Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects. Starting today we will be previewing the CHL for the 2013-14 season, going East to West across the country. This means that we will get started in the QMJHL’s Maritime Division, home to the defending Memorial Cup Champions, the Halifax Mooseheads. As always you can check out the previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
Before we begin though, we should take a minute to acknowledge the memory of Jordan Boyd, a promising young Acadie-Bathurst prospect who passed away at the start of training camp. The Titan will wear a patch remembering the 16-year-old this season.
Charlottetown Islanders: The team formerly known as the PEI Rocket are now the Charlottetown Islanders, begin their first season under their new banner with high expectations. Up front the team is led by Coyotes draftee Yan-Pavel Laplante, and probable 2014 NHL first rounder Alexis Pepin. Add in a big, tough defensive defenceman like Ryan Graves and good goaltending in Maple Leafs draft pick Antoine Bibeau. Charlottetown is a very big team, and they will use their size and physicality to control the boards and the front of the net, and give the Mooseheads their greatest challenge in this division.
Halifax Mooseheads: Last year the Mooseheads ran away with the league title, rolled through the playoffs, won the QMJHL championship, and topped it all off by winning the Memorial Cup. It was a dream season, and without Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin (along with a number of other graduating forwards), it is unlikely they will be able to repeat such a run. However, don’t expect the Mooseheads to fall too far, and they may still be able to challenge for the Maritime Division crown. Success starts from the net out and the Mooseheads will have one of the best goalies in junior hockey in Zach Fucale back between the pipes. On the blueline the Mooseheads return much of their championship winning squad, with Brendan Duke, Austyn Hardie, Matt Murphy, MacKenzie Weegar and Brent Andrews all back. This will be a different Mooseheads squad relying on defence and goaltending instead of the stellar offence they showed last season. Up front, look to the returning Ryan Falkenham to take a bigger role and along with rookie Euros Nikolaj Ehlers and Timo Meier to lead the offence.
Players to Watch:
Zach Fucale, Goalie, Halifax Mooseheads: The first goalie taken in the 2013 NHL Draft, a second round pick of the Montreal Canadiens; Fucale is an athletic, butterfly-style goaltender with decent size at 6’01″. He is very quick in the net, especially with his legs as he does an excellent job taking away the bottom of the net while his glove hand takes away the top of the net. He excels in his rebound control and his ability to cut down angles. Overall, Fucale shows very strong technique for a junior goalie. He has also been a thoroughbred for Halifax, playing a huge number of games the last two seasons, and rarely taking breaks from the net. He hasn’t seemed to wear down at all either, and his durability is definitely a strong attribute. With MacKinnon and Drouin gone, Fucale takes over as the Mooseheads star and the team will lean heavily upon him.
William Carrier, Left Wing/Centre, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles: A second round pick of the St. Louis Blues, Carrier is the most important player in Cape Breton. He missed most of the second half last year after an ankle injury, and it remains to be seen if he’ll spend the whole season on this rebuilding club. He could be an intriguing pickup for a championship contender come the trade deadline. At his best Carrier has a strong, powerful skating stride. He has great balance and is very difficult to knock off the puck allowing him to fight through checks, and he has the ability to go straight through defenders at times instead of going around them. He has decent agility and edgework, but he’s more likely to use his ability to bulldoze a defender then to elude them. Carrier is extremely effective working down low in the cycle game where he can score goals in tight or set up teammates. A pure powerforward, he wins battles along the boards, and loves to throw his weight around on the forecheck. Carrier has the added bonus of playing a strong two-way game. He brings his physical presence to his own end of the rink, and has been used on the penalty kill.
Draft Eligibles to Watch
Alexis Pepin, Left Wing/Centre, Charlottetown Islanders: Capable of playing both Center and Left Wing, he is a quick and agile skater, with a very good shot and excellent release. A big forward who is still growing and is already 6’2″ and well over 200 lbs (some reports have him at as much as 238 lbs) at just 17 years old, Pepin is your prototypical powerforward who loves to throw his weight around and drive to the front of the net. He looks to improve on a rookie year that saw him put up 18 goals for the former PEI Rocket, and if he can have the type of season he expects, he could find himself in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft. Pepin is said to have taken steps to improve his defensive game and become a two-way forward this year.
Mason MacDonald, Goalie, Acadie-Bathurst Titan: MacDonald made Canada’s U18 squad for the Ivan Hlinka tournament and has an excellent opportunity to be amongst the first goalies taken in next year’s NHL draft. He will certainly face a lot of rubber in net for the Titan this year, as he will be behind a young, rebuilding squad. At 6’3″ he has the ideal size that NHL clubs are looking for in young goalies now, and he also has a ton of athletic ability, is known for his quick reflexes and some jaw-dropping saves. He’s a little raw though, and his job this season will be to refine his technique going forward.
Ivan Barbashev, Left Wing, Moncton Wildcats: Barbashev might be the most talented forward in the division given the departures of players like MacKinnon and Drouin, along with former teammate Dmitri Jaskin, and QMJHL scoring leader Ben Duffy this offseason. The 1st overall pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft, Barbashev could be a first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft if he can improve his intensity and defence. A pure sniper, he has a great arsenal of shots with a terrific wrister, slapshot, snapshot, back hand and one-timer. These shots also feature an excellent release which can fool goalkeepers. Barbashev also has good stickhandling skills, and the creativity to make passes that surprise opponents and set up teammates for easy goals. He’ll have scouts headed to Moncton all season long.
Juraj Siska, Centre, Saint John Sea Dogs: The ninth overall pick in the 2013 CHL Import Draft, the Sea Dogs are hoping that the young Slovakian pivot will inject some much-needed offence into the Saint John lineup. He has excellent size at 6’2″ 200 lbs, and is expected to score goals and play a power forwards game. I haven’t personally seen Siska yet, but given the intriguing reports of a tough, physical forward, with good skill and skating ability, I’m intrigued to see what he can do in the QMJHL.