World Junior Wrap-Up
Congratulations to Canada and Russia on another classic battle for World Junior gold. Like many expected, Alexis Lafreniere was outstanding all tournament long and earned the honors of tournament MVP. With his performance, Lafreniere has almost certainly cemented his spot at the top of the 2020 NHL Draft rankings.
As mentioned in the January report, other QMJHL showings of note at the tournament were over ager Egor Sokolov from Cape Breton, Sherbrooke goaltender Samuel Hlavaj and Gatineau defender David Aebischer and they continued their success into January.
Since his return to QMJHL play, Sokolov has posted 20 points in nine games, including a four-goal outing. His fierce play at the tournament and skillful display back in the Q have likely generated a watchful eye of scouts the rest of the season.
Despite being peppered all-tournament for Slovakia, Hlavaj shook off the bruises and stood tall in the Sherbrooke net going 7-0 in January with a 0.922 goals-against average. He’s been great all year long for the Phoenix.
Aebischer continued his stellar offensive play into the new year scoring six points in his first five games back. In fewer than half of the number of games from last season, Aebischer has reached his total point production and has established himself as a reliable scoring option on the blueline. Aebischer has signed on to play for HC Fribourg-Gottéron in the Swiss league in 2020-21, but with an out-clause to play in the NHL.
(David Aebischer, courtesy of the QMJHL)
All three are draft-eligible and it will be interesting to watch for their names to climb draft boards.
Just when you came down from the hype of the World Juniors, it was time to gear up for the CHL Prospects game showcasing some of the best of the 2020 NHL draft class from across the country. The QMJHL sent Alexis Lafreniere, Mavrik Bourque, Ryan Francis, Vasily Ponomarev, Samuel Hlavaj, Jeremie Poirier, Lukas Cormier, Thimo Nickl, and Dawson Mercer. Stealing the show was Saint John defenceman Jeremie Poirier opening the game for Team Red with a goal and adding an assist while Dawson Mercer scored late in the game in a losing effort for Team Red. Bourque and Ponomarev saw a steady amount of faceoff work and Hlavaj split time for the winning Team White.
The next benchmark test for these prospects will kick off in March when the competition really gets fierce and the heat gets turned up in the playoffs.
The East – Chicoutimi
Talk about rocking and rolling, the Sagueneens have won seven of their past 10 and currently lead the Eastern Conference. It should come as no surprise. With the additions of Raphael Lavoie, Felix Bibeau, and Dawson Mercer at the trade deadline, scoring hasn’t been an issue, but it’s the all-around play of the team that should have the opposition worried. While the special teams don’t blow you away with the powerplay and penalty kill sitting in the middle ranks, Chicoutimi is stingy in their own zone and are in the top four in goals against. Combine that with an aggressive style of play and a team in the top five in penalty minutes, Chicoutimi can play the game either way and looks to be ready for anything coming their way come playoff time.
Lead by Rafael and Raphael, Harvey-Pinard and Lavoie share the lead in team scoring with 59 points. Raphael Lavoie has been great addition from Halifax and Rafael Harvey-Pinard has served as the veteran presence leading by example. Lavoie filled his checking line role well for Team Canada and should be a force for Chicoutimi in the playoffs. If he steps up like he did last season with Halifax at the Memorial Cup, the Sagueneens are poised for a long run of spring hockey.
(Raphael Lavoie, courtesy of NHL.com)
Chicoutimi switched up 2020 NHL draft hopefuls Dawson Mercer and Theo Rochette in separate deals. While Hendrix Lapierre has been out for some time with another concussion, Rochette also battled illness early this season and never really found his form. Mercer has been a reliable option and has added a steady two-way element down the middle for Chicoutimi. While he will complement the offense this season, the duo of him and Lapierre looking to next year as a one-two punch at centre should be lethal.
Roaming the blueline is another midseason acquisition in 19-year old Karl Boudrias from Val d’Or. He is an all-around defender and enjoying the best offensive production of his Q career this season with 10 goals and 28 points in 46 games. He has put up six points in 11 games for Chicoutimi thus far and has been a nice addition to the defense core.
Tending the net, Alexis Shank is icing his best season to date and has already surpassed his career-high in wins with 28. In his fourth season with Chicoutimi, Shank will look to backstop the team down the stretch. At 6 feet and 171 pounds, Shank’s stature doesn’t fill the net, but his stellar angle play and feel for the crease make up the difference. He has strong lateral movement and is very efficient, allowing him to make quick adjustments on rebounds and second-chance opportunities.
(Alexis Shank, courtesy of RDS.ca)
Chicoutimi has really shuffled the deck with some of their trades and yet, they continue to treck along on the upswing. They have been steady all season long and appear to be hitting their stride at the right time. While other teams pulled the trigger and loaded up at the deadline, Chicoutimi was not outdone and will be a heavy favorite to come out of the East.
The West – Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Maybe one of the lesser-known squads in the league are the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, but people better start taking notice. They are quietly holding down the sixth overall spot in the league and second in the West. The Armada are extremely balanced and sport a goal differential close to even and are in the bottom third in special teams. Those types of numbers don’t generally translate into results, but the Armada is making it work. Consistency is the key for Blainville-Boisbriand who despite an early five-game losing streak in the fall, they have rolled along and stuck around under the radar.
Markee man Luke Henman has finally emerged as a focal point on the offense. In his fourth season in Blainville, the 2018 Carolina fourth-rounder has blown up this season and is on pace to double his previous high in points.
(Luke Henman, courtesy of RDS.ca)
2019 CHL Import first-rounder draftee Maxim Bykov has looked great and is skating on the wing in the top six. He has riffled 131 shots on goal thus far, good enough for second on the team, and has contributed 16 goals to the offense. He is definitely a name to follow looking forward to the 2021 NHL Draft.
Yaroslav Lukhachev is a solid overage draft candidate who has had strong production all year. He has been peppering pucks on net each game and has only gone pointless over a three-game period once this season. A model of consistent, Lukhachev’s play is indicative of that of the team.
On the smaller but mighty side, 5 foot 7 and 165-pound defender Miguel Tourigny is up to 23 points in 48 games. His scoring is respectable enough, but he also packs a punch. His 42 penalty minutes can’t be ignored and show a nice edge to his game. Tourigny is a stellar piece moving forward for the Armada.
Rounding out the rundown is goaltender Emile Samson. Much like Shank in Chicoutimi, Samson is having a career year. At 5 foot 8 and 147 pounds, quickness and positioning spell out Samson’s forte. He uses the butterfly style and squares up well with shooters. While the crease is his, Samson has shared time with rookie Olivier Adam, a 6 foot 3 next in line for the Armada.
(Emile Samson, courtesy of RDS.ca)
After a rapid listing of the Armada attack, it’s curious as to why they are achieving such success to date. With no spotlight superstars or big draws to shutdown, Blainville-Boisbriand really does come at you as a unit. Don’t judge this group by the numbers. There is no formula here. Are they playing against the metric and poised for a cinderella run or will their lackluster special teams come back to bite them?
2020 Draft Class
As we do every month, here is a continued look at first-year draft eligibles who could potentially be selected in June.
If you are planning on watching the Saint John Sea Dogs and Jeremie Poirier, take the time to watch two-way center, Joshua Lawrence. The Dogs are one of the poorest defensive teams in the league and yet, Lawrence finds a way to produce offensively while holding down the fort in his own end. At 5 foot 8, he boasts the vision and quickness to find space to execute plays and is tough on draws clipping along at around 51%. Originally committed to Boston University, Lawrence has elevated his totals across the stat line this season and could be a decent option in the later rounds.
While Mavrik Bourque has been driving the bus in Shawinigan, defender Marc-Antoine Pepin has been riding shotgun from the blueline. Pepin is a steady top-four blueliner that plays heavy minutes in all situations. With 28 points in 43 games, Pepin leads the way in defense scoring among his teammates by a mile and is running the powerplay on the back end with 10 assists on the man advantage. Pepin isn’t defined by one skill but continues to round out all facets of his game.
Straight from the AlpsHL in Austria is defenceman Thimo Nickl. He played a regular shift against men last season at only the age of 16 and scored 13 points in 25 games. This season with Drummondville, Nickl is up to 30 points in 45 games and showing a really strong offensive upside and passing ability. At 6 foot 2, he continues to fill out his frame and develop his physical game, but scouts should be keying in on his raw potential and size. Nickl could be a late-season climber in the rankings come June.
Thanks for reading and be sure to check back in early March when we look at the Baie-Comeau Drakkar and the Victoriaville Tigers, check-in on impact NHL prospects and highlight more draft-eligibles on our way to the 2020 NHL Draft.
Nicholas Kawka – Nashville Predators and the QMJHL writer – @KawkaPuck