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.
2018-19 QMJHL Central Division
Top Three Teams (In Predicted Order of Finish)
The Voltigeurs are a strong contender for the QMJHL title and should steamroll the division. They get solid goaltending from Edmonton Oilers prospect Olivier Rodrigue. The defence is led by Chicago Blackhawks first-round pick Nicolas Beaudin and New Jersey Devils prospect Xavier Bernard. Marc-Olivier Duquette provides veteran support and Jarrett Baker had a strong rookie season. The forward group features Anaheim Ducks prospect Maxime Comtois, Detroit Red Wings prospect Joe Veleno, and Nashville Predators prospect Pavel Koltygin. Support comes from Nicolas Guay, Cedric Desruisseaux, and Xavier Simoneau.
A young team, the Phoenix are probably a year away from really competing, but should be good enough to take second place in this division. Samuel Poulin is a talented winger who could be a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. The team added more offence with the fifth-overall pick in the QMJHL draft, Patrick Guay. Felix Robert, Bailey Peach and Benjamin Tardif provide offensive depth. Jaxon Bellamy, Ryan DaSilva, Olivier Crete-Belzille and Alexandre Joncas lead the defensive core. Veteran goaltender Brendan Cregan will be the starter and provide the backbone for the young club.
One of the youngest teams in the league, the Cataractes have injected talent this off-season. Valentin Nussbaumer was the team’s top pick in the CHL Import draft. The Swiss forward could be a first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. They also added Mavrik Bourque with the third overall pick in the QMJHL draft. Charles Beaudoin and Xavier Bourgault were also early picks. They join Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Jan Drozg and overagers Jeremy Manzeau and Vincent Senez up front. Lukas Fitzpatrick won the starting goalie job in training camp. Overager Simon Benoit leads the defence.
Players to Watch
Nicolas Beaudin, Left Defence, Drummondville Voltigeurs
Beaudin 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. He is very smart and anticipates the play, spotting open teammates and hitting them with tape-to-tape passes through tight openings. Beaudin is also very good on the rush. He protects the puck well and can skate the puck out of tight situations. He also is willing to rush the puck up the ice. Beaudin’s vision helps him to make a strong first pass, and to start the transition game for the Voltigeurs.
Beaudin could stand to add a little more power to his shot. His slap shot needs some work. He maximizes the effectiveness by getting it through to the net and keeping his shots low, encouraging his teammates to get rebounds and tip-ins. Beaudin is most effective when sneaking down from the line and using his wrist shot. His wrister is strong, accurate and features a quick release. Beaudin is always pushing the pace and looking to get involved offensively. He will need to pick his spots better at the next level.
Maxime Comtois, Left Wing, Drummondville Voltigeurs
Comtois is a goal scorer. He has an excellent array of shots, with good power and accuracy on his wrist shot, snapshot 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 on 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 his position in front of the net going forward.
Pavel Koltygin, Left Wing/Centre, Drummondville Voltigeurs
Drafted in the sixth round of the 2017 NHL Draft, Koltygin had 17 goals and 42 points in 64 regular season games along with seven points in 10 playoff 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.
Olivier Rodrigue, Goaltender, Drummondville Voltigeurs
At just 6-foot-1 Rodrigue is a bit smaller than the prototypical NHL goaltender. He makes up for this with excellent agility and skating ability. Rodrigue comes out of his net and cuts down angles extremely well. He maximizes his size and gives shooters little room to work worth. His quick backwards skating prevents him from being beaten by a deke as he comes out. His strong edges and good push allow him to move laterally quickly. Rodrigue tracks the puck well and is square to the shooter. He likes to use his stick to poke check opponents as well as to cut down the cross-crease passing lane. Rodrigue has quick legs and takes away the bottom of the net effectively. He gets in and out of the butterfly quickly.
Like many young goalies, Rodrigue could stand to work on his rebound control. It is good compared to other 18-year-olds but still needs work before being ready for the pros. He also has a tendency to hold his glove hand a little low, which can lead to him getting beaten upstairs. Rodrigue is willing to play the puck and helps his defence by retrieving dump-ins and getting them the puck in good areas. However, he is not the type to try overly risky plays, or long breakaway passes.
Joe Veleno, Centre, Drummondville Voltigeurs
Veleno has tremendous speed and outstanding acceleration. It is his skating skill that truly gave him a leg up on older competition and earned him the exceptional player status. He is silky smooth on his skates. Veleno has the ability to take a defender wide and cut to the net. He also has the agility and edgework to beat a defender in a one-on-one situation off the rush. Veleno is strong on the puck and works well down low and in the cycle game at the junior level. He likely needs to continue to add strength before being ready for the pro game though.
Veleno is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He has great vision, hockey sense, and passing skills. Veleno reads the play well and anticipates where his teammates will be. He uses his speed and agility to open up passing lanes. He also has the ability to put the puck through tight spaces, and make tape-to-tape passes to set up linemates in good scoring areas. Veleno has very good hockey sense and seems to always make the right play with the puck on his stick. He needs to add muscle to his frame and get more power on his shot to be a consistent goal scorer. He could also be quicker on his release.
Jan Drozg, Left Wing, Shawinigan Cataractes
A fifth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 NHL Draft, Drozg is a talented playmaker off the wing. He has soft hands and the ability to make a number of slick moves to create space from defenders. Drozg sees the ice well and can feather passes to linemates. The Slovenian winger put up 50 points in 61 games in his first year in the QMJHL. He also has a quick release on his wrist shot. Drozg is a bit skinny right now, and could stand to add some weight to his frame.
Lucas Fitzpatrick, Goalie, Shawinigan Cataractes
The younger brother of Evan Fitzpatrick takes over as the starting goalie in Shawinigan. Already coming in at 6’2″, he has the size necessary to catch scouts eyes. Undrafted in 2018, he hopes to get that attention his second time through. 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. He had a rough season as a rookie behind a weak Shawinigan team last year. A strong pre-season this year, gives the Cataractes hope that he is ready to be the man in their crease.
2019 NHL Draft Prospects To Watch
Valentin Nussbaumer, Centre/Right Wing, Shawinigan Cataractes
Nussbaumer is a Swiss player who has shone on the international stage. He was very good at the Ivan Hlinka tournament as well as at last year’s World Juniors. Nussbaumer shows excellent stickhandling ability and a good wrist shot. While Nussbaumer is not an elite speedster, he is still a very good skater with above-average speed and acceleration. However, it is his edgework and agility that really makes him dangerous. Nussbaumer can get around defenders and create chances. He is another smart player with a strong two-way game for his age but really needs to add muscle to his frame.
Samuel Poulin, Left Wing, Sherbrooke Phoenix
The second overall pick in the 2017 QMJHL draft is the son of Patrick Poulin. Already coming in at 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds, Poulin plays with power. 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 on the wing, he also has the vision and passing skills to be a playmaker. Poulin put up 16 goals and 45 points in 55 games as QMJHL rookie last year.
Mikhail Abramov, Centre, Victoriaville Tigres
Abramov was the 97th overall pick in the CHL Import Draft. He was impressive at this summer’s Ivan Hlinka with seven points in five games. Abramov also put up seven points in six games at last year’s Under-17 World Hockey Challenge. He is another undersized but talented playmaker. Abramov creates space with his quick changes of speed and direction. He takes advantage of being an outstanding skater to create passing lanes. Abramov protects the puck well and can wait for a teammate to get open before setting him up for a scoring change.
Egor Serdyuk, Right Wing, Victoriaville Tigres
The 37th overall pick of 2017 CHL Import Draft, Serdyuk scored five goals and nine points in six games at last year’s Under-17 World Hockey Challenge. A pure sniper, Serdyuk has a very good arsenal of shots. He has a strong one-timer, along with a good wrist shot and snapshot. His release is quick, and his shots are accurate. He also has the soft hands to pounce on rebounds and make quick moves in tight to the net. Serdyuk is a decent skater, but could use a bit more work on his speed.
2020 NHL Draft Prospects to Watch
Mavrik Bourque, Centre, Shawinigan Cataractes
The third overall pick in the 2018 QMJHL Draft, Bourque is an undersized forward who plays an excellent puck protection game. He controls the puck down low with shifty skating ability and good puckhandling skills. Bourque can avoid defenders and open up passing and shooting lanes to create scoring opportunities. He shows high hockey IQ for his age and makes smart plays with the puck. His game is extremely well-developed for a 16-year-old, including his play in his own end of the rink.
Patrick Guay, Left Wing, Sherbrooke Phoenix
Guay is an undersized forward at just 5-foot-9 but does not let his size get in the way of playing a gritty game. He is quick to get in on the forecheck and willing to drive the net. Guay is also extremely talented. He is a very good stickhandler and can fool defenders with quick moves. He also has an excellent wrist shot and quick release. Guay can also play the role of playmaker. He sees the ice very well and can find open teammates with a quick pass.
Embed from Getty Images