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 West Division Preview
Top Three Contenders (In Order of Projected Finish)
The offence will be strong as leading scorer Alex Barré-Boulet returns to the Armada. They could also get Pierre-Luc Dubois back from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Needless to say his return would be a major boost. Alexandre Alain and Joel Teasdale also provide offensive support. The blue line will rely on Antoine Crête-Belzile. After an injury plagued season he was passed over in the 2017 NHL Draft, but is in Winnipeg Jets camp trying to earn an entry-level contract. Charlie Roy provides a veteran presence. Look for the team to add a defenceman at the deadline. Francis Leclerc was a solid back-up this year, but now faces the challenge of being the number one goale.
Goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick might be the best netminder in the QMJHL. He will be the stabilizing force that this rebuilding team needs to remain competitive this year. The defence will be missing Luke Green to start the year, as he was injured in Winnipeg Jets training camp. Thomas Gregoire put up 64 points in 66 games last year and should again be the team leader on the blueline. Overall the group is experienced and talented. Upfront they will bring in 2nd overall QMJHL draft pick Samuel Poulin, and 11th overall pick Bailey Peach into the roster.
Now two years removed from their President’s trophy campaign, the Huskies are rebuilding. However, they still have just enough to be a competitive team. Defenceman Zachary Lauzon was a second round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins. He will be given huge responsibility this season. The blue line will also count on veterans Taylor Ford, and Jacob Neveau. Up front, Peter Abbandonato put up 56 points last year. He will be asked for more this season. Captain Mathieu Boucher is an overager looking for a big season. Lane Cormier will be called on for support.
Players to Watch
Alex Barré-Boulet, Centre, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Barre-Boulet put up 81 points last year in a season split between Drummondville and the Armada. He went to the Vegas Golden Knights training camp, but was returned to the QMJHL. Barre-Boulet is undersized, but willing to play a gritty game. He battles hard in the corners and is a fixture in front of the net. He also shows skills with good puck handling ability, vision, passing, and shooting ability. As an overager, he could be one of the top offensive players in the league this season.
Antoine Crête-Belzile, Defence, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
It has been two straight years of injuries for the former first round pick. Crete-Belzile will be looking to show off his abilities this year. He is an outstanding skater, and his great mobility defines his two-way game. He can skate the puck out of danger or start the transition with a good first pass. Crete-Belzile is also very tough to beat one-on-one.
Pierre-Luc Dubois, Left Wing/Centre, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Dubois is still in Columbus Blue Jackets camp, and its unclear if the former 3rd overall pick will make his way back to the QMJHL. If he does, he will be one of the most dominant players in the league. Dubois struggled early last season with Cape Breton. Playing centre, he failed to find the high scoring prowess of his previous year which was spent mostly on the wing. A trade deadline move to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, and a move back to left wing seemed to right the ship. Dubois scored 15 goals and 37 points in 28 games for the Armada; as well as 22 points in 19 playoff games.
Dubois has a very good wrist shot and a quick release which fools goaltenders. He has excellent hockey sense and gets himself open in good areas on the ice. From there Dubois can unleash an excellent one-timer. He has the size and the hand eye co-ordination to get tip-ins and knock in rebounds after he has established position in front of the net. Dubois has a long reach, and combines that with his strong puck handling skill to protect the puck in the cycle and create time and space to make plays for his teammates. He also has good vision and the passing ability to be a play maker off the wing or at centre. Dubois is also a big hitter, who gets in quickly on the forecheck, pressuring defenders into mistakes and turnovers.
Pavel Koltygin, Left Wing/Centre, Drummondville Voltigeurs
Drafted in the sixth round by the Nashville Predators, Koltygin had 22 goals and 47 points in 65 games last year. He is a very good skater, but marries that speed with the ability to make plays with the puck even moving at top speed. Koltygin is an excellent stick handler. He extends plays, waiting for a teammate to get open. Sometimes he holds onto the puck a little too long, skating himself into a situation where he cannot make a play. He must learn to shoot the puck or pass it to a teammate quicker. He also needs to work on the defensive side of the game.
Vitaly Abramov, Right Wing, Gatineau Olympiques
Abramov was recently cut by the Columbus Blue Jackets. It is unclear if he will come back to Gatineau, or look to play in Europe this season. He is an outstanding skater, and Abramov marries his skating ability with soft hands and good stick handling ability. This makes him very tough to defend one-on-one, whether it be off the rush, or working the puck down low. He can stick handle in a phone both, making Abramov a nightmare for defenders even when they try to take away his time and space. If he gets that space, look out.
Abramov is a pure goal scorer. He has an excellent wrist shot along with a quick release. Abramov also has a very good snap shot, slap shot and one-timer. He can also play the role of play maker with good vision and passing skills. While Abramov has good lower body strength, he must continue to get stronger in his upper body to take the physical pounding he could face at the next level.
Zachary Lauzon, Defence, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
The brother of Jeremy Lauzon, Zachary now takes over the role of top defenceman for the Huskies. Lauzon is solid in his own end, keeping attackers to the outside, and limiting scoring chances against. He is willing to block shots and plays physical in the corners and in front of the net. He also has very good gap control. While Lauzon makes a good first pass out of the zone, he is not much of an offensive player. Perhaps with a bigger role this season, he will show some of the offence that his brother gained over his QMJHL career.
Evan Fitzpatrick, Goaltender, Sherbrooke Phoenix
A St. Louis Blues draftee, Fitzpatrick is a hybrid style netminder. With his excellent size, he covers a lot of net. He takes advantage of this by coming out to challenge shooters, and by having an excellent sense on his angles. He’s also very technically sound for a young netminder, with rebound control not often seen in someone his age. Fitzpatrick understands how to kick low shots into the corners and to swallow up those that come in high. He keeps himself square to the puck at almost all times, even when making saves on second chance opportunities. Fitzpatrick takes away the bottom of the net with his quick legs. He gets down into the butterfly quickly and pops right back up.
He also has an excellent glove hand, taking away the top of the net. Fitzpatrick tracks the puck well and his lateral movement is excellent. He has an excellent push with his legs, giving him strong lateral movement. His strong legs and good skating allow him to play the aggressive style and challenge shooters. Fitzpatrick 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. In addition to good technique, he has extremely fast reflexes, and the competitiveness to never give up on a play. Fitzpatrick shows a good demeanor. He stays calm in his net, and his coolness in the face of heavy pressure shows good leadership, and is something his teammates lean on.
Luke Green, Defence, Sherbrooke Phoenix
Green is an elite-level skater with outstanding mobility on the blue line. He skates the puck out of danger in his own end, and can lead the rush through the neutral zone. He can pinch down low and race back to his own end defensively. Green has good edge work and pivots and transitions from offence to defence (and vice-versa) quickly.
Green is also a very good stick handler. He held the puck longer, looking for openings and smart passes, and became deadly in starting the transition game, and good on the point of the power play. He could stand take a few more chances pinching down low on the powerplay and being more involved in the offence. Green’s slap shot is decent enough, but could use more power. This may come as Green fills out his frame and adds upper-body strength over the next several years. He does have a good wrist shot but could stand to improve his release. There is room to be a bit quicker which would help him avoid the traffic when making plays at the blue line, and get his shot on net.
2018 NHL Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Nicolas Beaudin, Defence, Drummondville Voltigeurs
A late 1999 birthday, Beaudin put up 41 points in 64 games for the Voltigeurs in his second season with the team. Undersized at just 5’10”, Beaudin has excellent offensive skills. He is a very good stick handler and passer. He plays the role of power play quarterback, setting up teammates, and being creative at the blue line. Beaudin could stand to add a little more power to his shot. He is a slightly above average skater. Given his size deficiency, he must improve his speed, pivots and edge work to succeed in the pro ranks.
Olivier Rodrigue, Goaltender, Drummondville Voltigeurs
The third overall pick in the 2016 QMJHL draft, Rodrigue’s father Sylvain is the goaltending coach for the Edmonton Oilers. As you would expect from the son of a goaltending coach, he already has very good technique in his butterfly, and excellent positioning, always staying square to the shooter. Listed at just 6’0″, he is a bit on the small side for modern goaltenders. Rodrigue makes the most of that size with his good skating and getting out to the top of the crease to cut down angles. He has good skating getting out and back, as well as side-to-side quickly and efficiently. Rodrigue was Canada’s number one goalie at this summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament and led them to a gold medal.
Mikhail Shestopalov, Left Wing, Gatineau Olympiques
Drafted in the first round, 26th overall of the CHL Import Draft, Shestopalov will be asked to put up a big season in Gatineau. Shestopalov has very good speed and excellent acceleration. He protects the puck well and is dangerous off the rush. He can take a defenceman wide and then cut to the net. Shestopalov also has good vision and passing skills. He needs to work on his defensive game.
2019 NHL Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Alex Beaucage, Right Wing, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
The 22nd overall pick of the QMJHL draft, Beaucage had an excellent pre-season with four goals and seven points in eight games. He showed off a knack for finding openings in the defence and then taking advantage of that space with an excellent shot and quick release. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to produce as rosters improve and the games are being played for real.
Samuel Poulin, Centre, Sherbrooke Phoenix
The second overall pick in the QMJHL draft is the son of Patrick Poulin. Already coming in at 6’1″ and 198 pounds, Poulin plays with power up the middle. He is willing to drive the net with the puck, and forecheck hard without. Poulin also shows some skills, with soft hands, good skating ability and a powerful shot. Playing the middle of the ice, he also has the vision and passing skills to be a playmaker. The sky is the limit on how far he can go.
Maxence Guenette, Defence, Val D’or Foreurs
The fifth overall pick in the QMJHL Draft, Guenette is a mobile defender. He is good skater in both directions, and has very good edge work and pivots. This allows Guenette to cover a lot of ice and play strong in both ends. He is mature for his age and already developing the type of two way ability that is always in high demand.
Main Photo: BLAINVILLE-BOISBRIAND, QC – OCTOBER 07: Goaltender Evan Fitzpatrick #1 of the Sherbrooke Phoenix watches the puck as Alexandre Alain #7 of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada stands nearby during the QMJHL game at the Centre d’Excellence Sports Rousseau on October 7, 2016 in Blainville-Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada. The Blainville-Boisbriand Armada defeated the Sherbrooke Phoenix 3-0. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)