Happy New Year and best wishes to you all in 2020! With the prosperity and excitement that comes with ringing in the new year, we find ourselves in the thick of the World Juniors, looking to the CHL prospects game in Hamilton, turning the corner on the halfway point of the QMJHL season and eyeing the potentials of the 2020 NHL Draft with keen interest. The ball has dropped, so let’s dive right in.
World Junior Update
The QMJHL has been well represented at the World Junior tournament in the Czech Republic this season and there have been some great performances.
Canada has moved onto the semi-finals and Alexis Lafreniere has been at the forefront. After a four-point effort in the opening game, he raised concern with an injury but has since returned to full form. Jared McIsaac has been one of the team’s most productive defenders with four points and is logging significant minutes. Raphael Lavoie has been used in a steady checking role and Dawson Mercer has made the best of his opportunities despite being held pointless thus far, albeit with limited playing time. Oliver Rodrigue has yet to see any time in the crease.
(Alexis Lafreniere, courtesy of the Sporting News)
Russia has also punched their ticket to the semis and centers Alexander Khovanov and Nikita Alexandrov are driving forces behind the Russian offense. Each share part of the team lead with six points, while Egor Sokolov has been a brut to deal with on the forecheck.
Slovakia was eliminated by Canada in quarter-final play and Sherbrooke’s Samuel Hlavaj showed well fending off the white and red. He started four of the five games for Slovakia in the tournament and made some highlight saves along the way. Maxim Cajkovic was actively creating offense along the wing and contributed two assists in the tournament, but left the quarter-final game with a potential head injury. It will be something to follow when he returns to Saint John.
A depleted host Czech Republic squad was eliminated in the elite eight. Rimouski’s Adam Raska was limited to a checking role and was unable to register a point.
Finally, Switzerland finished second in Group A thanks in large part to the play of Gaetan Jobin and David Aebischer. Jobin posted three points playing less than nine minutes a game and will look to build off that back in Charlottetown. Aebischer was a beast on defense logging top-pairing minutes and led the Swiss with six assists. The Gatineau blueliner has seen limited time early this season and should continue to produce at a strong pace throughout the season.
The East – Charlottetown Islanders
Don’t look now, but Charlottetown is starting to make some traction. They have won six of their past 10 games and even leapfrogged Rimouski, something that didn’t seem within reach a few months ago. The Islanders play a gritty style and without a player in the top 50 in league scoring, they play a heavier brand of game to wear opponents down. They lead the Q in penalty minutes and their penalty killing is in the top half of the league making for a successful recipe. They finished the regular season well last season, but got bumped in the first round and are looking to take the next step in 2020.
Leading the attack is overaged winger Brett Budgell. He combines that gritty style with a touch around the net and is fresh off a six-game point streak. He is the pulse upfront.
Nikita Alexandrov was injured earlier this season while at the St. Louis prospects camp and has only played 19 games this season. The 2019 second-rounder has been a difference-maker in Charlottetown scoring 14 goals this far and is showcasing his offensive touch at the World Juniors. He has strong defensive instincts as well and he will be leading the charge for the Islanders moving forward.
(Nikita Alexandrov, courtesy of the Charlottetown Islanders)
On the backend, defenseman extraordinaire, Lukas Cormier is slowly rounding into form. The 2020 NHL Draft eligible defender was sidelined in late October with a foot injury and missed all of November. He has three points in eight games since his return but has shot a ton with 30 shots during that span. Watch out, he’s heating up. In Cormier’s absence, counterpart Noah Laaouan stepped up nicely and scored 11 points in 13 games. His production has slowed since Cormier’s return, but there’s some serious potential there and another proven skilled option now on defense.
Veteran goaltender Matthew Welsh has been holding down the fort in net. He’s posted two shutouts and is carrying a career-best goals-against average of 2.68 thus far, good enough for top five in the league. Welsh is on pace for his third consecutive 30 win campaign and hoping for a long playoff run.
Charlottetown is looking like the typical sleeper as the season progresses. They will surely challenge in the East, but the conference is loaded at the top with Moncton, Chicoutimi, and Rimouski looking to make some noise. Time will tell if they can stay in the race.
The West – Drummondville Voltigeurs
After making a strong bid in 2019 with the star power of Joe Veleno, Maxime Comtois and Nicolas Beaudin, the Voltigeurs bowed out in the semi-finals and it appeared the chance to strike had passed. This season, however, Drummondville is right back in contention leading the Central division and sitting in second spot in the conference. Their lineup is made up of emerging names such as Dawson Mercer and Jacob Dion along with 11 other full-time rookies in the lineup.
2020 NHL Draft eligible Dawson Mercer is the focal point of the attraction in Drummondville. He’s shown to be a steady producer with a real knack for shooting the puck and has a reliable overall game in his own end. As mentioned earlier, he is getting great experience at the World Juniors and will surely give the Voltigeurs a boost when he returns.
(Dawson Mercer, courtesy of The Telegram)
Xavier Simoneau has stepped into the limelight and taken full advantage of an increased role. He is a smaller overaged centreman at 5ft7, but his quickness and vision make him elusive and a real problem to handle. Simoneau has some real bite in his game too and does what he can to create his own space on the ice. He has already surpassed his scoring totals from last year and sits in the top five in league scoring.
Another over-ager seizing the opportunity is hulking winger Isaiah Campbell. Acquired from Cape Breton last season, Campbell has had an itchy trigger finger and increased his shot volume significantly. He is up to 21 goals and clipping along a point per game pace.
The best defense is a great offense and rookie defenceman Jacob Dion is just that. He is up to 30 points in 33 games and thriving on the powerplay with 11 assists. Add him to your list of sleepers for the 2020 NHL Draft.
In net, veteran Anthony Marrone is getting his first full go as a starter and posting respectable numbers. Looking to the future, Drummondville recently acquired Francesco Lapenna from Val d’Or and he may push Marrone in a healthy competition as the season progresses.
With Sherbrooke seemingly running away with the standings, Drummondville may be one of the only squads within reach to challenge them. They are rolling with eight wins over their past 12 games, but will the youth hold up down the stretch?
News and Notes
The wheeling and dealing has started as teams look to load up or tear down.
Moncton kicked off the new year with three trades in one day, most notably acquiring Gabriel Fortier from Baie Comeau. The Tampa Bay prospect will only add to the Wildcat offense as they prepare for a battle in the East. Moncton also added Benoit Olivier-Groulx from Halifax prior to the holiday break. He will be a great depth piece and key matchup option in the playoffs.
Chicoutimi moved along highly touted draft-eligible Theo Rochette to Quebec and added New York Islanders prospect Felix Bibeau. Rochette recently returned from an extended illness from the beginning of the year, but just hasn’t found his stride yet and the Sagueneens need to keep pace.
The East is a real grind at the top of the standings and with Rimouski losing Dmitrij Zavgorodniy for an extended time with a broken collarbone, they acquired Nicolas Guay from Saint John. Guay has been very productive for the Sea Dogs and could attract a little more attention from onlookers now that he is in Rimouski.
Not to be outdone, Sherbrooke added Samuel Bolduc from Blainville to solidify their position in the West. Bolduc fits the bruising mold and style of the Phoenix perfectly with his 6-0 210-pound frame and even scored at a point per game since his arrival.
(Samuel Bolduc, courtesy of The Suburban)
The magic number 16. Last month I highlighted the points streak of Mavrik Bourque as his run ended at 16 games. Benoit Olivier-Groulx (28 points) is looking to join Bourque (30 points), Felix Robert (34 points) and Maxim Trepanier (26 points) at 16 games. Now suiting up for Moncton, odds are he is in line to share the crown and call it his own.
2020 Draft Class
Last, but not least, with the calendar year finally changing to 2020, we are officially only months away from the draft. Here are a few more QMJHL representatives that could make the draft board in June.
He is young at only 17 with a late August birthday and he is little at 5ft9, but Patrick Guay has all the tools to be opportunistic offensively and problematic for defenders on the attack. He is very quick and his puck possession is top-notch. Guay may not have the strongest shot, but it’s accurate and his distribution and setting up of teammates is excellent. He is steadily producing with 26 points in 34 games, which is not jaw-dropping but is very competitive on an extremely deep Sherbrooke team.
(Patrick Guay, courtesy of RSG)
Besides him having arguably the best name in the draft, Ivan has been a strong depth option for Cape Breton this season. His game does not boast anything particularly special, but he plays a steady and reliable style with a strong forecheck and good two-way presence. A pass-first center, Ivan is another late birthday and could be a project some teams focus on late in the draft.
Hlavaj is enjoying great success in his first QMJHL season as the starting goalie in Sherbrooke. He has great size at over 6ft3 and 200 plus pounds and uses the butterfly style as the foundation of his game. On top of his Q accolades, he was a standout for Slovakia at the World Juniors, which can only help his stock for the 2020 NHL Draft. The potential of a long playoff run should give him great exposure as well.
Thanks for reading and be sure to check back next month when we look at the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, wrap-up the World Juniors, touch on the CHL prospects game and highlight more draft-eligibles on our way to the 2020 NHL Draft.
Nicholas Kawka – Nashville Predators and the QMJHL writer – @KawkaPuck