Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects. It’s that time again, major junior hockey is back and we’re here to preview the new season for you. While teams have actually played their first game in the QMJHL, things are set to start on September 19th in the WHL and on September 24th in the OHL. With that in mind we will start our division previews out east, then go west, and finally finish in Ontario this year. You can check out our previous Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
The Contenders (In Order of How I Predict Their Finish)
Rimouski Oceanic: The Oceanic have been building for the 2014-15 season for several years, and look primed to make a long run this year. 2013 NHL draft first rounder Samuel Morin leads the defence while fellow 2013 first rounder Frederik Gauthier leads the forwards and 2013 second rounder Philippe Desrosiers is between the pipes. Jan Kostalek (Winnipeg) will help Morin on defence, while its possible that Isles prospect Loic Leduc will be returned to the team for an overage season. Up front the Oceanic have picked up Vincent Dunn (Ottawa) and Christopher Clapperton (Florida) in off-season moves to strengthen a group that also has Anthony DeLuca, Alexis Loiseau, and Michael Joly. Anthony less than winning the QMJHL President’s Trophy will be a disappointment for the Oceanic, and with so many of their stars likely playing their last year of junior hockey, look for them to go all in to achieve that goal at the QMJHL trade deadline.
Quebec Remparts: The Remparts are hosting the 2015 Memorial Cup, so we know that they will be a strong team. Scoring stars Anthony Duclair (New York Rangers), and Adam Erne (Tampa Bay Lightning) will be joined by Marc-Olivier Roy (Edmonton Oilers), Taylor Burke, and import Dmytro Timashov up front. The Remparts are trying to convince Nashville draftee Vladislav Kamenev to join the club, but if they can’t expect them to trade for another talented import to fill their remaining import slot. The Remparts also loaded up on defence getting Ryan Graves (Rangers), Nik Brouillard, and Simon Boudreau to join the returning Cody Donaghey to form a solid top 4. The Remparts have draft eligible Callum Booth and veteran Eric Brassard, but have the draft picks necessary to acquire a goalie at the deadline if either of these two falter. The Remparts are already a very strong team, and if history is any indication, they won’t be afraid to make the moves necessary to address any weaknesses.
Chicoutimi Sagueneens: Realistically this division is a two-horse race, but I have to pick someone to finish third, and I’m looking at Chicoutimi. I think that this team and Baie-Comeau are about equal in talent right now, but Baie-Comeau is older and could see a trade deadline sell-off, while Chicoutimi is a young team that will continue to build, thus, they will pull away in the second half. The player to watch here is last year’s first overall pick, Nicolas Roy, who will lead the offence in his draft year. Laurent Dauphin (Arizona) and newcomer Gabryel Boudreau (San Jose) will provide veteran support. Returnee Janne Puhakka; and newcomers Alex Ranger, Sam Hodhod and Joe Strong provide depth. On the blueline Nikita Liamkin and Brian Lovell will be counted on to lead the defence, while draft-eligible Frederic Allard could also be a key young piece. The question mark is in goal where Julio Billia is back as the number one goalie.
Players to Watch
Jeremy Gregoire, Centre, Baie-Comeau Drakkar: A sixth round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens, Gregoire was recently named the captain of the Drakkar. He scored 35 goals and 69 points in 65 games last season, and added 23 points in 22 games on Baie-Comeau’s playoff run. Gregoire was invited to Canada’s world junior summer camp and is looking for a strong start to the season to make the world junior team. Gregoire is a gritty two-way centre, who shows the ability to win battles in the corners, and to get to the dirty areas of the ice. He is a very smart player who gets to good positions on the ice without the puck, and makes smart plays with it. A quick release and soft hands help him to score goals. He could stand to get faster, especially in terms of his first step and his acceleration.
Valentin Zykov, Right Wing, Baie-Comeau Drakkar: A second round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2013, Zykov is a big forward (listed at 6’2″ 205 lbs) who plays with a gritty edge and is potential NHL 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. He 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. As mentioned, he became more of a playmaker this year, finding open teammates off the cycle game, and using his ability to control the puck to extend plays, and wait for teammates to get open. He has very good vision and hockey sense.
Lauren Dauphin, Centre/Left Wing, Chicoutimi Sagueneens: A second round pick of the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes in the 2013. Dauphin’s game is based on his great skating ability. He has a very fluid stride which allows him to generate a lot of speed. His quick first few steps, and very good acceleration are tremendous assets. His ability to change speeds, coupled with great lateral agility and excellent edgework make him very deceptive and dangerous on the rush. He couples this with being an excellent stickhandler. He uses this along with his skating to protect the puck and make plays. His patience and poise can make his linemates better by buying them an extra second or two to get away from their checks in the offensive zone. Dauphin has good vision and passing skills and can put the puck on his teammates tape with a great pass when they do get open. He is especially proficient with the saucer pass, using it to thread the needly and avoid defender’s sticks. Dauphin’s shot is merely average in terms of power, but it is extremely accurate, and his quick release leads to him scoring goals. His skillset is especially deadly on the powerplay where his vision, passing, and high hockey IQ are able to exploit a defense, and he doesn’t have to worry as much about one on one physical battles. He has good defensive positioning as well, but needs to bulk up to win more battles.
Anthony Duclair, Left Wing, Quebec Remparts: A thrid round pick of the New York Rangers in 2013, Duclair had a monster season last year with 50 goals and 99 points in 59 games. Duclair is a fantastic skater, who has a ton of top end speed and great acceleration. He is able to stickhandle at top speed which forces defenders to back up on him on the rush as he is able to go wide and cut to the net if they don’t respect his skating ability. He also has a tremendous ability to change gears and beats defenders that way. Duclair is able to take advantage of the extra space that his skating provides him, by using a heavy and very accurate wrist shot with a good release. He is a pure goal scorer, who can drive the net and has soft hands in tight. While he does have good vision and passing skills he has sometimes been criticized for using his shot a little bit too often. Duclair is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice and he battles along the boards and in front of the net. He had a good showing at Canada’s National Junior Summer Camp this August.
Adam Erne, Quebec Remparts: A second round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2013 NHL Draft, 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.
Frederik Gauthier, Centre, Rimouski Oceanic: The Maple Leafs first round pick in 2013, Gauthier is absolutely huge. 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 could be a 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 score goals on his own by taking the puck hard to net, or by utilizing his hard, accurate wrister and good release. The offensive skills are there, but Gauthier must become more consistent at using them. He picked up 52 points in 54 games last year, but must take his game to the next level this season for the Oceanic to be as good as we predict they will be. One thing he does already do extremely well is play a two-way game. 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. I would like to see a little more physicality given his size.
Samuel Morin, Defence, Rimouski Oceanic: Picked by the Flyers in the first round, 11th overall, in 2013, Morin is another giant on the Oceanic. Listed at 6’6″, 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 plays a strong positional game and uses his size and his long stick to cut down passing and shooting lanes. Morin has even got a bit of a mean streak, he plays very physical, and is often right on the border (and sometimes even over it) on what is legal. His high penalty minute totals can attest that he does have a tendency to sometimes cross that line. Morin 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. Morin really showed his offensive potential last season, something that could be seen with his hard slap shot and crisp passes in his draft year. He became more confident with the puck on his stick and was more willing to wait an extra second or too to make to make a better play in the offensive zone. He has always had a good first pass in his own zone but is now using it in the offensive zone as well. While he did show soe improvement, he could still continue to get even better. One thing that would help is if he keeps his slapshot low to allow his teammates to go for tips and rebounds.
Yan Pavel Laplante, Centre, Victoriaville Tigres: Selected by the Coyotes, early in the third round of the 2013 NHL Draft, Laplante has offensive skill in that he has a very good shot and release. He also has good vision and passing skill. Laplante could use some work on his stickhandling though, as he really rushes sometimes to either take the shot, or make the pass. Still its his compete level and physical presence that is his greatest assset. The non-stop work ethic also includes Laplante’s play in his own end. He is a committed defensive player who covers his man, reads the play well, plays a physical game and is willing to sacrifice for the good of the team. Likely entering his final year of junior hockey, he could be a key trade chip for the Tigres if they struggle in the first half of the season.
Tommy Veilleux, LW, Victoriaville Tigres: A sixth round pick of the Nashville Predators in 2013, Veilleux only played 17 games last season due to injuries. When drafted by Nashville, Veilleux projected as an agitator or pest type of player, who plays a gritty, agitating type of game. He’s not afraid to work the corners or to play in front of the net. Not the most skilled player, he generates offence via smart, simple plays and getting to good areas. He can finish from in tight if someone is setting him up at the junior level, and will be counted on to provide goals in a more top six role in Victoriaville, even if his potential pro future is in a bottom six role. He needs to work on getting quicker on his skates as well. Another player to watch at the trade deadline should the Tigres look to load up on picks and younger players.
Draft Eligibles to Watch
Nicolas Roy, Centre, Chicoutimi Sagueneens: Drafted first overall by Cape Breton in 2013, he was quickly traded to Chicoutimi when he announced that he would not report to any team outside the province of Quebec for schooling reasons. Put up decent numbers (41 points) on a rebuilding Chicoutimi club last year. Has great height but really needs to add some muscle to his frame and that will be his task over the next year. Was fantastic with 9 points in 7 games for Team Quebec at the World Under 17 Hockey Challenge. Also had 5 points in 5 games for Team Canada in winning gold at the Ivan Hlinka. Roy has a very powerful stride, and excellent balance. He is already tough to knock off the puck, and good in board battles, and in the cycle game and this will only get better as he gets stronger. Has good passing skills and visions, he also goes to the net hard, and is willing to get to the dirty areas of the nice. A potential power forward in the making. A good season could see him picked in the top 10 of the 2015 NHL Draft.
Anthony Beauvillier, Left Wing/Centre, Shawinigan Cataractes: Beauvillier was chosen second overall in the 2013 QMJHL draft and had a decent rookie season scoring 33 points in 64 games as a 16 year old. He is expected to lead the rebuilding Cataractes offence this year though and take a big step forward. He has great stickhandling skills and the ability to create plays when it seems like nothing is there. He also has excellent vision and playmaking abilities and is the type of player who can make his linemates better. He also has a strong shot and a good release, but doesn’t seem to use it often enough. Add in the fact that he has a quick first step, and good speed and you can see a player who has all the skills, but now just needs to put it all together and he can be a real offensive force in the QMJHL. He’s a little undersized as he’s listed at just 5’10″ right now, but he is just 17 and has time to grow before it is time to go to the NHL draft. His brother Francois Beauvillier is 6’1 and was a 6th round pick of the Florida Panthers. With a bit of a growth spurt, and living up to his offensive potential, Anthony could be a taken a lot higher than his brother was in this year’s NHL draft.
Dennis Yan, Left Wing, Shawinigan Cataractes: American born, Yan moved to Russia as a child (7) and spent much of his youth playing hockey there. He did come back to North America as a teen and has played for the United States in the Ivan Hlinka (where he put up 8 points in 5 games and won Bronze) and at the Under 17 World Hockey Challenge where he won gold. Drafted 8th overall in the Import draft, he had an outstanding pre-season for Shawinigan and has been a real strong player for them through two QMJHL games. Yan has good size at 6’2″ and has the tools to be a power forward, as he loves physical contact and getting in on the forecheck. He is a strong skater who can fight through checks and drive the net, but also has the nice hands to finish in close. Add to this a good wrist shot and quick release and Yan has the look of a potential first rounder, but will need to show offensive consistency in Shawinigan, as that was something he had issues with last year with the US NTDP U-17 team.
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