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. The QMJHL kicked off their new season Thursday, September 10th, while things are set to start on September 24th in the OHL and WHL. With that in mind we will start our division previews out east and work our way across the country this year.
Unlike previous years this won’t be 11 divisions in 11 days. We will do the QMJHL over the next three days, but I still have some other prospect heavy work to do before we get to the OHL and WHL. In any event, you can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
2015-16 QMJHL West Division Preview
The Top 3 Contender (in order of how I feel they will finish)
Sherbrooke Phoenix: Since joining the QMJHL four years ago, the Phoenix have been slowly building. It all comes together this year, as they have a number of talents all blossoming together. Sharks second rounder Jeremy Roy is an absolute stud on the blue line, and he is joined by another pair of NHL draftees in Alexis Vanier and Carl Neill. Upfront they are led by their first ever draft pick, Daniel Audette, who could challenge for the QMHL scoring title if things go his way this year. Guillaime Gauthier joins the team as an overager and brings Mem Cup experience, while Kay Schweri and Julien Pelletier can also score. In net, Evan Fitzpatrick takes over the number one job.
Val D’or Foreurs: The Foreurs will be a big and physical team this season. They are easily the biggest team in the QMJHL, and might be the biggest team in all of the CHL. Forwards Julien Gauthier, Julien Proulx and Alexis Pépin are big power forward types, while Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Anthony Richard bring skill and speed. Jack Van Boekel, who is 6’7″ tall, and Tyler Higgins lead a large, physical blueline. The question mark here is in net, where Dereck Baribeau will try and prove his worth, as this team tries to get back to the top of the QMJHL.
Rouyn-Noranda Huskies: The Huskies have two capable goaltenders in Samuel Harvey and Jeremy Belisle who should backstop the team into contention. They will get plenty of support from a defence that features Philippe Myers, Allan Caron, and Bruins prospect Jeremy Lauzon. Up front they added Leafs third round pick Martins Dzierkals to add to an offence that already featured Julien Nantel, Jean-Christophe Beaudin and Antoine Waked.
Players to Watch
Samuel Montembeault, Goaltender, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada: A third round pick of the Florida Panthers, Montembeault started for the Armada as a 17-year-old, and did a good job. He has the size needed to be a top goalie, and takes full advantage of it by playing well out in his crease. Montembault has quick legs, and plays an effective butterfly style, taking away the bottom portions of the net. He gets side to side quickly and tracks the puck well. Montembault has also shown to be calm and cool under pressure, not reacting badly to a goal against, traffic in his face, or a bad call from a ref. He shows good rebound control for a goaltender his age.
Yakov Trenin, Left Wing, Gatineau Olympiques: A second round pick of the Nashville Predators, Trenin has shown to be an effective playmaker off the wing. He uses his size and stickhandling ability to protect the puck and extend plays in the cycle game. This gives his teammates time to get open and when they do Trenin can put a quick pass right on their tape. He has very good vision and the ability to put the puck through the smallest of openings. While the stats show that he is more playmaker than scorer, Trenin does have a very powerful wrist shot and an excellent release. He just doesn’t use that shot often enough though, almost always looking for passing lane. Trenin is willing to play a robust physical game. He can be a big hitter on the forecheck, punishing opposing defencemen who go back to retrieve dump-ins and loose pucks. Trenin is also not afraid to battle on the boards for loose pucks and try to gain position to get open for a shot.
Alexandre Carrier, Defenceman, Gatineau Olympiques: A fourth round pick of the Predators, Carrier finished third amongst all defencemen in the QMJHL scoring race with 55 points. He has great vision and can make outstanding passes on the powerplay. His shot is decent, but not a cannon, as he’s more of a powerplay quarterback than a trigger man. Defensively he reads the play well, and plays his position with good fundamentals, but can be overpowered by bigger forwards.
Francis Perron, Left Wing, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies: A 2014 Ottawa Senators draft pick, Perron put up 29 goals and 76 points in 64 games last season. He has excellent puck handling skills and is very creative. He will try (and make) some very tough passes through the tightest of openings. Over the last year, Perron has worked on becoming stronger and playing a gritter game. By adding that grit to his finesse game, he’s really upped his production and his contribution to the Huskies.
Julien Nantel, Left Wing, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies: A seventh round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2014, Nantel broke out, putting up 61 points in 64 games last season. The Huskies will be asking even more of him this year, as he will be key to their offence. Nantel has good tools, including good size, a strong shot and release, and good hockey sense. He must improve his skating though, particularly in his start up and acceleration. He is at his best working in the cycle, as he protects the puck well when he has it and can move it to open teammates. Loves to execute the give-and-go play dropping the puck off for a teammate and then finding an opening near the net to take a return pass and fire a shot on net.
Jean-Christophe Beaudin, Centre, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies:A third round pick of the Colorado Avalanche, Beaudin is a smart playmaker with a good slapshot who also can play the point on the powerplay. He has very good acceleration and can surprise defenders with how quickly he gains speed. He needs to work on the release on his wrist shot. Beaudin is a good stickhandler and can protect the puck in the cycle game. Plays a strong-two way game, and is very conscientious on the back check.
Daniel Audette, Centre, Sherbrooke Phoenix: A fifth round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2014, Audette was the player drafted first overall by the Phoenix in the 2012 QMJHL draft as they prepared to enter the league. The son of former NHLer Donald Audette, Daniel has grown with the team over the last three years, and is now preparing to culminate his journey with the Phoenix. He’s also proving that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree as 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. His playmaking is also very good as he has excellent vision and passing skills. Audette is a little undersized, but makes up for it with his strong skating and outstanding hockey sense. He scored 29 goals and 73 points in 60 games last season. The only knock here is his size. Still he has the skills to take a leap forward and could approach a 100 point season this year, with more help joining him on the Phoenix.
Jeremy Roy, Defence, Sherbrooke Phoenix: Roy is an offensive stud from the blue line. He is an extremely smart player, who almost always makes the right pass out of his own end, or on the point at the powerplay. Roy is developing a hard one-timer, and understands that by keeping it low and on net, he creates second chance opportunities for the Sherbrooke forwards. He is poised with the puck on his stick whether it be at the point, in his own end skating it out of danger, or leading the rush. He uses his good stickhandling ability to generate offense off the rush, and is a threat to go end to end any time he touches the puck. Roy also has a very accurate wrist shot, which he can utilize off the rush, or from the point when he doesn’t have time to let go of the big wind-up. He has a good release that can fool goaltenders.
Alexis Vanier, Defence, Sherbrooke Phoenix: A 2014 San Jose Sharks pick, Alexis Vanier is 6’5″ and has the ideal size that many NHL teams would love to add to their blueline. He’s also shown the ability to use it, and to do so effectively throwing big hits, rubbing out opponents along the boards, winning battles, and clearing the front of the net. On top of this he is a willing shot blocker, and cuts down passing lanes extremely well by taking advantage of his long stick. Vanier’s positioning and his anticipation and hockey IQ are also very good and this can help to somewhat make up for his lack of skating ability. Vanier has also shown ability at the offensive end of the ice. He has an absolute howitzer from the blue-line and can unleash it either as a straight slap shot or as a one-timer. Vanier also has a very powerful and accurate wrist shot along with a good release.
Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Left Wing, Val d’Or Foreurs: A 2014 Philadelphia Flyers draft pick, Aube-Kubel has a very good wrist shot coupled with an excellent release. He loves to shoot the puck and will fire from anywhere in the offensive zone. He has good hockey sense and an ability to find open spaces when his linemates have the puck. Makes decisions quickly and gets the puck off his stick in a hurry. Is a decent passer, with good vision; but shooting is more his game. Aube-Kubel’s stickhandling is decent, but he’s not one to hold the puck for long periods of time, he is always looking to quickly pass it off and get open on a give and go, or take the shot and go after the rebound. He’s also a good forechecker who gets in on the puck quickly and is very good at creating pressure and turnovers. Aube-Kubel is willing to battle in the corners, and will go to the front of the net and battle to score goals. He needs work on his first step, but once moving has excellent acceleration and great top speed. He also is a strong two way player, who supports the defence down low and could be used on the penalty kill, where that speed will make him an offensive threat.
Anthony Richard, Centre, Val D’Or Foreurs: Drafted by the Nashville Predators, Richard is a late 96, entering his fourth QMJHL season and mans the Foreurs top line scoring 91 points in 66 games last year. He has tremendous speed and the ability to stickhandle at that top speed. He has decent power on his wrist sh0t, but he has a lightning quick release that really gives goalies problems. Riochard also has very good vision and passing skills, and should be able to light up the score board with Aube-Kubel this season given increases in ice-time and powerplay minutes. His size (5’9″) is his biggest detriment and likely the reason he lasted until the fourth round of the NHL draft.
2016 Draft EligiblePlayers to Watch
Miguel Picard, Centre, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada: Picard is a responsible two-way forward, who plays a very simple, but effective game at both ends of the ice. He protects the puck well in the cycle and works hard along the boards to extend puck possession in the offensive zone. When an opening presents itself, he is able to make a smart pass to a teammate to get a scoring chance. Defensively he works hard and shows good positioning and awareness. He even played on the penalty kill as a 16-year-old. He must work on his skating and getting faster to move up draft boards.
Mathieu Sevigny, Centre/Wing, Drummondville Voltigeurs: Sevigny gets in quickly on the forecheck, pressuring opposing defenders to move the puck quickly and creating turnovers in the offensive zone. He battles for loose pucks along the wall, and gets to the front of the net. He brings his tenacious game to his own end of the rink as well, supporting the defence with a strong back check, and battling for loose pucks. Sevigny is a smart player with good positioning, and his long active stick is used to break up passes and create turnovers.
Vitali Abramov, Left Wing, Gatineau Olympiques: An outstanding skater with great speed, agility and power. He marries the skating ability with soft hands and good stick handling ability and this makes him very tough to defend one-on-one, whether it be off the rush, or working the puck down low. A pure goal scorer, Abramov has an excellent shot with a quick release. He can also play the role of playmaker with good vision and passing skills. He is a bit undersized, so he must continue to add muscle to his frame.
Matt Sartoris, Defenceman, Gatineau Olympiques: A huge defenceman (6’5″) with good skating skill for a big man. He played a physical game as a 16-year-old as he was not afraid to engage with older, more experienced forwards in the corners or in front of the net. Going forward, he needs to improve his positioning and fundamentals in order to be taken higher in the NHL draft. He also makes a good breakout pass, but didn’t show much offense in his first year in the league. Improving this will also help get him noticed by NHL scouts.
Evan Fitzpatrick, Goaltender, Sherbrooke Phoenix: The fourth overall pick in the 2013 QMJHL draft, Fitzpatrick has long been highly touted in goalie circles. He is a hybrid style netminder, who has extremely good athleticism. Even if out of position, Fitzpatrick never gives up on a play, and makes some highlight reel saves as a result. He’s also very technically sound for a young netminder, with rebound control not often seen in someone his age. He takes away the bottom of the net with quick legs, and has an excellent glove hand. Fitzpatrick tracks the puck well and his lateral movement is excellent. He could put up a big season and find himself a first round NHL pick.
Julien Gauthier, Right Wing, Val d’or Foreurs: A power forward prospect with the size and the strength to dominate the game down low. Gauthier throws big hits on the forecheck, protects the puck on the cycle, takes the puck to the front of the net, and wins battles with opposing defenders. He also has an outstanding wrist shot, with great power and a hair trigger release. Gauthier is a great skater for a big man with very good top end speed. He also has the power to fight through checks, or bowl over a defender on the way to the net. Gauthier put up 38 goals and 73 points last season, and will be looking for more this year.
2017 Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Benjamin Gagne, Defenceman, Drummondville Voltigeurs: Gagne plays a steady and reliable game for the Voltigeurs and saw his minutes increase as the season went on last year. He has good mobility and covers a lot of ice. A sound defender with strong positioning and a good active stick, Gagne will look to add an offensive element to his game this year.
GATINEAU, CANADA – MARCH 14: Jeremy Roy #97 of the Sherbrooke Phoenix skates with the puck against the Gatineau Olympiques during the QMJHL game on March 14, 2014 at Robert Guertin Arena in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)