Also- I'm crafting a new exclusive prospect info. series here on B2011DW called the "Case For" where I will profile one player in-depth every month with detailed analysis on strengths, weaknesses, where that player projects in the NHL, how long before making an impact, scout quotes, etc. Even if you aren't a Bruins fan but read this blog, you're sure to find the series informative, as much of what NHL teams look for in the draft tend to be similar, so you can draw logic lines between what I write and what your team is seeking as you read.
First up in the series is Kitchener Rangers' captain and all-star winger Gabriel Landeskog, whom I will be checking out at the WJC in Buffalo next week. How awesome is that going to be?
In the meantime, though-- I owe you a QMJHL update, so here are some notes on the top 'Q' draft eligibles as we roll into the holiday break and WJC.
1. Sean Couturier, C Drummondville-- Still the odds-on fave to be the top overall selection in June's entry draft. It is rare for players to have the size, skill, instincts package that Couturier does. Like Sidney Crosby, who incidentally, Couturier is linked to as the best prospect to come out of the 'Q' since Crosby did it with Rimouski in 2005, Couturier is the son of a journeyman pro hockey player who never really did much. Their progenies are special players who (in Couturier's case-- Crosby is obviously already there) seem destined for stardom. Couturier is an excellent puckhandler who can do it all- make moves in open ice or in tight traffic, rip off a rocket shot or soft-touch it to teammates for the easy score. His vision and offensive hockey sense are elite right now-- he can do pretty much whatever he wants to dictate the tempo/flow at this level. His skating is only average, however. He has a lumbering first few steps and lacks the explosion/suddenness that scouts would love to see. That said, he's still such a physical and instinctive specimen that it's hard to imagine that he'll lose his top billing between now and June.
Scout's take: "What else do you want to see from him? Led the league in scoring last year at 17; great size, hands. Great hockey IQ, strong as an ox and plays a good game without the puck. He's really hitting his stride now, and I think the WJC will be an excellent test for him. I expect him to demonstrate his worth, even if he may not see as much ice time as some of the more senior/experienced players on Team Canada."- NHL scout, Western Conf. team
2. Jonathan Huberdeau, C Saint John-- He's actually got more points than Couturier does (54 to 52 but in 34 GP as opposed to 32 for Couturier), but this ultra-talented center is moving on up the draft boards and is going to be a high pick in Minnesota. Huberdeau came into the season with the reputation as being more of a playmaker than finisher, but he's annihilated that perception with 24 goals so far to go with his 30 helpers. His vision and creativity allow him to give opposing teams fits, and after a slow start, the Sea Dogs, who are just sickeningly loaded with 2011 draft eligible talent, have really come on. He's tall but extremely lanky, and even with his terrific skill set, Huberdeau is going to be a longer-term project for whichever NHL team drafts him because he's only around 160 pounds and has a ton of off-ice work to do before he'll be ready to make a run at an NHL job. Defensive game is only average and he'll have to work on that, but he's so good with the puck in the offensive zone, that the overall game is barely a blip on the radar for him.
Scout's take: "I really liked Huberdeau coming into the year, but had no idea he was going to score as much as he has. This is a kid who just naturally gravitates to the areas of the ice where he can either put the puck in the net or get it to a teammate who finishes off the play. I like what he and Zack Phillips are doing and really think Huberdeau is primed for a big second half."- NHL scout, Western Conf. team
3. Nathan Beaulieu, D Saint John-- Excellent two-way defenseman who didn't have a great start, but has pulled it together over the last couple of months. Very good size, but fine skater with solid footwork and the ability to get the puck up the ice quickly and lead the rush. Solid defensively; it isn't his strong suit-- transition game and getting the puck up ice/generating offense from the blue line is. But, he's not a liability in his own end and uses his active stick to take away passing lanes and force turnovers. His six goals and 22 points in 34 games is solid production, but he's capable of doing more in the second half. His +25 rating is indicative of his ability to start the attack and his supremely talented forwards have been able to get it into the net at the other end. Even though you can make the case that Tomas Jurco should be No. 3, I tend to value that potential high-end PMD, which is what Beaulieu is, a little more than the super stickhandling Slovak forward. But, the margin between the two is very close and you can go either way.
Scout's take: "He's the best puck-moving defenseman in the Quebec League, and I think he's underrated when it comes to talking about the best guys in the draft overall in that category. He's got the size, skating and strength to be very effective. His puck distribution is very good and his shot is improving. He still needs to get it off a little faster, but is coming along. He's pretty tough, too-- will fight to defend his teammates and does the little things to win. Smart player."- NHL scout, Eastern Conf. team
4. Tomas Jurco, RW Saint John-- Yes, dear, we're talking about another Saint John Sea Dog here. Jurco has been a big story in draft discussions since last season, when he came over to Saint John and demonstrated his sublime puckhandling talents. Not an explosive skater, but pretty good speed and agility-- one of those more quick/elusive than fast players who turns defenders one way and the other before taking the puck to the net. Good character kid who learned English quickly and made a seamless transition. Creative and absolutely unreal with the slick puck moves in close/traffic while playing the off-wing. Doesn't have a big shot, but qets it off quickly and with nice accuracy-- can pick the corners. Only OK defensively-- not a liability, but you can definitely tell that the effort level in his own end isn't quite what it is when on the attack. But, he'll get better at it...has a solid feel for his responsibilities and has the work ethic to get the job done as he matures.
Scout's take: "Intelligent and competitive Slovak winger. Tenacious and persistent on the forecheck. Smooth skater with power in his stride. Good set-up man who is unselfish to a fault; does the hard work digging loose pucks free and getting it to linemates in good scoring territory. "- Red Line Report, December issue
5. Zack Phillips, RW Saint John-- Former New England prep player's offense has skyrocketed over the past 45 days...went from being an up-and-down scoring presence to a dynamic, lethal, consistent killer with Huberdeau. He has 25 goals, 51 points in 34 games-- eight goals more than Jurco does. At only 6-0, 180 his size is average as is the skating, but when it comes to being in the right place at the right time, Phillips has that down pat-- a real knack for the offensive aspects of hockey. Keeps his stick on the ice and is very opportunistic around the net. Showing that he made the right move by leaving Lawrence Academy for the Quebec League, Phillips is tearing it up. Just think of the sick stats he would have put up for the Spartans had he stuck around...but the level of competition would have dinged him. The size and lack of dynamic skating will bring his draft stock down a bit, but if Phillips keeps putting up the big points, he seems destined for second-round draft status at least.
Scout's take-- "The first few times I saw him, Phillips didn't do much, but he definitely grewon me. You look at him and he's not as obvious a player as Huberdeau and Jurco, but at the end of the night, you look at the scoresheet and he's got a couple of goals. He plays an honest game and is one of those players who just seems to get it done when the puck is on his stick around the net."- NHL scout, Eastern conf. team
Other QMJHL players to watch:
David Honzik, G Victoriaville-- Czech goalie has size and lots of talent. Pretty focused kid with long limbs/athleticism. Stops the puck well, but needs work on the other aspects of the game like puckhandling/slowing down end-arounds.
Phillip Danault, LW- Victoriaville-- Little winger has some real offensive hockey tools and is making them work this season. Some (RLR) have questioned how well his small size and overall skill level will translate in the pros, but can't argue with the production: 13G, 40 points in 34 games for the Tigres. Like old NHL coach Michel Bergeron, Danault's nickname should be: Le Petit Tigre
Xavier Ouellet, D Montreal-- Another skilled puck-mover, this one doesn't have the size, skating or pure upside of Bealieu. Still Ouellet is underrated. He has terrific vision and the ability to distribute the puck extremely well on the PP. Someone will fall in love with him for the draft, but how high he goes is up for debate because he's much stronger in the intangibles than the measurables.
Christopher Gibson, G Chicoutimi-- Another import goalie, Gibson is the Finnish son of a British ex-pat who helped the Notre Dame Hounds to the Midget AAA championship (with Jaden Schwartz) before taking his talents to Chicoutimi. Like most Finns, he's tall, athletic butterfly goalie who takes up a lot of the net. His .928 save percentage on a bad team is a true testament to this kid's talent and upside.
Olivier Archambault, LW Val-d'Or-- Skilled winger has a lot of offensive potential, but is small and may have trouble translating that upside in the pro ranks much like Danault. He's got some real pluck and hard not to notice him, but doesn't have the top-shelf skills to say that he'll be a draft pick for sure.
Anton Zlobin, LW Shawinigan-- Wrote skilled Russian and breakaway ace up in a recent edition of "A Guy You Should Know" so check it out-- see labels over the the right.
Jimmy Appleby, G Quebec-- The tiny goalie is nowhere on anyone's draft radar, but he's extremely quick and has played well as the Remparts' backup. 2 shutouts in six games and he reminds me of Mike Vernon. Not saying he'll get drafted, but keep an eye on him nonetheless.