Christian Roatis: QMJHL classes for the NHL draft seem to be hit and miss from year to year. Next year is already shaping up to be a boom year, with the likes of Alexis Lafreniere, Theo Rochette and Justin Barron leading the charge. That’s not to say 2019 is a bust, with Future Considerations’ final rankings for the 2019 draft featuring just three Q players in the Top 31, but none in the Top 19. How would you characterize this QMJHL draft class as a whole? Is characterizing it as full of quality but not elite prospects, fair?
Andy Lehoux: It’s definitely a fair assessment. There isn’t a player like [Filip] Zadina, [Nico] Hischier or [Pierre-Luc] Dubois, who separated himself from the rest this year, but there are plenty of compelling prospects in the middle rounds. It might not be top heavy, but it’s a very interesting draft class for the Q nevertheless. A lot of prospects with high ceiling, but that lack one or two assets to be considered a top prospect.
It was a special year to scout the Q because there wasn’t much separating each group of players. [Jakob] Pelletier, [Samuel] Poulin and [Raphael] Lavoie had all their fair share of time at the top of my list and the battle for the top spot behind was very crowded with [Nathan] Légaré, [Jordan] Spence, [Artemi] Knyazev and [Maxim] Cajkovic all making strong cases at some points of the season. It led to interesting debates as we finalized our list at FC.
Jakob Pelletier leads the class at 20th overall in FC’s rankings. The diminutive 5’9″ winger was second in scoring with 89 points in 65 games on a quality Moncton Wildcats team. Do you see teams shying away from the offensive dynamo because of his size, and how does he project as an offensive contributor at the pro level?
Pelletier plays bigger than his size. He loves to get involved physically and he never hesitates to face bigger opponents to recover loose pucks. Thanks to his tremendous compete and intensity, Pelletier is relentless on the puck and he never seems completely outmatch physically. Although he will obviously need to add to his frame before reaching the NHL, his small stature is not a concern. He was able to hold his own against tougher opponents and proved time and again he can be dangerous in traffic. He could definitely be the first Q eligible off the board as I know many NHL scouts have him as their top prospect.
Although Pelletier putted up impressive totals this season, I came away even more impressed by his versatility. He plays an excellent two-way game that will translate well to the NHL. He is defensively responsible and can be trusted in all situations. In the offensive end, Pelletier is able to create many plays with his high-end vision and great playmaking skills. He will need to add power to his shot, but his slick and deceptive release gives him a nice option near the net. His combination of quick feet, great agility and decent top speed makes him dangerous off the rush. His shifty mitts and great creativity help him beat opponents in one-on-one and pass through traffic. I personally think Pelletier will become an excellent middle 6 forward who can play in all situations and be an offensive contributor when needed.
The Halifax Mooseheads seem to always have a prospect selected in the first round of the NHL draft, and the trend appears to be continuing this year with Raphael Lavoie slated to go in the Top 31 in 2019. Lavoie, one of the older players in this class, has had back to back 30+ goal seasons, and was a monster in the QMJHL playoffs this year, contributing 32 points in 23 games. Not only that, he’s 6’4“, 198 pounds, two characteristics that no doubt get NHL teams feeling frisky. Yet, there’s some disagreement among scouts about whether he’s a top-15 prospect or a bottom-16 prospect. FC has him ranked 25th. How do you personally evaluate Lavoie and where do you come down on his ranking debate?
I’m colder than most on Lavoie, but he is still an excellent prospect. He clearly owns an outstanding shot as he showcased throughout the post-season. He is a force on the PP and his goalscoring abilities make him a threat from anywhere up the ice. He possesses some high-end puck skills and he is dangerous when given time and space. He has a great strength and he protects his puck very well. He reads and understands the play quickly and he actively tries to break up plays in the defensive end. He has a long reach and an active stick that allows him to block passes effectively. He plays a good two-way game and I’ve seen him get involved down low plenty of times.
He has some impressive goal scoring abilities, not doubt, but there are also a lot of red flags in his game. His foot speed, acceleration and agility are all major concerns. He’s slow to react to plays and lacks quickness to jump on loose pucks. He rarely gets involved in the action and relies on his teammates to create plays, which can be attributed to a lack of compete. He also lacks versatility in the offensive end and his creativity with the puck gives me some pause. His game is heavily focused on his shooting skills, and since he needs a lot of time and space to release the disk, I have my doubt he’ll be as effective of a goalscorer at the pro-level. He had some consistency issues during the season, but seemed to have finally found his rhythm in the QMJHL playoffs. I personally have him at the very end of the 1st round. He could become a great goal scorer at the next level, but he is far from a sure thing.
Samuel Poulin, who is actually ranked two spots ahead of Lavoie in FC’s rankings, is a player that quietly built off of a solid rookie campaign last year to lead the Sherbrooke Phoenix in scoring with 76 points in 67 games, 17 points ahead of second place. Poulin isn’t talked about much, but he seems to drive the bus in Sherbrooke. His he an under-the-radar first round candidate that could really flourish with some supporting help? What sort of NHL potential do you see in Poulin?
I’m a big fan of Poulin. He didn’t get as much attention as Lavoie or Pelletier this season, but I’d argue he had the most impressive draft year. Poulin is not the flashiest or most exciting player to watch, but he can impact the game at every level. He is a pro-style power forward who can contribute in both ends of the ice. His outstanding strength and strong edges are huge assets in physical affairs. Despite what you’d expect from a power forward, Poulin can drive the play and create scoring chances for his linemates. His excellent vision and powerful shot make him a dual threat in the offensive end. He makes sacrifices and pays the price to help his team come out with the win. He is very mature and a natural leader on and off the ice. His work ethic is simply incredible and I’ve no doubt he’ll do everything necessary to reach the next level.
He was one of the most impressive player in the Q this post-season with little to no help coming from his teammates. Poulin carried his team through the playoffs and proved many that he doesn’t rely on others to create offense. His complete skill set will translate very well to the NHL level and I personally see him as an excellent 3rd liner with top 6 upside.
The QMJHL has produced some quality defenseman in recent years, but Jordan Spence is FC’s highest ranked defenceman from the league at 55th. Does this crop of Q defenceman carry more risk than in years passed, or is it just a down year for blueliners?
I think it’s a bit of both. There isn’t any blue chip defenseman in this year’s crop, but a few guys have showcased flashes of high-end offensive potential throughout the season. Our top ranked defensemans at FC are all high risk, high reward prospects, as they offer an interesting skill set offensively, but have a lot to work on his the defensive end.
First of all, there is Jordan Spence at 55. The 5 foot 10 blueliner is a dynamic puck-moving defenseman who can take charge of the offense. He possesses some impressive skating abilities, which helps him escape pressure and create controlled zone exits effortlessly. Thanks to his great speed and accurate first pass, he can restart the attack quickly and lead the breakout. He was Moncton’s quarterback on the PP where he displayed tremendous playmaking abilities and a great vision. Despite his impressive offensive skills, it’s his constant progression and outstanding work ethic that pushed him ahead of Knyazev as the top defenseman eligible from the Q. He’ll need to work on his defensive play, but he has some interesting tools that will ease his progression defensively. As an undersized defenseman, he’ll also need to add to his frame before reaching the pro-level. He was a constant riser on our draft board at FC and he’ll be a true wild card on day 2. I know for a fact that some scouts absolutely hates him, while others are quick to praise his offensive tools.
For a big part of the year, Artemi Knyazev was our top defenseman for the Q. His combination of great puck-moving skills and shifty mitts makes him a constant threat to jump in on the attack. He controls the pace of the game and can really drive the offense. He possesses some great offensive instincts and he can be a truly dynamic force with the puck on his stick. He was Chicoutimi’s cornerstone at the blue line and he never failed to produce offensively. Knyazev plays like a fourth forward jumping in every offensive plays, but his risk-taking can backfire at times. He has a lot to work on in his own end and his compete level was questionable at best. A great bet for the early rounds and one of my favorite draft eligible.
If you are looking for a safer option, Samuel Bolduc would be a great selection. Although I understand the concern about his upside, I’m much higher on him than most. A cerebral two-way defenseman, Bolduc can contribute in all aspects of the game. He leads the breakout with a quick, accurate outlet pass and his powerful stride allows him to jump in the offensive end when given the opportunity. He reads the play very well and uses his opponents to his advantage. He is a force in physical affairs and can be a shutdown defenseman when needed. His freak athleticism and pro-style of play will help him jump to the next level. He could be a good option as early as the second round.
The QMJHL always seems to have a bunch of goaltending prospects drafted every year, yet recently, none have broken the NHL level. Are there any netminders in this class that you believe could break this trend? One or two who’s potential excites you, perhaps?
Colten Ellis is our top ranked goaltender for the Q this year at 88th. While he doesn’t have the highest ceiling, he has a decent chance of seeing the ice at the pro-level in a few years. An explosive butterfly goalie, Ellis drops to the ice quickly and seals the lower part of his net very effectively. He blocks low shots with ease, though he’ll need to work on his rebound control. He flashes explosive movements and quick pads, which allows him to move around his crease with quickness. While he is explosive when required, he also displays poised and composure. He reads the play very well and seems to always be in good position. He prefers to stay back in his crease and he rarely gets aggressive on the attackers, which exposes the upper portion of his net. He has a quick glove and he adjusts to plays very quickly. He’ll need to cover his angle more effectively and work on his rebounds control in the upcoming years, but his movements are already very well polished. Pretty undersized for a goaltender in this day and age at just six feet, but he has some interesting skill set that could be worth a middle round selection.
Every draft produces a number of diamonds in the rough – high potential players that can be had in the later rounds because there’s plenty of work to do to reach that potential. Who do you consider this QMJHL’s draft class’ diamond(s) in the rough, and why?
There are a few interesting prospects that could become late round gems if developed correctly. Xavier Simoneau comes to mind first. A skilled and dynamic playmaker, Simoneau is an offensive dynamo. He displayed some incredible playmaking abilities throughout the season and he was constantly able to find teammates on the ice thanks to his excellent vision. He has a high-end hockey IQ and he processes the game at high speed. His quick hands and dynamic puck skills make him a threat in traffic and tight areas. He doesn’t have blistering speed, but he’s very deceptive with the puck and his brisk turns and slick edges allow him to escape pressure quickly. His outstanding agility and quickness have helped him survive at the junior level and will be key aspects to his transition to the next level. The 5’7″ center is not the strongest, but he puts his heart and soul into every play. He has an amazing compete and work ethic. He loves to bring intensity to his game and get under the skin of his opponents with big hits and aggressive checks. His small size and poor top speed draw a lot of concerns from most scouts, but if there is someone that can overcome those issues, it’s definitely Simoneau. He has everything that helped Alex DeBrincat succeed at the pro level – great work ethic, agility and hockey IQ.
Samuel Desgroseilliers and Sean Larochelle would be my honorable mentions in this category. Desgroseilliers is an undersized two-way defenseman who uses his excellent skating abilities to contribute in both ends of the ice. His speed, puck skills and defensive awareness make up for a very intriguing skill set. Larochelle, on the other hand, is a dynamic puck-moving defenseman. His combination of great speed, agility and puck skills helps him move the puck up the ice effortlessly. He possesses some high-end offensive instincts and he can generate offense every possession. His play in his own end can raise some eyebrows and he’ll need to add to his frame. Both are long-term projects, but offer interesting potentials.
Which draft eligible has been your biggest surprise this QMJHL season?
This has to be Jordan Spence. Just two years ago, Spence went undrafted in his first year of eligibility in the QMJHL draft. After a great season in the MJAHL, he was finally selected in the 2nd round last year as an overager. He wasn’t on my radar at all at the start of the season, but he quickly caught my attention as I was watching his teammate Jakob Pelletier. His slick edges and effortless transition in possession of the puck were simply mind-blowing. His offensive tools are undeniable and he’s a special talent in the offensive end. He progressed really well in his own zone too, which is always encouraging to see. As he kept gaining confidence, he quickly made his way to the top of my list. In two years, he went from being completely past over by every QMJHL team, to winning the rookie of the year award and being considered by most as a potential second rounder in the upcoming NHL Draft. That is a very impressive feat.
Who has been your biggest disappointment?
Definitely Yaroslav Likhachyov. After an outstanding Hlinka-Gretzky where he showcased great offensive tools, I had some high standards for him as he started the season with Gatineau. Unfortunately, he did not live up to the expectations. He had a very tough time winning simple puck battles, he was predictable in his moves and he got pushed around far too easily. He wasn’t very involved defensively and he created many turnovers by giving away the puck as soon as he faced the smallest bit of pressure. He cheated too often on breakouts and displayed a lack of compete to recover loose pucks. Seeing him having such difficulties against bigger and tougher defensemans, I have my doubts he will be able to translate his game to the pro-level. He stills owns an interesting offensive potential, but he has way too many weaknesses to overcome before reaching the NHL. Likhachyov was traded to Blainville-Boisbriand last weekend where he will have a chance to redeem himself. Hopefully he can bounce back next season, as he was a very exciting player to watch beforehand.
If you had to choose a most overrated and most underrated prospect (in the public forum) for this year’s draft from the QMJHL, who would they be?
With a ton of middle rounds hopeful, I definitely think there is a lot more underrated prospects for the Q this season. Once again, Xavier Simoneau comes to mind immediately. The undersized playmaker has the potential to become an impact player at the NHL level, yet, rarely crack anyone’s top 100. I do understand the concerns with his speed and size, but his hockey IQ, compete level and offensive tools are undeniable. David Aebischer has also passed under the radar of many. A smooth-skating offensive defenseman, Aebischer plays a very calm and composed game, which allows him to make great decisions with the puck. He escapes pressure with ease on the breakout and his great outlet pass helps him start the attack. He’s an excellent quarterback at the blue line as he controls the play and distributes the puck very well. He would be a great late round addition.
I don’t think there is many overrated prospects this year for the Q. That said, I have seen some suggest Lavoie should be a top 15 pick and I personally think that’s overblown. He has some great goalscoring abilities and he had some very impressive totals in the QMJHL playoffs, but there are a lot of red flags in his game as I mentioned before. I’m not saying Lavoie won’t be an NHLer one day, but I think the top 15 is pretty high for a player who relies on others to drive the play and create scoring chances. He would be a great bet later on in the first round, but there are many interesting prospects in the top 15 that offers higher ceilings.
Lastly, who is your favorite draft eligible QMJHLer this year, and why?
I’ve already talked a lot about Xavier Simoneau, but he would be my pick once again. He’s simply such an exciting player to watch. I love seeing him battle for the puck and outwork everyone. His slick passes are always very impressive and seeing him dodge checks after checks is also pretty thrilling. He’s very creative with the disk and he manages to create something offensively every shift.
Another guy I always looked forward to watch was Nathan Légaré. The power forward has an outstanding compete level and he always put everything on the line to recover a puck or simply finish his check. His combination of pure strength and tremendous intensity helps him win every board battles and he is an absolute force on the forecheck. He’s not the most skilled player, but I always loved seeing him compete in puck battles. His feet are always moving and he plays every shift at full intensity. He has an amazing slap shot as he can fire the puck with a very impressive velocity. He has that killer mentality and he does everything needed to help his team come out with the win.
2019 NHL Draft Scout Series