The second last leg of our NHL Draft Scout Series lands in Quebec and the QMJHL. HockeyProspect Head Q scout Jerome Berube (@Jerome_Berube) was kind enough to chat with us about what to expect from this years crop of QMJHL ice hockey competitors.
Christian: The QMJHL offered an especially a solid crop of players last year, and usually supply solid talent yearly, but what would you say the strength of this class is as a whole? (skill, role players, a mix?)
Jerome: It’s not a strong year for the QMJHL this season, goalie or defenseman-wise, but there’s a nice group of offensively skilled forwards available. There are the top two guys in Ehlers & Barbashev and then you have guys who have high-end skills but with some question marks about their game (Aube-Kubel, Tkachev, Karabacek, Perron, Audette, Goulet, Pelletier) that make them potential mid-round picks.
C: How does the 2014 QMJHL class compare to recent ones? Do you buy the notion that 2014 is a weak draft?
J: Yes I do, in my opinion it’s a weak draft for the QMJHL if you compare it to last season. This draft class could be similar to the 2012 draft, not many first rounders but some interesting possible picks in rounds 2 or 3. It might be unfair to compare any QMJHL draft class to the 2013 edition, as this was one of the best ever.
C: Nik Ehlers has sky rocketed up rankings everywhere, is his sudden rise warranted? How much did playing on a good team and with the best player in junior hockey (Drouin) assist that?
J: It sure didn’t hurt Ehlers to have the best junior hockey player in Canada on his team, but there seems to be some confusion regarding how much they actually played together. Most of the time they only saw ice time together on the power play, 4 on 4 and at times on the penalty kill. But they were on different even-strength lines most of the year. Ehlers played with Brent Andrews & Andrew Ryan, two veteran forwards who had career years this season playing with the Danish forward.
C: On Ehlers, do you think his size will hinder his offensive transition to the NHL?
J: He’s going to be fine when he gets stronger, he obviously won’t play in the NHL at 163 lbs. He’s not NHL-ready, but his upside is very high and he’s extremely smart. NHL Drafts shouldn’t be viewed as a sprint, but a marathon.
C: The next consensus skater would be Ivan Barbashev, the skilled Russian, how far behind Ehlers in Barbashev?
J: Love Barbashev’s two-way game and then when you add his grittiness it leaves you with a real nice player on your hands. Physically, he is almost NHL-ready and should get a strong look in his first NHL camp. The big difference with Ehlers is the upside, we at HockeyProspect.com have been on the Ehlers bandwagon since the start of the year and ranked him in our top 5 since February, while Barbashev was always placed in mid round 1.
C: The Flames could look towards shoring up their defense with a couple second round picks, what are some defenseman in this years QMJHL crop?
J: It’s not a very good crop from the QMJHL this season. I’m not sure if there are any defensemen I would take in the second round, to be honest. If you want to reach, there’s Alexis Vanier of Baie-Comeau or Daniel Walcott of Blainville-Boisbriand, but I personally I wouldn’t draft them before round 3. There are other guys available like Olivier Leblanc, Cody Donaghey & Nikita Lyamkin who could be available later in the draft.
C: Mason MacDonald has established himself as the top goaltender from the Q this season on most rankings but his numbers surely don’t reflect that. Are his numbers this year misleading?
J: MacDonald was in a tough situation in Acadie-Bathurst, not getting the majority of the starts, and after his trade to Charlottetown at the QMJHL trade deadline, he got all the starts he could have asked for. But the Islanders made a lot of moves at the trade deadline and he had one of the worst records in the 2nd half of the season. If you watched MacDonald play in the playoffs vs. Halifax, he gave up a lot of goals, but without him it could have been much worse. He showed at the recent U-18 World Championship how good a goalie prospect he is.
C: Which eligibles have surprised this QMJHL season?
J: Daniel Walcott of Blainville-Boisbriand. He’s a guy who came out of nowhere and became a mainstay on the Armada blueline right from the get go, logging a ton of ice time. Came in as a ’94-born rookie defenseman from the ACHA and really impressed all year long with his skating ability and poise with the puck. I was also very surprised by Francis Perron of Rouyn-Noranda, who took his game to another level this season. He’s a great playmaker and sees the ice very well.
C: Which have disappointed?
J: Nikita Lyamkin of Chicoutimi was a guy who I saw live at the U17 the year prior and had a lot of hope for his rookie season. He struggled a lot this season and looked lost many times in the defensive zone. He started playing better by the end of the season and had a decent U18 world championship, and he should be better next season. Alexis Pepin is another guy who was a disappointment this season, there was some talk of him coming in out of shape at the U-18 team Canada Hlinka try-out camp in August and his season was a big disappointment. Was traded mid-way during the season to Gatineau and failed to establish himself offensively like was expected from him. He also will need off-season shoulder surgery, which could affect him going into in next season.
C: The 1st round always holds a lot of weight with fans, but the later rounds often offer solid value as well, who are some potential gems that are currently ranked outside the Top 30?
J: Nicolas Aube-Kubel of Val-d’Or should be a second or third round pick, he has a lot of skills and he’s a good skater. The Mantha line in Val-d’Or takes up a lot of the spotlight, but Aube-Kubel’s line can be really good. Fans were able to see him in action at the Memorial Cup. Daniel Walcott of Blainville-Boisbriand is a guy who I think could be a dark horse in this draft, not a lot of defensemen have his mobility and footwork. He’s an interesting case, being a ’94-born player playing in his first major junior season. Francis Perron of Rouyn-Noranda lacks size but he’s extremely smart with the puck and one of the best playmakers from this draft class out of the QMJHL.
C: Who are some QMJHL prospects you see as overrated?
J: Alexis Vanier of Baie-Comeau might fill the bill from the QMJHL. He has the size that NHL teams covet, but I’m not sold on his mobility and decision-making. Vanier is a 6’4” defenseman who at one point was almost scoring a point per game that will surely raise eyebrows, but personally I’m just not sold. (Christian’s Note: Ryan Pike and I were at the Top Prospects Game and came away very impressed with Vanier. Goes to show you one game can be very misleading.)
C: Are there any second or third time eligibles that have made a considerable case this year to finally be picked?
J: Again Daniel Walcott is a candidate here as a ’94-born defenseman but it’s really the first time he’s ever been on the radar for the NHL draft. Cam Darcy, an American forward who was passed over in the last two NHL drafts, could make a case after a strong year with Cape-Breton.
C: And ending on a fun, personal note: Who’s your favourite eligible and why?
J: Nik Ehlers is my favourite, it was just a joy to watch him perform this year with the Mooseheads. Not only is he super skilled, but he’s very smart with or without the puck. Without a doubt, he was one of the most exciting players in the QMJHL this year to watch.