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.
2016-17 QMJHL East Division Preview
Top Four Contenders (In Order of Projected Finish)
The Cataractes went all the way to the President’s Cup final last year, and are looking to take home the title this year. They are led by centre Anthony Beauvillier, though he is currently in New York Islanders training camp. He should get plenty of support with Dennis Yan, Alexis D’Aoust, Brandon Gignac, Mathieu Olivier and new import Samuel Bucek. The status of Senators prospect Greg Gagne is up in the air, but he could play an overage season. The defence is led by Predators second round pick Samuel Girard. The defence has real depth with overager Cavan Fitzgerald, Gabriel Sylvestre, Jonathan Deschamps and Nicholas Welsh. The Cataractes start the season with Mikhail Denisov in goal, but could look to make a deadline deal for a goaltender. They likely won’t want to trust such an inexperienced goalie with the job of backstopping a contender.
Flyers first rounder Pascal Laberge will team up with potential top five overall pick Maxime Comtois to form a dynamic duo that will terrify the QMJHL. Russian import Ivan Kosorenkov joins the club. He was passed over in the 2016 draft and will look to impress this year. Third-year player Felix Lauzon and overage veterans Alexandre Goulet and Mathieu Ayotte should round out the top six. Olivier Tremblay and James Povall are back between the pipes and should see a similar split of duties as last year. The weakness here is the blue line. Bradley Lalonde, Tristan Pomerleau and Jeremie Beudin are decent pieces, but they lack a truly elite defender.
Former 1st overall pick in the QMJHL Draft, Nicolas Roy finally broke out offensively last year with 48 goals and 90 points. He returns to the team and is joined by Canucks prospect Dmitry Zhukenov, and 2016 QMJHL Draft eighth overall pick Samuel Houde. Overagers Antoine Marcoux and Ryan Verbeek will be counted on for offence. The defence is led by Nashville prospect Frederic Allard. The team added Morgan Nauss from Halifax. He adds depth to a group that also features Jeremy Groleau and Keenan MacIsaac. Goaltender Julio Billia is undersized. Despite that, he might be the best goalie in the division and one of the best in the league.
Overage forwards Tyler Boland, Antoine Dufort-Plante and Dylan Montcalm are all back. They were the top three scorers on the team last year, and will be expected to bring plenty of offence again this year. Winger Samuel Laberge is also back and expected to improve on his 48 point season. After getting limited minutes as a rookie, 2017 draft eligible Alex Olivier-Voyer is looking for a big year. On defence Simon Bourque has been named captain. The rest of the group is very inexperienced. Charles-Edouard D’Astous and Dominic Cormier must progress in their second season in the league. Alexandre Lagacé will likely get the start in goal.
Players to Watch
Frederic Allard, Defence, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Allard plays a very smart offensive game. He has good stick handling, and shows patience and poise with the puck on his stick. Quarterbacking the offense from the blue line, Allard waits for the play to open up and a teammate to get in a good position before making a tape-to-tape pass. He has the hockey IQ to see plays developing and the passing skill to take advantage when they do. He added some weight over the off-season last year and it really showed in increased power in both his slap shot and wrist shot. Allard could still add more strength going forward, but the added bulk was noticeable. Allard can also use his stick handling and skating to both lead and join the rush. He makes a strong first pass out of his own zone, and gets the Chicoutimi transition game started.
Allard is a strong skater. His speed and acceleration is good in both directions. A quick first step helps him to win races to loose pucks. Strong agility and good edge work allow Allard to get back quickly for loose pucks and to avoid forecheckers to start the play up the ice. His agility also gives him the ability to walk the line, opening up passing and shooting lanes in the offensive zone. Allard’s pivots are also very good, allowing him to transition from defence to offence quickly and vice-versa. He covers a lot of ice. Allard could stand to improve his lower body strength going forward. This would improve his balance, and help him to clear the front of the net and win battles along the boards.
Nicolas Roy, Centre, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
At 6’4″, Roy plays a power forward’s game. He controls play below the circles, using his long reach and big body to protect the puck and extend plays. He works to get the puck to the front of the net, and causes havoc there, looking to bang away at rebounds, screen goalies, and tip in shots. Roy also has an excellent wrist shot and release.
While he is more of a goal scorer, Roy can also facilitate. He has good vision and the ability to make passes through tight openings. His puck protection game, leads to extended possession and more scoring chances. The skills were always there; the criticism around Roy that dropped him to the fourth round had mainly focused on the fact he did not seem to be putting all those skills together to get points. His hockey IQ was questioned. Roy seemed to put many of those doubts to bed with his breakout campaign.
Callum Booth, Goaltender, Quebec Remparts
Another fourth-round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes in 2015. At 6’3″, Booth has the type of size that scouts are looking for in young goaltenders. He gets out well to cut down angles and give shooters very little to look at. Booth has extremely solid technique for a young goaltender, with a good compact butterfly. He gets up and down quickly. His long legs take away a lot of the lower part of the net, and he has a good glove to take away the top parts of the net. Even when on his knees he is tall enough to cover the top corners. He is also good at making quick passes to start the transition. Expect to see him traded at the deadline, as a number of contenders are looking for goaltending help and the Remparts are looking at a rare down year.
Simon Bourque, Defence, Rimouski Oceanic
A 2015 sixth round pick of the Montreal Canadiens, Bourque is an excellent defensive defenceman with strong positioning, great gap control, and the smarts to funnel opposing forwards to the outside and force them to shoot from bad areas. He has a very active stick and cuts down on passing and shooting lanes. Offensively Bourque has improved each year, putting up 46 points last season. He has decent passing skills from the point and can quarterback the power play. He has also improved his shot. It won’t be confused for a howitzer, but he gets it through to the net with regularity.
Anthony Beauvillier, Centre, Shawinigan Cataractes
A 2015 first round pick of the New York Islanders, Beauvillier has great stick handling skills. He also has the ability to create plays when it seems like nothing is there. He protects the puck extremely well, and uses his quick hands and shiftiness to get defenders out of position and create passing or shooting lanes. Beauvillier also has excellent vision and playmaking abilities and is the type of player who can make his linemates better. He has a strong shot and a good release, and with him learning to rely on it more has added a new element to his game, making him extremely difficult to defend.
He is a little undersized as he’s listed at just 5’11″ right now, but Beauvillier is not afraid to go into the corners, the front of the net. Beauvillier shows a gritty game, battling hard for position. He also has very good hockey sense. He makes the smart play with the puck on his stick, and he finds openings in the defense to set up for a one-timer when he doesn’t have it. Beauvillier is also an excellent skater. He has a good stride generating excellent speed and very good acceleration. Add in a quick first step and he wins races to loose pucks.
Samuel Girard, Defence, Shawinigan Cataractes
A second round pick of the Nashville Predators, Girard pairs great skating with the the hands to make plays with the puck at top speed. He has the ability carry the puck out of his own zone and to create offence by leading the rush.His quick hands and slick skating allow Girard to avoid forecheckers and get the puck up the ice quickly. He also makes a good first pass, and can hit the long pass to spring a streaking forward for a breakaway.
Girard quarterbacks the Shawinigan power play effectively. He is an excellent passer from the point, putting the puck through tight spaces and making tape-to-tape passes to forwards. His ability to get the puck through traffic is surgical. Girard’s puck poise and agility gives him the ability 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 does have a decent wrist shot with an excellent release. Girard’s shots are very accurate though. It may just be another area where added upper body strength can help him to develop that shot. He’s dangerous nearly every shift, and a tremendous offensive catalyst for the Cataractes.
Dennis Yan, Right Wing, Shawinigan Cataractes
A 2015 third round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Yan is a pure sniper. He has a tremendous wrist shot and release, along with the soft hands needed to finish on rebounds, tip-ins, and dekes in close to the net. Yan has the hockey sense to find openings in the offensive zone to get off his quick wrister or a one-timer. His vision and passing are decent, but its his goal scorer’s touch that really stands out. Yan has very good puck handling ability. He can stick handle in a phone booth and uses a wide variety of moves to make plays.
Yan also has good size at 6’2″. He has the tools to be a power forward. Yan loves initiating physical contact and getting in on the forecheck. However, he does really need to bulk up and add to his frame. While he loves to initiate contact, he sometimes seems tentative when he is on the receiving end of a hit. Yan could stand to be more courageous and take a hit to make a play in both ends of the ice.
Pascal Laberge, Centre/Right Wing, Victoriaville Tigres
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 playmaker, 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 as a result. He has the speed and acceleration to take defenders to the outside and then cut to the net.
2017 Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Ivan Chekhovich, Center/Left Wing, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Taken third overall in the CHL Import Draft, Chekhovich has shown good skating skill as well as a two-way game. He is dangerous off the rush with effective stickhandling, an accurate wrist shot, and good passing skill and vision. He also was winng to get to the front of the net and had a nice tip-in goal against Canada at the Ivan Hlinka. Chekhovich has shown willingness to backcheck and ability in his own end.
Matteo Pietroniro, Defence, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
A two-way defender, who isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty battling in the corners or clearing the front of the net. Will do anything necessary including blocking shots, and taking a hit to make a play. He makes a strong breakout pass, and has shown some offensive ability at the blue line.
Alex-Olivier Voyer, Right Wing/Centre, Rimouski Oceanic
Voyer had only five points last year. He missed nearly half the season with injury, and even when he did play, he struggled to get ice time. The Oceanic’s 2015 first round pick did show some flashes of good play though. He is a good skater, showing a powerful stride and good acceleration. His lower body strength allows him to win battles along the boards; as well as to fight through checks and get to the front of the net. He was also good defensively for a 16-year-old.
Maxime Comtois, Left Wing, Victoriaville Tigres
The 3rd overall pick in the 2015 QMJHL draft, Comtois is a goal scorer for the Tigers. He has an excellent array of shots. Comtois shows 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. He also has excellent vision and passing skills. Comtois can extend plays by using his stick handling and puck protection to control the play along the boards. Once teammates get open he can make a pass through the tightest of openings.
Comtois has good size and is not afraid to work along the boards or in front of the net. Comtois is also a very good skater, with great first step quickness and excellent acceleration. As a 16-year-old rookie, he took on heavy responsibility, playing in all situations. He also scored 60 points in 62 games last season.
2018 NHL Draft Prospects
Andrew Coxhead, Right Wing, Quebec Remparts
Coxhead has excellent size, already measuring in at 6’2″ and 182 pounds as a 16-year-old. He is strong along the boards, getting in quickly on the forecheck, and wins his battles on the boards. He also drives pucks to the front of the net and has the soft hands to finish when he gets there. Coxhead is willing to bring his tenacity on the defensive end as well and has shown a 200 foot game.