‘Tis the season! It’s time to gear up for the most wonderful time of the year for prospect watchers and the build-up to the World Junior Championships. There is a great pool of QMJHL talent that should make their representative countries and be part of the winter showcase in the Czech Republic. Roster invites have been sent out, so stay tuned for final roster announcements in the coming weeks. The action starts on Boxing Day.
Speaking of international competition, the QMJHL squad split the Canada/Russia series at one game apiece with Russia in an exciting matchup of tight hockey games. Dmitrij Zavgorodniy and Alexander Khovanov stole the show as a dynamic duo for Russia and shared the tournament lead with five points each, three points of which were in the opening two games against their QMJHL counterparts. Raphael Lavoie and Jakob Pelletier led the charge for the QMJHL group with three and four points against Russia. Of note, Alexis Lafreniere sat out the series due to injury.
World Under-17 Hockey Challenge
At the same time as the Canada/Russia series, the QMJHL had its next wave of stars front and center at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Canada fielded three teams comprised of talent from all CHL leagues and the QMJHL had some standout performances throughout the tournament. Leading the pack was Gatineau’s Zach Dean (3-4-7) followed by Quebec’s James Malatesta (3-3-6) and Nathan Gaucher (2-3-5), Rimouski’s Zachary Bolduc (2-3-5) and Acadie-Bathurst’s Riley Kidney (2-3-5). The future certainly looks bright in the Q.
The East – Moncton Wildcats
The Moncton Wildcats are having a season to remember. Sitting third in the league and second in the Eastern Conference, Moncton boasts a stellar balance of offense and defense. Besides being among the top in goals for and against, their special teams are deadly with a power-play and penalty kill both in the top five of the league. They are a disciplined bunch with the second-fewest penalty minutes in the league and they have yet to lose back-to-back games this season. It seems like a pretty solid recipe for success in my opinion. Despite their great first-half performance, Moncton is in tough duking it out with Chicoutimi and Rimouski for the top spot in the conference and will be getting pushed all season long in order to keep pace.
Leading the Wildcat pack is winger and captain Jakob Pelletier. The Calgary Flames 2019 first-rounder is having a stellar post NHL draft season with 48 points in 25 games, good enough for third in QMJHL scoring. The playmaking winger had a great streak through October and November over a 12-game stretch where he totaled 28 points. Pelletier is a smaller skater at 5 foot 9, but continues to go to the dirty areas to make plays and be a difference-maker. He is rounding out his game nicely on the defensive side of the puck and has shown to be a solid faceoff option as well. Among all wingers in the top 10 of league scoring, Pelletier is the best at 54.3% on draws. The Flames are always looking for depth on the wing and Pelletier looks to be a great option.
(Jakob Pelletier, courtesy Simon Clark/Agence QMI)
Linemate and centreman, Alexander Khovanov, joins Pelletier among the league’s elite scorers. The sniper has posted 19 goals and 45 points over 23 games and showing a little nasty side with 46 penalty minutes, third-most in the league. Minnesota Wild fans are looking to the future and they shouldn’t sleep on the potential of Khovanov.
A nice surprise has been the smooth transition of rookie left winger, Zachary L”Heureux. The 2019 QMJHL third overall selection has 27 points in 23 games and has shown a nice scoring touch with 11 goals. He is currently third in rookie scoring, but is ranked as the top dog in rookie points per game with 1.17. What is most impressive is that he hasn’t been a spotty point producer. In fact, he rode an 11-game point streak within the first month rendering 15 points. L’Heureux is a 2021 NHL Draft prospect and will be an important secondary scoring option for the Wildcats into the postseason.
No potential championship team isn’t without tinkering and the Wildcats did just that acquiring goaltender Olivier Rodrigue from Drummondville in the off-season. The Edmonton Oilers 2018 second-rounder has been in fine form this season and the team has managed his minutes well. He has only played 19 games and shared time with back-up Charles-Antoine Lavalee. Rodrigue has a strong winning percentage with 15 wins and is second-best among top 10 goalies in wins with a goals against average of 2.55. You can count on him seeing more time down the stretch as Moncton makes its push to the playoffs. Oilers fans should have Rodrigue on their watchlist as the club looks to build up their goaltending depth.
(Olivier Rodrigue, courtesy of Guillaume Lepage at NHL.com)
All signs point to an extended season ahead for the Wildcats, but getting out of the Eastern Conference will be one heck of a battle.
The West – Val d’Or Foreurs
Sitting second in the West division, the Foreurs are a crop of young guns loaded with rookie talent Considering they are fielding one of the youngest groups in the league, Val d’Or is a competitive bunch. Despite the second-worst power play in the Q, the Foreurs still present a respectable offense. It goes without saying, but the Foreurs are riding the waves of a rebuilding year.
Rich is young studs, the Foreurs are led by rookie Alexandre Doucet and his 21 points in 29 games. He is a pure playmaker and is defensively responsible to boot, a rarity in first-year players. He is listed as a centre, but is capable of playing on the wing as well. Doucet was a sixth-rounder in the 2018 QMJHL draft and looks to be a real find for the Foreurs.
Continuing on with the rookie round up, the Foreurs are looking to the future with Justin Robidas and Alexandre Mirzabalaev. Robidas came into the year with a ton of hype as the second-overall selection in the 2019 QMJHL draft. His production has been patchy as expected, but he has seen some success for stretches this season. He’s got points in back to back games entering the December schedule and will be looking to build on that. Fellow rookie centre, Alexandre Mirzabalaev, is outproducing Robidas with 14 points to his 10. The 2019 CHL Import draftee is a pass-first pivot and is another piece of the puzzle down the line for Val d’Or.
With rookies a plenty, veterans Nicolas Ouellet and David Noel remain steady fixtures in the group. Ouellet was sidelined earlier this season with an injury, but has stormed back onto the scene with 18 points in 18 games. The overager has already committed to the University of Ottawa next season. Defender David Noel has been an absolute rocket launcher on the back end. The St. Louis Blues 2017 fifth-rounder is second in the QMJHL in shots, overall, not just by a defenseman. The threat of his shot attracts plenty of attention and opens up lanes for his linemates and makes him an attractive trade target should the Foreurs fall out of the race. Noel has 18 points in 29 games.
(David Noel, courtesy of QMJHL.ca)
Rounding out the Foreurs core, backstop Jonathan Lemieux is posting the best numbers of his career. Through 23 games, Lemieux has a goals-against of 3.48 and a save percentage of 0.906, not head-turning, but definitely respectable given a youthful and inexperienced team in front of him. At only 18 years of age, Lemieux still has room to grow himself and fits in perfectly with the plan in Val d”Or.
It appears to be another season of waiting in the winds for Val d’Or as their young roster continues to marinate. They are in an encouraging position playing in the West, arguably the weakest division, which should allow for more favourable matchups for their group. Long-term, the Foreurs will no doubt be climbers in the Western Conference.
2020 Draft Class
Let’s check in with some prospects from the 2020 NHL Draft class.
A giant a 6-foot-7 and 212 pounds, he’s up to seven goals and 11 points in 27 games played. It doesn’t hurt that Crevier is playing on the Eastern Conference-leading Chicoutimi Sagueneens and getting alot of attention on a loaded squad of 2020 draft eligibles including Theo Rochette and Hendrix Lapierre. His size is his calling card, but reports indicate that he is a smart player with an offensive kickback and good hands for a big man. Crevier looks to be a raw talent to watch over the coming years.
After a strong rookie campaign last season, Desnoyers was looked upon to round out the scoring threat among the Wildcat attack. While he’s produced moderate numbers with six goals and 18 points in 27 games, Desnoyers needs to take advantage of lesser defensive matchups. He is currently on four-game point streak and has only gone without a point over a two-game stretch, which speaks to his consistency. He continues to see second line powerplay time and will continue to be given an extra look in hopes to find his groove and become a reliable threat as the season progresses.
Saint John Sea Dogs defender Charlie Desroches is clipping along offensively and is primed to surpass his numbers from last season. He is second only to teammate and fellow 2020 NHL draft-eligible, Jeremie Poirier in points by a defenseman with 19 in 29 games and is much improved defensively this season. Desroches is starting to see his name climb the draft rankings due to his steady overall play and ability to transition the puck out of his own zone. Look for Desroches to finish the season with very competitive numbers and scouts taking notice of his strong well-rounded game.
Keep your eye on Shawinigan centre Mavrik Bourque. He’s riding a 16-game point streak totalling 29 points. The streak is tied for the league-best thus far this season and the run has helped vault him in the top 10 in league scoring. Bourque was already on the radar for the 2020 NHL Draft. His stock is on the rise.
(Mavrik Bourque, courtesy of Jean Levasseur)
Thanks for reading and be sure to check back next month when we look at the Drummondville Voltigeurs and Charlottetown Islanders, review QMJHL performances from the World Juniors and highlight more draft-eligibles on our way to the 2020 NHL Draft. Watch out for my new Twitter handle too!
Nicholas Kawka – Nashville Predators and the QMJHL writer – @KawkaPuck