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. All three leagues are kicking off this week. With that in mind we will start our division previews today and make our way around the country.
You can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
2017-18 QMJHL East Division Preview
Top Three Contenders (In Order of Projected Finish)
The team will be led by a dynamic duo upfront. Philadelphia Flyers prospect Pascal Laberge and Anaheim Ducks prospect Maxime Comtois should combine to form one of the league’s most feared lines. They get offensive support from Ivan Kosorenkov, Felix Lauzon, Mathieu Sevigny and James Phelan. The defence is experienced with overager Vincent Lanoue, and 19-year-olds Felix Boivin, Andrew Smith, Pierre-Olivier Demers, and Jeremie Beaudin. 18-year-old Jérôme Gravel also plays a big role. They can run six defence with significant QMJHL experience.
The team starts with 17-year-old Tristan Côté-Cazenave between the pipes. Inexperience in net is their biggest question mark. They will give Cote-Cazenave a good audition early in the year, but if it isn’t working Victoriaville won’t wast their chance in a wide open league this year. Look for them to trade for an experienced goalie.
D’Artagnan Joly and Ivan Chekhovich are the key veterans who should lead a strong offence. 2018 Draft eligibles Shawn Element and Gabriel Fortier should take on bigger roles up front. Jordan Martel and Simon Chevrier provide plenty of offensive support. The defence also features a top draft eligible in Xavier Bouchard. He will be supported by overager Bradley Lalonde, who comes in from Victoriaville. If Hugo Savinsky takes another step forward the group will be strong. In net the Drakkar rely on overager Antoine Samuel.
Much of the focus in Quebec City this year will be on 2018 draft prospects Andrew Coxhead and Philipp Kurashev. However, the Remparts have other pieces that will help them be a competitive team in the East. Dereck Baribeau is a solid goaltender, and will provide them with a strong backline. The blue line features Bengamin Gagne and Andrew Picco lead the defence. Sam Dunn is a QMJHL Rookie, but much is expected of the 19-year-old. Up front Coxhead and Kurashev get support from Matthew Boucher and Olivier Garneau.
Players to Watch
D’Artagnan Joly, Right Wing, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Joly has excellent speed and acceleration, however he could work on his edge work and agility to really take his game to the next level. He is a hard-working winger, willing to battle along the boards and in front of the net. Joly also has an excellent wrist shot, and a very quick release. He works hard in the cycle game, protecting the puck down low, making smart passes and getting the puck to the net. Joly is also good in his own end.
German Rubtsov, Centre, Chicoutimi Saguenéens
A 2016 first round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, Rubtsov plays a strong two-way game, highlighted by his strong hockey sense. Offensively he makes smart plays with the puck, showing off good vision, and excellent anticipation of where his teammates will be. This makes him a very good play maker. Rubtsov has the ability to control and protect the puck with excellent stick handling. He is very patient and slows the game down, waiting for teammates to get open and then making tape-to-tape passes to the now open teammates.
Rubtsov also has the ability to find soft areas in the defence and get open to make a play, or take a one-timer. He has a good arsenal of shots, including a strong wrist shot, snap shot as well as hard slap shot. He gets his shots off quickly with an excellent release. Rubtsov shows a high compete level. He battles hard for loose pucks and is also effective at forcing defencemen into mistakes on the forecheck.
Samuel Dove-McFalls, Centre, Rimouski Oceanic
Drafted by the Flyers in the fourth round in 2015, the team opted not to sign Dove-McFalls and he heads back to the QMJHL for an overage season. Dove-McFalls had 53 points in 65 games for Saint John last year, helping the team to a QMJHL Championship. He plays a strong two-way game, winning face-offs, killing penalties, and checking the other team’s top players. Dove-McFalls also adds a little offence with good speed and power in his game. He gets to the net and can score when there. His assists come from forechecking hard, creating turnovers and getting the puck to the front of the net.
Samuel Girard, Defence, Shawinigan Cataractes
A Nashville Predators prospect, Girard may be undersized, but he is an offensive dynamo. He put up nine goals and 75 points in just 59 games for the Shawinigan Cataractes last season. Girard is a tremendous skater, and great puck mover. He has outstanding speed and acceleration in both directions. His edge work and agility is very good and allows him to make quick cuts and changes in direction. He also has outstanding pivots and can transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa.
Girard pairs great skating with the the hands to make plays at top speed. He carries the puck out of his zone and creates offence, leading the rush. His quick hands and slick skating allow Girard to avoid forecheckers and get the puck up ice quickly. He also makes a good first pass, and can hit long passes to spring streaking forwards for a breakaway. Girard quarterbacks the power play. He puts the puck through tight spaces and makes tape-to-tape passes to forwards. His ability to get the puck through traffic is surgical. Girard’s puck poise and agility allows him to walk the line to open up passing and shooting lanes. He needs some work on his slap shot, as it lacks power. However, he has a decent wrist shot with an excellent release. Girard’s shots are very accurate. He’s dangerous nearly every shift.
Maxime Comtois, Left Wing/Centre, Victoriaville Tigres
Comtois is a goal scorer for the Tigres. He has an excellent array of shots, with good power and accuracy on his wrist shot, snap shot and slap shot. A sniper, Comtois has a very quick release that can handcuff opposing goaltenders. While he has the shot needed to score from the slot and face-off circles, he also has the soft hands to beat a goalie in close to the net. Comtois can score goals with deflections, rebounds, and by quickly burying a pass in tight. He can also drive the net off the rush, or when working in the offensive zone.
Comtois also has decent vision and passing skills. He can extend plays by using his stick handling as well as his body to protect the puck and control the play along the boards. Once teammates get open he can make a pass through tight openings. Comtois has good size and is not afraid to work along the boards or in front of the net. He pressures defenders well on the forecheck, creating turnovers. Comtois could stand to add some muscle to his frame to help him in board battles and establishing position in front of the net going forward.
Pascal Laberge, Right Wing/Centre, Victoriaville Tigres
A serious concussion derailed Laberge’s season last year, and he looks to bounce back this year. Laberge has good size, but could stand to put some muscle on his frame. He plays a power forward style of game. Laberge loves to forecheck, getting in quickly and putting pressure on opposing defenders. He gets to the front of the net and establishes position. With the puck on his stick, he is not afraid to drive the net, and has the hands to finish in close. Laberge wins battles along the boards and protects the puck and plays the cycle well at the junior level, but will need to fill out his frame before he is ready to play this gritty style against bigger pro opponents.
Laberge has a non-stop motor and is always battling along the boards or in front of the net. He also has a very hard wrist shot and excellent release, along with a strong slap shot and one-timer; but doesn’t seem to shoot enough. Instead, Laberge is more of a play maker, using his speed and agility to open up passing lanes and his vision and passing skill to create opportunities for linemates. He is a good stick handler, and willing to try some very creative moves with the puck on his stick. Pascal Laberge is a quick skater with good acceleration. He has as the ability to change to change speeds and can fool defenders and is very dangerous off the rush. He has the speed and acceleration to take defenders to the outside and then cut to the net.
2018 Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Xavier Bouchard, Defence, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
As a 16-year-old rookie, Bouchard scored 34 points in 63 games, leading all rookie defencemen in the QMJHL. Bouchard has high hockey IQ. He almost always makes the smart play with the puck on his stick, finding the open man on the breakout, running the power play from the point, or skating the puck up the ice himself. Bouchard is calm and poised at the blue line, identifying opportunities and waiting for the perfect moment to pass the puck through an opening. He also has a very good slap shot. His skating is a work in progress, but showed improvement over the course of his rookie year.
Shawn Element, Left Wing/Centre, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Element is a throw-back forward combining skill and toughness. He is very physical on the forecheck, always pressuring the defence and looking for the big hit. He is also not afraid to drop the gloves and did so on a number of occassions. Element loves to battle in front of the net, and this is where he will score most of his goals, working to bang in rebounds and to tip-in his teammates shots.
Gabriel Fortier, Centre, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Fortier missed half of last season with a shoulder injury, but came on strong down the stretch with 17 points in 25 games. Fortier is an outstanding skater. His speed is outstanding and he reaches his top speed in just a few strides. He also has outstanding edge work and agility. If Fortier gets a step on his man, he can accelerate past him and cut to the net. He also has a good wrist shot that he can use if defenders back off too much to respect his speed. Fortier could work on becoming a better play maker this season. Expanding that part of his game would see him move up the draft board.
Vladislav Kotkov, Left Wing, Chicoutimi Saguenéens
Kotkov is listed at 6’4″ and 198 pounds. He is also an excellent skater for his size. While he is not the most creative player, he uses that size and speed to play a power forward’s game. He gets in quick on the forecheck and is physical in the corners. He also controls the puck well in the cycle games, making space and time for linemates to create plays. Kotkov has a good shot, and can also score in tight with good hands.
Philipp Kurashev, Centre, Quebec Remparts
A Swiss born forward, Kurashev scored 21 goals and 54 points in 65 games as a rookie for the Remparts. He has a heavy and accurate wrist shot. He also has an excellent release that fools goaltenders. Kurashev is strong on his skates, and has excellent balance. He wins battles along the boards, and is tough to knock off the puck in the cycle game. He also does a good job establishing position in front of the net. Kurashev has an advanced defensive game for a 16-year-old, supporting the defence down low and helping on the backcheck.
Andrew Coxhead, Centre, Quebec Remparts
A big forward, he is good at getting to the front of the net and causing issues for goaltenders. Coxhead has quick hands, helping with scoring on rebounds and tip-ins. He is also good at retrieving pucks in the corners and keeping the play going in the cycle. Coxhead is committed in his own end and has a decent two-way game. However, he must improve his skating if he is going to put up big numbers and be considered a top draft prospect.
Dmitri Zavgorodny, Centre, Rimouski Oceanic
The 8th overall pick in the CHL Import Draft, Zavgorodny is an undersized centre, listed at just 5’9″. He is a very good stick handler. He protects the puck well and can deke his man inside of a phone both. Those quick hands open up passing and shooting lanes for Zavgorodny and he has the vision and smarts to take advantage of them. Zavgorodny has a good wrist shot and quick release. He also has the skating skill to excel despite his limited size.
Lucas Fitzpatrick, Goalie, Shawinigan Cataractes
The younger brother of Evan Fitzpatrick starts his rookie season as a back-up goalie in Shawinigan. Already coming in at 6’2″, he has the size necessary to catch scouts eyes as a goaltender. Strong skating allows him to get out to the top of his crease, cut down angles and take advantage of that size. Fitzpatrick gets into and out of his butterfly quickly. He has quick legs and takes away the bottom of the net well.
2019 Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Nathan Legare, Right Wing, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
The sixth overall pick in the 2017 QMJHL Draft, Legare has good speed and an excellent wrist shot. He gets up and down the wing quickly, creating opportunities off the rush. He can also play the role of play maker, with good vision and passing skills. Legare can work on his physicality and defensive game over the next couple of years.
2020 Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Alexis Lafreniere, Centre, Rimouski Oceanic
Lafreniere is already being touted as the top prospect available in the 2020 NHL draft, despite it being three years away. The top pick of the 2017 QMJHL Draft, the 15-year-old with the October birthday is an outstanding skater. He is extremely fast, and pairs that with a stride that provides excellent acceleration and power. He also has great hands, allowing him to make plays at top speed. Lafreniere is more of a play maker than a scorer right now. He has great vision and passing skills. He must work on developing a harder shot. There is plenty of time to add muscle and make that happen though.
QUEBEC CITY, QC – OCTOBER 5: Maxime Comtois #44 of the Victoriaville Tigres skates during his QMJHL hockey game at the Centre Videotron on October 5, 2016 in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images)