It was a good night for the Quebec Major Junior League. A great season for the league continued Monday as six players skated in the CHL Top Prospects game in Quebec City, under the direction of an all-Quebecois coaching staff.
Alex D'Orio and Nico Hischier were Team Orr's QMJHL representatives while defensemen Antoine Crete-Belzile, and Pierre-Olivier Joseph, and former Midget AAA linemates Maxime Comtois and Antoine Morand played up front for Team Cherry.
D'Orio had a rough night, allowing four goals on 19 shots before giving way to Windsor's Michael DiPietro (two goals on 16 shots). The rebound D'Orio gave up and lack of recovery on Morand's goal was glaring, but I still don't see him sliding out of the top five rounds.
QMJHL star Nico Hischier is excelling at every level and will challenge for the first-overall draft pick in the NHL entry draft.
Hischier (one goal, two assists) was outstanding. The captain of Team Orr flew around the ice all night, puck-on-a-string, making things happen from start to finish. He definitely outplayed Nolan Patrick, though people will still point to Patrick's size and pedigree in regard to the first overall pick. Hischier isn't a prototypical franchise center, but he may be a franchise's most productive player down the line.
All four Team Cherry skaters from the Q were impressive. There were no hat tricks or five-point games, but they all exhibited the skills that make them coveted NHL prospects heading into the entry draft.
Comtois skated hard and was rewarded with a goal. Morand potted one, too. Crete-Belzile had himself a nice game (one assist, +2) and Joseph (one assist, one shot) showed off his high ceiling.
To quote The Hockey News:
“Production has been underwhelming for Comtois this season, but he showed up to play in Quebec. The big left winger had a goal for Team Cherry, but he was also a physical force for much of the contest.”
And that's exactly why I can't slide him outside of my top 20. As I've said many times before, even when he is not scoring he's still a 200-foot physical force with all the intangibles you look for in a leader. He plays the game the right way, plus the added bonus of his goal-scoring potential.
Aside from his goal, Morand buzzed all night. Like Hischier, Morand gets slotted in the “finesse” category, but he's definitely not limited to that label. He affects the game in many ways, and executes at high speed. A first-round talent who may slide due to size, Morand could make a team very happy in the early second round.
One of the best performers in the Top Prospects Combine, Crete-Belizle carried that momentum onto the ice. He looked good for someone still shaking off the rust from a long-term injury. He may not wow you with highlight-reel plays, but he makes the right decisions with and without the puck, and is a very engaging defender. His draft stock will only rise from here on out; I don't see him falling out of the top 75.
Joseph showed no hesitation when pinching the half-wall to keep the cycle alive in the first period of the annual showcase, moving the puck down low before Morand's eventual goal seconds later. Joseph displayed some of the traits you specifically look for in defenseman these days. His decision-making is as high as his puck control. Not only does he have the athleticism to execute, he's an active player who always wants to be involved in the play. He seems to have established himself as a top-60 pick.