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 in the next 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.
QMJHL East Division
Top Two Teams (In Predicted Order of Finish)
The Drakkar are an experienced group and set to take a real run at things this year. They have a pair of strong goaltenders in Justin Blanchette and Kyle Jessiman who will push each other for starts all year long. The offence will be led by Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Gabriel Fortier, San Jose Sharks prospect Ivan Chekhovich, and Calgary Flames prospect D’Artagan Joly. Behind them is plenty of depth. The defensive core is led by Vegas Golden Knights prospect Xavier Bouchard. He is joined by veterans Yan Aucoin, and Louis Tardif Jr.
All eyes will be on the favourite to go first overall in the 2020 NHL Draft, Alexis Lafreniere. The talented forward had 42 goals and 80 points in 60 games last season. Lafreniere makes the transition from wing to centre this season. He is supported up front by Boston Bruins prospect Cedric Pare and Calgary Flames prospect Dmitry Zavgorodniy. The defence features a young group but is anchored by Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Radim Salda and veteran Charle-Edouard D’Astous. 2019 Draft watchers will be focused on goaltender Colten Ellis.
Patrick Roy returns behind the bench of the Remparts. However, he doesn’t have the powerhouse team that he is used to. Instead, the Remparts are in a bit of a rebuild mode. That said there are some talented players here. Chicago Blackhawks draftee Philipp Kurashev leads the attack, while the team is backstopped by Minnesota Wild prospect Dereck Baribeau. Veterans Sam Dunn and Etienne Verrette will lead the blue line. The Remparts are a decent team, who should compete well most nights, but they are not yet a threat to win the league.
Players to Watch
Xavier Bouchard, Defence, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Bouchard is a puck-moving defenceman. He is very poised with the puck on his stick, avoiding forecheckers and skating the puck out of danger. He is also able to take off and lead the rush. Bouchard finds the open man on the breakout and runs the power play from the point. His biggest issue is that he sometimes tries to do too much. Bouchard needs to trust his teammates more and keep the play simple at times. He needs to learn that he does not always need to make the fanciest play or get on the highlight reel to help his team to win.
At his best, 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 slapshot. He uses his agility to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. Bouchard would be more effective if he learned to keep his shot low. This would get the puck through traffic more often, and also lead to more tip-in and rebound opportunities for teammates.
Gabriel Fortier, Centre, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Fortier is an outstanding skater. He has excellent top-end speed 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. It could be even better going forward. Fortier improved his assist totals this season by getting in quickly on the forecheck, creating turnovers and working hard to control the puck in the cycle game. His hard work extended plays and created opportunities. Fortier also works hard in his own end and is an excellent penalty killer.
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.
Philipp Kurashev, Centre, Quebec Remparts
Kurashev is a dynamic skater. He is lightning quick, with a great first step, top-notch acceleration, and incredible top speed. He can blow by the defence, creating breakaways and odd-man rushes in transition. Kurashev can also take a defender wide and cut to the net. He is agile, with the ability to make quick cuts and weave in and out of traffic. Kurashev has a powerful stride and good balance. He is tough to knock off the puck and can make plays off the cycle as well.
Kurashev marries his skating skill with good, but not great stickhandling. He can make a number of nice moves to get past a defenceman. However, there are times where he can move a bit too fast for his hands and lose the puck. His quickness also allows Kurashev to get in quickly on the forecheck. He is strong along the boards and wins battles to get the puck back. Kurashev’s speed forces defenders to back off, and he takes advantage of this with a good release on his wrist shot. He generates a lot of shots, and he takes any opportunity to put the puck on net. Kurashev could use a bit more power on the shot. He also has good vision and can play the role of playmaker.
Dmitri Zavgorodny, Centre, Rimouski Oceanic
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 booth. 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.
2019 NHL Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Nathan Legare, Left Wing, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
The sixth overall pick in the 2017 QMJHL Draft, Legare put up 10 goals and 29 points in 62 games last year. He has good speed and an excellent wrist shot. Legare gets up and down the wing quickly, creating opportunities off the rush. He gets to the net and creates havoc in front of the crease. Legare works hard down low and hits on the forecheck, creating turnovers. He can also play the role of playmaker, with good vision and passing skills. Legare can work on his physicality and defensive game.
Justin Ducharme, Right Wing, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Ducharme put up 11 goals and 23 points in 53 games last year. He is a good skater who gets in quickly on the forecheck and forces opposing defencemen to make mistakes and cough up the puck. A hard worker in all three zones, Ducharme brings that same physical game to his own end of the ice. He has a decent wrist shot and good release. He’ll need to show a bit more skill in his game and prove to be more than a grinder to increase his draft stock this year.
Artemi Knyazev, Defence, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
The 10th overall pick in the CHL Import Draft, Knyazev is an excellent skater. His edgework and pivots allow him to transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. This allows him to play a strong two-way game. He can generate offence from the backend, with a strong first pass as well as skating the puck through the neutral zone. Knyazev also has a decent wrist shot. He could add some more power to his slap shot.
Matthew Grouchy, Right Wing, Quebec Remparts
Grouchy had 17 goals and 34 points in his second QMJHL 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 will need to show more offensive skill to get on the radar of NHL scouts this season.
Colten Ellis, Goaltender, Rimouski Oceanic
It’s rare to see a rookie goaltender come in and take over the number one job as a 16-year-old, but that is what Ellis did last season. He appeared in 51 games and had a .913 save percentage. At six-foot-one, Ellis is a little undersized for what NHL teams are drafting today but makes up for it with quick reflexes, and excellent athleticism. He gets in and out of the butterfly extremely quickly. He also tracks the puck well and moves side-to-side quickly. Ellis likes to come out of his net and challenges shooters, cutting down angles. He could use some work on his rebound control, though this is a common issue with many young goalies.
2020 NHL Draft Eligible Players to Watch
Hendrix Lapierre, Centre, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
The top pick in the 2018 QMJHL Draft, Lapierre is an excellent skater. He has outstanding top-end speed and very good acceleration. His ability to make quick cuts and changes in direction helps him to avoid defenders and create space. Lapierre is very difficult to defend as he can handle the puck while moving at close to his top speed. He has very good hockey IQ and sees the ice extremely well. Lapierre is a creative playmaker who creates scoring chances for his linemates.
Théo Rochette, Centre/Left Wing, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
The Quebec native has spent the last five years in Switzerland. He is another excellent skater. His top-end speed creates odd-man rushes. He can take a defender wide and cut to the net. His speed forces defenders to back off. When they do, he takes advantage of the passing lanes created by setting up teammates. He also has a strong wrist shot and can use the defenseman as a screen and fire it on the net. Rochette is also a strong stickhandler and can beat defencemen with creative movements.
Alexis Lafrenière, Centre/Right Wing, Rimouski Oceanic
The 16-year-old with the October birthday had a rookie season that sees him put up goal totals not seen by a player his age since Sidney Crosby. Don’t get us wrong, his numbers are still well behind Crosby but Lafreniere might have had the best rookie season since “the Kid”. He proved it was no fluke with 11 points in five games in helping to lead Canada to the gold medal at the Gretzky-Hlinka tournament.
Lafreniere 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 can be a playmaker with his great vision and passing skills. He anticipates plays extremely well and makes his linemates better. Lafreniere is a natural goal scorer though. He can put the puck in the net in a variety of ways. He drives hard to the net and uses quick hands to beat goalies. His wrist shot is strong and accurate and he can score from further out. He can also play the power game, getting to rebounds and creating havoc out front. Lafreniere is a prodigious talent with everything NHL teams are looking for.
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