It has been a pretty good year for the QMJHL in terms of draft eligible talents.
We saw the cream rise to the top, and although Sean Couturier has fallen down some of the lists out there, we're not buying that he'll make too much of a free-fall on draft day. He could possibly fall out of the top-three, sure- but beyond that, he shouldn't last long.
The big winner in the QMJHL regular season in 2010-11 was the Saint John Sea Dogs, who boast a plethora of draft eligible talent, headlined by Jonathan Huberdeau, who we made a case for Boston drafting on this blog space last month. You can check it out here if you haven't read it. The Sea Dogs ran away with the regular season title and are Memorial Cup frontrunners given their impressive depth. They are also a playoff-tested team, having advanced all the way to the President's Cup championship last spring before bowing out to the Moncton Wildcats. Barring a major upset, the 'Dogs should be Mississauga-bound in May.
You can go all the way back to August and look at who was on our QMJHL watch list before the season and see that Jonathan Huberdeau was the big winner. He really came on this year and had a tremendous performance. Conversely, what the hell happened to Andrei Makarov? In fairness, he had a rough transition and played much better for Lewiston at the end of the year- he may have done enough to get a mid- or late-round call, but the big winner for Q goalies this season was Christopher Gibson.
Here's a quick look at some of the top QMJHL draft eligibles and where they sit going into the postseason. If you see a lot of Saint John guys on the list, your eyes do not deceive you.
1. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW Saint John- We knew this guy was a talented playmaker coming into the season, but what we didn't know was just how good he would be at putting the puck in the net. Huberdeau led all 2011 draft eligibles in the CHL in goal scoring this season with 43 markers. He finished the year third overall in league scoring with 105 points in 67 games. He's the complete package of physical tools, hockey skills and sense with a natural knack for scoring. Versatile; spent most of the season on the left wing, but is a natural center. NHL teams like multi-taskers. He's also a mature kid who carries himself well and exudes professionalism. There is no reason to think that Huberdeau can't crack the top-5 in June when all is said and done, but if he doesn't he's gone no later than 6 or 7. He reminds us a lot of Luc Robitaille in the way he comes off during interviews, and we can't imagine he's going to drop much if at all when the draft comes.
Stock watch: Blue-chip; only a complete dud of a playoff performance is going to hurt Huberdeau's draft prospects, and frankly, we don't see that happening. If Saint John makes its expected deep run, Huberdeau could be the Taylor Hall of the 2011 postseason in terms of a guy who scouts see well into May and therefore leaves a fresh and lasting impression leading into the draft.
Here's an interview with Huberdeau and Beaulieu at CHL Top Prospects Game
2. Sean Couturier, C Drummondville- Every year there seems to be a player at or near the top who falls off for whatever reason. Couturier is that guy, even thoughhe finished just behind Huberdeau in league scoring at the fourth spot. He's got a nice 6-4, 195-pound frame and has the hands and instincts to be a scorer at the next level. What is hurting him most are his heavy feet, but you can expect that he will spend a lot of time with power skating instructors between now and whenever he's knocking on the NHL door to remedy that shortcoming. We're not buying the argument that because his father was a journeyman, Couturier might be bound for the same NHL fate- just look at Sidney Crosby. NHL teams aren't spending much time using that as a major sticking point as to whether to draft Couturier or not. Two straight years of 96 points should be convincing enough evidence that this kid can get it done offensively.
Stock Watch: We wouldn't say he's falling as much as other guys around him have played so well that Couturier's star has lost its luster a bit. A strong postseason would go a long way toward quieting the critics and re-establishing himself as one of the top players in class.
For more on Couturier, you can catch this video on him done for the CHL Top Prospects Game in January.
3. Nathan Beaulieu, D Saint John- Superb two-way defenseman may be the one guy not being talked about with Dougie Hamilton and Duncan Siemens, but could crack the top-10 of the draft if a team likes him enough. The Ontario-born, Maritimes-raised Beaulieu is not quite as big as Hamilton, but is a good skater who can hit, pass and shoot. He's got a real nasty edge to him, too. He'll fight, but doesn't do it all that often after creating some space for himself in some one-sided bouts. Smart player and son of a London Knights assistant coach, his 12 goals and 45 points and a plus-44 are numbers that may be inflated given how good his team was this season, but this guy has some legitimate potential and should be off the board by pick 15 at the latest. Of course, you never know- we would have never believed that both of Brandon Gormley and Cam Fowler would drop as far as he did?
Stock Watch: So long as Saint John is playing, Beaulieu's got a nice chance of raising his profile and moving up in the draft. Like Huberdeau, the playoffs could be this guy's big moment to make a push to be the second d-man off the board after Adam Larsson.
Here's an NHL-produced video on Beaulieu with some interesting background.
4. Zack Phillips, C Saint John- With 38 goals and 95 points, Phillips was one of the surprises to come out of the Quebec league this season. Although he's not a great skater, Phillips is the classic guy who has that "nose for the net" and just finds ways to finish even without the blazing speed. He and Huberdeau were a deadly duo this season, and pure scorers like Phillips always find a way to get it done. The question with a guy like him is whether his numbers are more a product of the superior club he was on, or a reflection of his own superior offensive instincts and quick release. We think it's the latter- he's going to produce no matter who you put him with.
Stock Watch: With his production, it's up, but like Huberdeau and Beaulieu, he needs a strong playoff performance to stay foremost in scouts' minds.
Here's an Open Ice interview of Phillips from the CHL Top Prospects Game. Sharp kid and former Deerfield Academy product.
5. Tomas Jurco, RW Saint John- This puck wizard's exploits are well-documented on YouTube, but this has been a bit of a disappointing campaign for the Slovak. Expected to be a top-five pick in 2011 in some circles after his impressive rookie season a year ago, his production was up-and-down. He finished with 31 goals and 56 points, but was a streaky player in doing so, getting off to a hot start, fading in the late fall/early winter before heating up again in February. His hands could be without peer in this draft, and we liked what we saw in flashes from him at the WJC. He may not crack the first round, but if he isn't a top-30 pick, he shouldn't last much into the second.
Here's a video on Jurco produced during CHL Top Prospects Game where you'll see his puck and stick sleight-of-hand for yourself
6. Phillip Danault, C/LW Victoriaville- Speedy and versatile forward has a high compete level that has become his calling card this season despite some pretty average size. At only 6-0 and about 170 he doesn't have the functional strength right now, and some are concerned about his frame and how much more room he has to grow. Still, he's been pretty productive with 23 goals and 66 points this season. He's kind of like the little engine that could and if he goes in the top-60 picks, then you'll have your answer as to whether an NHL team thinks he projects as a legitimate pro. If he slips, then the wildcard element of this prospect will be more in play. His skating, hands and creativity are impressive, so don't bet against this guy.
Here's a nice video on Danault from John Moore, who does very good work in Q
7. Christopher Gibson, G Chicoutimi-Finnish goaltender put up some nice numbers on a pretty mediocre club this season. He posted a 14-14-3-5 record with 2.41 GAA, .920 save percentage and 4 shutouts. He's about 6-1, 200 pounds and plays that classic butterfly style, blotting out a large portion of the net and daring shooters to find holes through his coverage. Gibson is a driven kid who came to Canada two years ago to play for the Notre Dame Hounds in Saskatchewan (where he won a minor midget national title) and has stuck around to gain the trust of NHL scouts. We think he'll be one of the first three goalies taken in this draft, and our gut feel is he'll be three behind American John Gibson and countryman Samu Perhonen.
Here's another nice John Moore video on Gibson for your review
8. Ryan Tesink, C Saint John- The very average-sized hometown player has some interesting upside. Tesink's numbers are nothing to write home about- he scored just 8 goals on the season, with two of them coming in the team's final game of the year against PEI (went 37 previous games without one before breaking out). More of a playmaker (27 assists in 59 games playing on the third line), he's got good speed and is an intelligent two-way player. It's hard to stand out when you play on a stacked team like he does, but when he gets stronger (he's about 6-0, and only 160 pounds or so) and more experienced, you could see a jump in the production. He's even willing to drop the gloves and fight, though because of his size, he's not exactly suited for such endeavors. Still, you have to admire his willingness- he's one of those "whatever it takes to win" guys. Interesting player who gets lost in the shuffle of Saint John's galaxy of stars, but could be a real good one soon.
9. Logan Shaw, RW Cape Breton- Big hometown kid makes his B2011DW debut today, surprisingly enough. The skilled right winger has quietly impressed playing in one of the league's backwaters. He's got a long, powerful stride and while he needs to upgrade his first couple of steps, he's got nice speed when he gets going and really came on after December, scoring 26 goals and 46 points in 68 games for the Screaming Eagles. Guys with his 6-3 frame and quick hands usually end up being in pretty high demand. It will be interesting to see if he can crack the top-three rounds in June.
Here's Shaw's QMHJL draft video from 2008
10. David Honzik, G Victoriaville- Big, athletic Czech goalie has had an up-and-down season for les Tigres, but he's got some tools to be a good one down the road. He's got very good size at 6-3, 195 and has extremely quick pads. He's working on his rebound control and overall consistency, but so long as a team is patient and willing to put in the time to develop him, he's got the skill to make it as a big league puck stopper eventually.
Here's another John Moore vid on David Honzik
11. Xavier Ouellet, D Montreal- Average-sized defenseman isn't a great skater, but sees the ice well and has a good head on his shoulders. A strong passer and puck-mover, the risk for Ouellet, who started the season like a house on fire, is that he just doesn't have the size or feet to be a defenseman at the highest level. Evidence to support that belief amongst some in the scouting community was his poor performance in the CHL Top Prospects Game.
Thanks to Jerome B for providing a vid of a Ouellet goal via his NHLDraftVideo blog
Troy Vance, D Victoriaville- American defender is 6-5, 205 and kind of came out of nowhere after starting the season in Rouyn-Noranda. He's a big hitter, meat-and-potatoes type who will drop the gloves. From what we've seen, he reminds us a lot of Bruins rookie Adam McQuaid, but with a little better mobility than Quaider at the same stage of his junior career.
Overagers worth a look:
Marek Hrivik, LW Moncton- Yes, again. We'll ring the bell on this Slovak, who scored 38 for the Wildcats this season for the second straight season. He's a '91 and in his final year of eligibility for the draft. We liked what we saw from him at the WJC this past winter, and although he has a reputation for being soft and not being willing to go into traffic, we saw none of that from him in Buffalo. He has a bomb of a shot, even if his feet are a bit heavy.
Tomas Filippi, RW Quebec- Passed over last year because of perceived indifference and inconsistency issues, this Czech forward has had a better time of stringing effective shifts and games together in the Q. He's a speedster who creates offense and plays a high tempo game. Why not?
Alex Saulnier, C Moncton- Undersized, but ultra-skilled and creative pivot is out with a concussion suffered recently, so durability concerns are raised with him off the bat. But prior to the hit, he was one of the QMJHL's top scorers (85 points in 65 games) and had really impressed by stepping up his game to another level this season.