Top Shelf Prospects: 2012-13 QMJHL Preview, West Division.

Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. My last project was  a review of the prospects of all thirty NHL teams. If you missed those you can find a complete listing of my them 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.  I’ve already gone through the OHL, and 2/3rd of the  QMJHL, so  I now move on to the QMJHL West Division, home of the expansion Sherbrooke Phoenix, and the first overall draft pick from last year’s QMJHL draft.

Top Contenders

Blainville-Boisbriand Armada:  The club formerly known as the Montreal Juniors begin their second season in the Montreal Suburb of Blainville-Boisbriand.  Last season they were expected to be rebuilding, but shocked all the experts by winning the division.  With another year of experience behind them, they are my bet to repeat.  The attack begins at the blueline where Xavier Ouellet and Samuel Carriere are strong offense defencemen who quarterback the Armada from the blueline.  Ouellet in particular is one of the best pure offensive defencemen in the Q.  Upfront the club adds recent Devils draft pick Stefan Matteau to a returning core of Christopher Clapperton, Cedric Paquette and Tommy Giroux.  The only question is in goal where expected starter Etienne Marcoux will miss the start of the season with a Separated Shoulder.  Still, despite this the Armada have the best team in the division.

Val d’Or Foreurs: Like the QMJHL West, I don’t expect anyone else in the East Division to truly be able to challenge the Armada for top spot. However if I had to pick one team with an outside chance to do it (and your best bet to finish 2nd) it would be Val d’Or. The club has solid goaltending as last year’s starter Francois Tremblay is back to take the reigns again this season. In front of him Gabriel Beaupre, Artem Sergeev, and Guillaume Gelinas lead the experienced Val D’Or defence. Up front the Foreurs have addded Anton Zlobin who scored the Memorial Cup winning goal in Overtime for the Cataractes last season and leading scorer Michael Beaudry returns.

Players to Watch:

Xavier Ouellet, Defence, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada: With 60 points in 63 games last year Ouellet has already proven to be one of the best offensive defencemen in the league. He is very poised on the powerplay and has excellent vision and creativity. He also has a very good wrist shot with a quick release. His slapshot is powerful and he has a dangerous one timer. Ouellet scored over 21 goals last season and is looking for more of the same this year. He is a great skater and is very dangerous off the rush as well. Don’t be fooled though, Ouellet is no one trick pony, as he also is a good defensive defenceman using his solid positioning and good hockey sense to keep opponents at bay.  Ouellet will need to add some muscle before moving up to the next level, but he’s dominant in the QMJHL right now.

Stefan Matteau, Left Wing, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada: Matteau was a first round pick of the New Jersey Devils. Like his father, Matteau is a gritty, hard working, winger who is capable in all three zones. Matteau seems to relish playing a physical game, is effective on the boards winning battles, and protecting the puck in the cycle game. He is more likely to bull through a defender than to go around them. Matteau has a hard, heavy wrist shot and a decent release. When Matteau doesn’t have the puck in the offensive zone, you can find him causing havoc in front of the net. This season Matteau will need to show more discipline as he is a player who needs to play on the edge but not cross the line. He should bring extra offence to the Armada attack.

Olivier Archambault, Right Wing, Drummondville Voltigeurs: A former first overall pick in the QMJHL, there is no questiong Archambault’s offensive skill. He has great vision and is able to make pinpoint passes to teammates. He is a strong skater and stickhandler who can use these skills to make plays. He also has a very good shot and release. The questions with Archambault are more about his consistency. He seems to have a great game or two and then go invisble in the next game. He just doesn’t put a consistent string of good games together. If Drummondville is going to go anywhere this year Archambault will need to use his skills on a more consistent basis.

Dillon Fournier, Defence, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies: Fournier is an excellent skater, with good top end speed and quick acceleration. Another offensive minded minded Dman. Fournier loves to rush the puck and is a very good stickhandler, adept at protecting the puck. He has good vision and makes crisp accurate passes on both the breakout and in the offensive zone. He has a hard wrist shot and a good release, but could stand to improve on its accuracy. His slapshot gets decent velocity but can also be a little wild. Fournier will be a key to the offence in Rouyn-Noranda this year and will be a key player for the Huskies.

Top Draft Prospects for 2013 to Watch

Anthony Mantha, Left Wing, Val D’Or Foureurs: At 6’3″ Mantha is a large winger who uses his frame well to protect the puck. An excellent playmaker off the wing, Mantha works the puck down low and uses his size, strength and good puck skills to cycle the puck and keep defenders at bay until an opening presents itself. Blessed with great vision, it doesn’t take much of an opening before Mantha is able to pounce. He also is strong on the puck and willing to fight through checks and take it to the front of the net. If he can fill out his frame just a little more, he becomes a very intriguing draft prospect.

Martin Reway, Left Wing, Gatineau Olympique: Reway was 4th overall pick in the recent CHL Import draft. Reway is undersized, but is said to be extremely talented with good puck handling skills, an excellent wrist shot, and good vision. Considered the top Slovakian prospect for the 2013 draft, it will be interesting to see what Reway will do in his first season in North America. I haven’t seen a lot of Reway, but he did look pretty good at the Under 18 World Championships this past spring.

Rookies to Watch

Daniel Audette, Centre, Sherbrooke Phoenix: The Son of former NHL star Donald Audette was the first overall pick in the QMJHL draft. He goes to the Sherbrooke Phoenix, an expansion team in the QMJHL this year, as the Q returns to Sherbrooke, a city with a great tradition of Junior Hockey. The Phoenix won’t be expected to compete this year, but they will want to build a club around the young Audette. Audette is a natural sniper blessed with the fantastic wrist shot and quick release that was his father’s best asset as well. He’s also a very good stickhandler and is able to beat goalies with an array of shootout moves. Audette is a little undersized, but he’s got a couple years to grow both in height, and in putting on muscle to his frame in thw QMJHL. He was born in New York State, but has dual Canadian/American Citizenship and will need to decide what national team to play for in the coming years.

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