Champion Shawinigan Cataractes, and Mikhail Grigorenko, Patrick Roy and the Quebec Remparts.

Top Contenders

Quebec Remparts: Patrick Roy has long been rumored to be going to the NHL for a head coaching position, and certainly based on his record over the years with the Remparts, I can see why he’d be coveted.  However his best work might be as the Remparts General Manager.  The team is always competitive and this year Roy has worked his import magic again, adding Lightning prospect Nikita Kucherov to the squad.  The teams offence also features 2013 Draft Eligible stars Anthony Duclair, Adam Erne, and Nick Sorenson (another import).  The NHL lockout means that last years star centre Mikhail Grigorenko also returns to Quebec.  The Remparts may run into an issue as they have three imports, but with Kucherov injured to start the season, they won’t need to trade any of the players away until he’s healthy.  The team is solid on defence with Ryan Culkin, and Martin Lefebvre leading the way, while Francois Brassard is a capable goaltender.  Quite simply the Remparts are easily the class of this division, and would be overwhelming favorites even without the return of Grigorenko.  He just gives them one more weapon, and it would be shocking to see any other team win the QMJHL East this year.  I wouldn’t even be surprised if Roy goes shopping again at the Trade Deadline and loads up this squad for a run at the QMJHL title and Memorial Cup.  This becomes especially true if it looks like Grigorenko will stick around all season.

Chicoutimi Saguenéens: Second place in this division will actually be a close race and its tough to choose between Chicoutimi, Rimouski, and even Victoriaville. I’m going to give the edge to the Sagueneens based on goaltending though as Chris Gibson might be the best goalie in the QMJHL, and thats something the other two clubs can’t say that they have. Up front Charles Hudon looked great in the summer’s Canada/Russia U20 Challenge, but then sprained an ankle in preseason. Still he’ll be back in just a couple weeks and will lead the offence. He’ll be supported by Guillaime Asselin, Lukas Sedlak, and 2013 draft eligible Jeremy Gregoire in bringing offence for the Bluets. The blueline is a veteran unit, led by overager Philippe Archambault who will play against other teams top lines. Veterans like Guillaume Cloutier and Mathieu Gagnon will also play big roles, Cloutier taking defensive minutes and Gagnon on the power play.

Players To Watch

Mikhail Grigorenko, Centre, Quebec Remparts: Last season Grigorenko started strongly and took the league by storm. When he left for the World Junior Championships in December, he was the consensus pick as the number 2 overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. He suffered an ankle injury at the event and things went downhill from there. Scouts and fans would begin to question his desire, his work ethic, and his ability to elevate in big games down the stretch. When the Remparts were upset in the second round by the Halifax Mooseheads in the second round, and Grigorenko was badly outplayed by Nathan MacKinnon, his draft stock was in full free-fall. He was eventually taken 12th overall by the Buffalo Sabres. We would learn that Grigorenko was suffering from mono late in the season and in the playoffs. Grigorenko goes into this season looking to silence the critics and show that he does play every night, and that the ankle injury and mono were the reasons for his disappointing second half. If he plays the full season the way he played the first half last year, he’ll be seen as a steal for Buffalo.

Charles Hudon, Left Wing, Chicoutimi Sagueneens: Hudon fell to the 5th round in the NHL Draft based on concerns about his skating and size, though we at last word had him much higher with a ranking of 65 in our draft preview. Hudon silenced some of his critics at this summer’s Canada/Russia U18 challenge where many said he was among Canada’s best forwards in the series. Hudon looks to show that concerns about his skating were over stated and that he’s able to produce with his great stickhandling, passing, shooting, and most of all hockey sense. He’s out for a couple weeks with an ankle injury, but I think he comes back with a breakout year.

Raphael Bussieres, Left Wing, Baie-Comeau Drakkar: Bussieres was the highest drafted Quebec born player in this summer’s entry draft. after being taken in the second round by the Minnesota Wild.  Bussieres is a gritty forward who plays a physical game, in fact he’s crossed the line into reckless on occassion and paid the price with suspensions and other discipline.  Bussieres is a power forward who is a good skater and a good shooter.  He needs to work on his consistency as he was very good in the first half of last season but not as good to close the year.

Phillip Danault, C, Victoriaville Tigres: Danault is a gritty and physical two way centre who was taken in the 2011 first round by the Chicago Blackhawks. His skating is superb and his shot is decent, with a good release. There are some questions about his vision and playmaking ability, but even if he does not become a top 6 NHL player, his work ethic, defensive game, and hockey sense will get him to the NHL. For this year though He looks to have another solid year in the QMJHL and after playing for Canada in the summer challenge with Russia looks to make the World Junior Team. He’s another player who might be trade bait come deadline time if the Tigres decide to get assets for the rebuild as this is Danault’s last year in the QMJHL.

Denis Chalifoux, Coach, Shawinigan Cataractes: Now normally I wouldn’t name a coach as someone to watch in this category, but I think that Chalifoux finds himself in a unique situation. The Cataractes graduated most of the core that led the team to the Memorial Cup last season, and seem to be going into a serious rebuilding phase. Chalifoux takes over in the shadow of Championship winning coach Eric Veilleux who brought home the teams first ever title. Complicating things Veilleux is now coaching division rival Baie-Comeau. Its not exactly the easiest position for a new head coach to take over, but at the same time Shawinigan’s ownership should be patient and allow the team to rebuild.

2013 Draft Eligibles to Watch

Anthony Duclair, LW, Quebec Remparts: Duclair’s game is speed, speed, speed. He is a fantastic skater, and is able to stickhandle and make plays at top speed. He can score goals off the wing with his accurate wrist shot. The question on Duclair is his size and strength as he needs to fill out. Still expect a good season in Quebec and a potential first round draft pick.

Adam Erne, RW, Quebec Remparts: Erne is another 2013 NHL Draft, potential first rounder on the Remparts. The power forward in training plays a very physical game. He just loves to win battles on the boards and to fight for position in front of the net. He loves to drive the net and has soft hands in close. Erne scored 28 goals last season and looks to build on it this season. He is already advanced in his defensive game as Erne is reliable in his own zone, and he brings that physical game at both ends of the ice. Erne could stand to improve his skating this year and if he can do that he’ll be a potential lottery pick.  It will be interesting to see if he lines up at Right Wing beside Mikhail Grigorenko and Anthony Duclair, or if he is used to provide secondary scoring for the Remparts.  Also expect him to push for a spot on Team USA at the World Juniors.

Nick Sorenson, RW, Quebec Remparts: The highly touted Dane was plagued with injuries as a rookie last season only playing in 8 games for the Remparts last season, they he did score 5 goals and 9 points in those 8 games. He hopes to stay healthy this season and prove why so many thought that the Remparts had another import draft steal. Prior to being hurt by a dirty hit by Jonathan Lessard, and needding and MCL/ACL reconstruction, Sorenson was showing shifty skating and a shot with a lightning quick release. I hope to see more of him this season.

Samuel Morin, Defence, Rimouski Oceanic: Already listed at 6’5, Morin is an imposing physical specimen at the back end. He 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’s even got a bit of a mean streak. Given his size and this nasty aspect of his game, we can expect him to be in high demand at the draft.

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