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 Maritime Division Preview
Top Three Contenders (In Order of Projected Finish)
Led up front by Antoine Morand, and Jeffrey Truchon-Viel the Titan will be able to score goals. They hope that recent KHL cut Vladimir Kuznetsov will soon return to the team to add even more scoring punch. With no imports on the roster, they can add Kuznetsove and still trade for another high scoring import forward in the coming weeks. Reilly Pickard is strong in goal, while 2018 draft eligible Noah Dobson leads a strong defensive group. He is supported by Adam Howell, Keenan McIsaac, and Louis-Philip Fortin.
With Benoit-Olivier Groulx and Filip Zadina up front, Jared McIsaac on the blueline, and Alexis Gravel in goal, NHL scouts will spend plenty of time in Halifax this season. The Mooseheads are a young team, probably too young to truly challenge for the league title, but they should still be able to compete in the division. Jocktan Chainey, Walter Flower and Jordan Lepage provide veteran presence on the blue line. Meanwhile, Max Fortier and Connor Moynihan return as overage forwards up front. Arnaud Durandeau, Barrett Dachyshyn and Raphael Lavoie provide offensive support.
Saint John Sea Dogs
The Sea Dogs were the QMJHL’s best team from wire-to-wire last season. However, they have been hit hard by graduations and will likely see a bit of a slip in the standings as a result. Exceptional player Joe Veleno is back for his draft year. The third year player will be asked to lead the offence. He will get help from Boston Bruins prospect Cedric Pare, and import Edmonton Oilers prospect Ostap Safin. On defence, they have lost a lot in Thomas Chabot and Jakub Zboril gone. Alexis Girard and Bailey Webster will be key pieces on a very inexperienced unit. Goaltender Alex D’Orio will need to be sharp as he could face a lot of pucks on some nights.
Players to Watch
Antoine Morand, Centre, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Morand is extremely elusive in the offensive zone. He has a great first step, and excellent excellent acceleration. His top end speed allows Morand to pull away from a defender if he gets a step on them. He also has excellent agility, and the edge work necessary to make quick cuts on a dime. Antoine Morand combines his skating ability with the soft hands to control the puck and make plays in tight spaces and at top speed. He is absolutely deadly in one-on-one situations. Morand is especially effective in close to the net. He can make a quick deke on a goaltender, fire the puck to the top of the net, or make a quick pass to a teammate.
Morand is more of a play maker than a goal scorer though. He has outstanding vision, and the passing skill to put the puck through the tightest of openings. He also uses his skating, and his lateral agility to open up passing lanes and find a way to get the puck to his linemates. Morand also has excellent hockey IQ. He always seems to make the right play with the puck. While Morand might be small, but he is not afraid to get involved in battles for the puck in the corner, or to mix things up in front of the net. His effort level is high and his motor is non-stop. He is often found at the middle of post-whistle scrums as well.
Drake Batherson, Centre, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Drafted 121st overall by the Ottawa Senators, Batherson scored 58 points in 61 games for the Screaming Eagles last season. Batherson is a talented stick handler who makes plays with the puck. He can control the puck on an offensive zone entry, speeding up or slowing down the game while he waits for his linemates to get open. Once they do, he has the vision and passing skills to set up a scoring chance. He also has a decent wrist shot and release.
Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Defence, Charlottetown Islanders
Drafted in the first round by the Arizona Coyotes, Joseph is a smart player, who can quarterback the play from the point. He has very good vision, and the passing skills to be a play maker. Joseph can make a good pass, both to start the transition game, or to set things up at the blue line. He is poised with the puck on his stick, taking the time to survey the ice and make the right play. Joseph has the patience wait for a play to develop. He has also become more adept at joining the rush, as well as pinching in from the blue line this season. Joseph keeps his shot low, and gets it on net. This gives his teammates the opportunity at rebounds and tip-ins. However, he really needs to work on the power here.
Joseph’s mobility makes him very difficult to beat one-on-one, and his active stick allows him to play a strong defensive game. He cuts down passing and shooting lanes well. He also creates turnovers with his ability to read the play and his anticipation. Once those are created, he transitions quickly from defence to offence.
Jocktan Chainey, Defence, Halifax Mooseheads
A New Jersey Devils draftee, Chainey is strong defensively. He has good positioning and instincts. He reads the play well, and cuts down passing and shooting lanes. Chainey is not afraid to block shots. He uses his quick stick to create turnovers. Once he does so he is quick in transition, with a good first pass as well as the ability to skate the puck out of his own end.
Ostap Safin, Centre/Right Wing, Saint John Sea Dogs
A talented sniper, Ostap Safin can score goals in a variety of ways. He has the hands to finish in close to the net. He also has a hard, and accurate wrist shot. It features a quick release and can fool goaltenders. Safin also has a good one-timer. His offensive game also features Safin getting in quickly on the forecheck and playing a physical game. He is not afraid to battle in the corners or get to the front of the net. He can work on his play making ability.
2018 Draft Eligible Players To Watch
Noah Dobson, Defence, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
The 6th overall pick in the 2016 QMJHL Draft, Dobson put up three points in five games in helping Canada to a gold medal at this summer’s Ivan Hlinka tournament. He also put up 26 points in 63 games for the Titan in his rookie campaign. Dobson plays a strong defensive game, with good positioning and gap control. He also has the passing and skating skills to move the puck up the ice and provide some offence from the backend. Look for his numbers to increase this season.
Kevin Mandolese, Goaltender, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Mandolese played in 27 games as a rookie, but his workload should increase this season. Already listed at 6’3″, he has the ideal size that NHL teams are looking for in goaltending prospects. Mandolese gets out of his net well to cut down angles and take advantage of that frame. He plays a solid butterfly style with quick legs to take away the bottom of the net. He also has a good glove hand.
Egor Sokolov, Left Wing, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Sokolov was the Screaming Eagles first round pick in the CHL Import Draft. He scored four points in five games with Russia at this summer’s Ivan Hlinka Tournament, winning a bronze medal. Sokolov is a big forward who uses his body to protect the puck extremely well down low. He extends plays and keeps possession for his team. He can make a quick pass to a teammate, or drive to the net himself. Big and strong, Sokolov can bury goals in tight to the net.
Matthew Grouchy, Centre/Right Wing, Charlottetown Islanders
Grouchy had 11 goals and 28 points as a QMJHL rookie last season. Grouchy plays a gritty style. He is willing to get involved in battles for the puck in front of the net and in the corners. A good skater, Grouchy gets in quickly on the forecheck, creating pressure on defenders and forcing turnovers. Once he gets the puck, Grouchy has the vision and passing skills to set up a teammate as well as the shooting skill to score goals.
Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Centre, Halifax Mooseheads
The first overall pick of the 2016 QMJHL Draft is the son of legendary head coach Benoit Groulx. He is a pure sniper. Groulx has the soft hands to finish plays in tight to the net, as well as a strong wrist shot and quick release. His slap shot is an absolute bomb. He is an excellent stick handler and can make plays off the rush as well as on the cycle. Groulx can also play the role of play maker, with good vision and passing skills. While the offensive skills are there, he did not produce as much as expected last year and needs to do a little more this season. One area he does excel is in the defensive side of the game, as he was already very mature for a 16-year-old last year.
Alexis Gravel, Goalie, Halifax Mooseheads
After being drafted 20th in the QMJHL draft, Gravel came in and earned the starting job with the Mooseheads as a 16-year-old. He was impressive in his 50 regular season and six playoff games, enough so to earn a spot on Canada’s gold medal winning Ivan Hlinka squad. At 6’3″ and 230 pounds, he already has the frame needed to be a pro goaltender. Gravel is a good skater. He can get out of his crease to cut down angles and also tracks pucks well with a strong lateral push. He gets into and out of the butterfly quickly. Most importantly he shows maturity and poise in the position.
Jared McIsaac, Defence, Halifax Mooseheads
The second overall pick in the 2016 QMJHL Draft, McIsaac is another prospect showing the brilliance of the Mooseheads drafting and development program over the years. He put up 32 points in 59 games as a rookie defenceman. McIsaac has very good mobility, with good speed and acceleration in both directions, as well as the edge work and agility to cover 360 degrees of ice. This helps him to be an excellent two-way defender. He is very difficult to beat one-on-one. McIsaac can also play a physical game in the corners and in front of the net.
McIsaac can carry the puck out of his own zone and lead the rush. He combines excellent puck handling skill with his good skating and can carry the puck end to end. He also has the vision and skill to make a strong first pass and start the rush that way. McIsaac has a strong shot in addition to the ability to quarterback the power play. He is a very smart player, who almost always seems to make the right play with the puck. His ability to slow things down and anticipate plays as a 16-year-old was extremely impressive.
Filip Zadina, Left Wing, Halifax Mooseheads
Zadina is a Czech winger who was drafted 7th overall in the CHL Import Draft. After Nikolaj Ehlers, Timo Meier, and Nico Hischier, it appears that the Mooseheads have hit another import draft home run. Zadina is another outstanding skater. He has very good top end speed as well as great agility. He also has the power necessary to fight through checks and take the puck to the net. All of this makes him very strong one-on-one and off the rush. He can take a defender wide and cut to the net. He also has very good balance and can control the play down low on the cycle.
Zadina also has a very heavy shot, with a good release. He can combine this with his skating and power game to be a real threat off the wing. An absolute sniper, he can score with his wrist shot, snap shot, slap shot and one-timer. He even has a strong backhand. Zadina also has the soft hands to score in close to the net. As a playmaker, he needs to make better decisions with the puck. Zadina can sometimes hold it too long and get himself into trouble instead of moving it or shooting early.
Alexander Khovanov, Centre, Moncton Wildcats
The second overall pick in the CHL Import Draft, Khovanov put up five goals and seven points in five games at the Under 17 World Hockey Challenge last year, helping Russia to a bronze medal. Undersized, Khovanov is an outstanding skater. He has very good speed, excellent acceleration, and top notch agility. Combine this with great hands, and Khovanov is a wizard with the puck. He has good vision and passing skills, as well as an excellent shot, making him a multi-dimensional threat in the offensive zone.
Khovanov’s draft stock will be intriguing to watch. He has recently been diagnosed with Hepatitis A, which will keep him out for most of the season. The most mild form of Hepatitis, the disease is not expected to have long-term consequences, but will cost him up to six months on the ice. Will Khovanov be able to come back late in the year? Can he prove healthy enough to still be worthy of a relatively high pick?
Anderson MacDonald, Left Wing, Moncton Wildcats
The 10th overall pick in the 2016 QMJHL Draft, MacDonald scored 29 goals and 41 points in 50 games during his rookie year with Sherbrooke. He was traded to Moncton in the off-season. MacDonald is very good in front of the net. He has the quick hands to beat goalies in tight, as well as to get off one-timers. He also has the hand-eye co-ordination to tip in point shots. MacDonald has a strong wrist shot and can score from further out. He is very smart, and can find openings in the defence in order to get open for teammates. He is also a decent passer.
MacDonald’s skating is a bit of a work in progress. He has good balance and lower body strength, making him hard to knock off the puck. MacDonald also has decent agility. However, he can work on lengthening his stride and improving his speed and acceleration.
Joseph Veleno, Centre, Saint John Sea Dogs
Granted exceptional status to enter the QMJHL at 15-years-old in 2015, Veleno put up 40 points in 45 games in his second year of junior hockey. He helped the Sea Dogs to a QMJHL Championship, and an appearance at the Memorial Cup. Veleno has tremendous speed and outstanding acceleration. It is his skating skill that truly gave him a leg up on older competition and makes him a good choice as an exceptional player.
Veleno looks like more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, as he does have great vision and passing skills. He will need to work on adding some muscle on to his frame and getting more power on his shot to be a consistent goal scorer but has started to show improvement in those areas. Veleno is also gritty and not afraid to get involved in battles on the boards at both ends of the ice. He has already shown to be good on the backcheck and to work hard in his own end. His compete level is very high. He could use a bit of work on his positioning though.
2019 Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Raphael Lavoie, Centre, Halifax Mooseheads
Already 6’3″, he is a big and talented centre. Lavoie played 32 games for the Mooseheads last year. He struggled to find his game and get ice time, putting up six goals and nine points. Lavoie is a good skater, and has the body to play a power game. A late birthday who is not NHL draft eligible until 2019, Lavoie will look to make major steps forward in his second season in the QMJHL.
Xavier Parent, Centre/Right Wing, Halifax Mooseheads
Parent was the 4th overall pick in this year’s QMJHL Draft. He is an excellent skater, with great acceleration. His ability to quickly change gears makes him a major threat on the rush. Parent also has excellent vision and passing ability. His speed allows him to create passing lanes, and his play making skill allows him to take advantage of them. Parent has a quick release on his wrist shot, but could use more power.
Jakub Pelletier, Centre/Left Wing, Moncton Wildcats
The third overall pick in the QMJHL Draft, Pelletier is another undersized play maker with outstanding speed. His speed allows him to take a defender wide and cut to the net. Once he gets a step on his man, he can drop his shoulder and cut to the net. Pelletier has the hands to finish in tight. However, he is more of play maker than a goal scorer. Pelletier has excellent hockey IQ. He knows where his teammates are an
Main Photo: Antoine Morand #88 of the Acadie-Bathurst Titan skates during his QMJHL hockey game at the Centre Videotron on November 9, 2016 in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. (photo by Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images)