In this season's inaugural edition of the QMJHL Report we'll be taking a look at four pairs of rookie teammates to keep an eye on for the next few years.
Alexis Lafreniere, the highly touted first overall pick from this summer's Midget Entry Draft is off to a solid start with two goals and one assist for Rimouski his first four QMJHL games. Lafreniere is an extremely talented offensive player who combines elite vision, anticipation, puck-control, and a quick release to rack up points, as evidenced by his 33 goals and 83 points in 36 games last season for St-Eustache (Midget AAA) and 12 points in seven preseason games with Rimouski. It should come as no surprise if he becomes the league's most prolific scorer in the years to come.
Perhaps the greatest riser in the draft was Christopher Innis, defenseman from College-Charles Lemoyne. Which is why even he was surprised to hear his name called when the Oceanic stepped up to the podium to make their second selection of the first round (ninth overall). His reaction upon being interviewed on stage immediately following his selection was inspiring. Awestruck perhaps, but it was the honest face of a kid who was realizing all his hard work was coming together.
Innis is a defenseman who's skating really jumps out at you. He moves just as well laterally as he does forward or backward, is strong on his skates, and also has a nice reach for his height (5'10). He is excellent at mirroring footwork and knows how to use his arms and reach to control gaps with forwards, keeping the talented ones at bay and virtually never gets beat one-on-one. While his skating ability makes you think he is an offensive d-man, Innis can play the role of a shutdown defender and offensive spark as he showed when he played all kinds of big minutes in a long playoff run for the Riverains under Head Coach Guillaume Latendresse last spring. He is the type of player who can stop a rush at one end and carry the puck 200 feet with his athleticism.
Innis has only played a couple of QMJHL games thus far, but just making the team out of a camp was an accomplishment and his development will progress steadily over the next few years. He is just scratching the surface of his potential.
Another franchise who had two first-round selections this year was the Drummondville Voltiguers. Possessing back-to-back picks (eight and nine), Drummondville injected a formidable amount of talent to their forward group by selecting Dawson Mercer and Xavier Simoneau respectively.
Mercer may be the only player able to contest Lafreniere as the top offensive producer in their class. Mercer skates very well, has an incredible set of hands, but most importantly has a motor that doesn't quit. A tenacious forechecker, the former Bishop's College scorer gets the puck in appetizing situations and uses his quick hands and creativity to give defenses headaches all game long. The combination of his skills makes him a very entertaining player to watch.
Not to be outdone, Simoneau was actually granted exceptional status as a 14-year-old allowed to play Midget AAA in 2015-16. Not only did he stay afloat, he excelled scoring 43 points in 32 games playing on a line with close friend Benoit-Olivier Groulx (Halifax Mooseheads, son of Benoit Groulx). Despite his size (5'6, 165 lbs) Simoneau dishes the body regularly as he buzzes around the ice; in fact he may have lead his team in hits last season. But, he also has terrific vision, anticipation and a soft set of mitts.
Don't be fooled by the 10 goals in each Midget season stat either thinking that he is a one-dimensional perimeter playmaker because of the numbers (size + stats). Simoneau is a big-game scorer who steps up in tight situations and shies away from nothing.
Another club with a pair of promising rookies is the Halifax Mooseheads. Though unlike the rest of the players here, one was not selected in the QMJHL Entry Draft, and I don't expect him to be around for the next four years.
No, that would not describe Xavier Parent, who was also a 14-year-old exception in Midget AAA in 2015-16. Like Simoneau, Parent scored over a point-per-game as an underager but followed it up with an even more impressive campaign in 2016-17 with 55 points in 34 games en route to being selected fourth overall by the Mooseheads in June.
Parent is an exceptionally fast skater who is also very smart and competitive. He debuted with a bang, scoring three goals and eight points in seven preseason games, exhibiting his trademark skating as soon as he hit Q ice. He's dominated the Quebec hockey scene since he began having his skates tied, so his staggering numbers are no surprise here. He has a natural nose for the net and can take over shifts with his skating and puck-on-a-string ability. He covers a lot of ground with those legs despite his stature (5'7) and can make an impact in all three zones.
The aforementioned description would, though, apply to Filip Zadina; the 2017 CHL Import Draft's 11th overall pick.
Zadina is an elite talent who is a candidate to be a top-five pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. The Czech Republic native comes from the way of Pardubice, reporting to the CHL his second time around after not coming over to join the Vancouver Giants one year ago.
Zadina can dominate games with the puck on his stick due to his impressively high hockey IQ and skating ability. He also has a little bit of size, coming in at 6'1 192 lbs for Halifax, and knows how to use his length well to protect the puck at high speeds. While Zadina is always looking to set up teammates first, he will not hesitate to let one rip, picking corners with his quick release.
He already has eight points in five games with the Mooseheads, taking no time to acclimate to North American style hockey. I expect Zadina to be amongst the QMJHL league leaders at season's end while attempting to carry his nation on his back at the World Junior Championships as he gains experience toward draft day. It will be an eventful season for the versatile forward (has already played at center and both wings this season), and one where the entire hockey world will learn his name.
Last but certainly not least, is another pair of standout teammates and first-round picks in Jakob Pelletier and Jaxon Bellamy.
Pelletier was the third overall pick, in spite of his 5'8 154 lb. frame. Pelletier was good all season but really broke out in the playoffs with 15 goals and 29 points in 17 games including numerous game-winners and clutch plays en route to a Midget AAA title and Telus Cup invite (10 points in seven games). Pelletier is a pure sniper who makes finding mesh seem easy. He isn't as fast as some of the other guys on this list, but is very shifty and has good balance. He already has six points in his first five Junior Major games on a team lacking star power.
Jaxon Bellamy, the sixth defenseman selected in the draft and 16th overall selection, had a stellar preseason with four goals and two assists in eight games (plus-four, 13 PIMs), displaying the traits that placed him in pole position among draft-eligible d-men for much of the season before sliding on draft day. Bellamy has the size (6'3 180 lbs.), physicality, mobility and puck-moving skills you look for in a top-pairing defenseman, His shot is a real weapon, so teeing him up for a one-timer on the man-advantage usually yields positive results.
Here's to a great 2017-18 season and beyond for these competitors and their peers.
- Mike Barrett
Follow me @MikeBarrett_ on Twitter for regular hockey content from all levels.
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