With their first first rounder in two years, the Flames had plenty of options to choose from. Despite having plenty of left handed forwards (and small ones, at that) already in the system, the Flames went for 5’9″, 161 pound Jakob Pelletier.
What made the Flames go with the Quebec City prospect was quite clear: he can put points up on offence, play effective defence, and do both with extreme relentlessness. Often described as playing bigger than he is, Pelletier impressed Flames scouting staff with his high IQ and his high work rate, making him an irresistible pick in the late first round. He lands at third on his inaugural top 20.
How did we get here?
Pelletier first made a name for himself in the Quebec Midget AAA leagues. As a 15 year old, Pelletier lead his team in scoring with 57 points in 40 games, and especially turned it on in the playoffs, scoring 29 in 17 games and leading the Seminaire St-Francois Blizzard to a championship. Thanks to these performances, he was selected third overall by the Moncton Wildcats in the QMJHL draft.
Showing no signs of slowing down, Pelletier made an immediate impact on arrival, picking up 61 points in 60 games and finishing top three in team scoring as a rookie. His work earned him a nod on the QMJHL’s all-Rookie team and a spot on Canada’s White team during the U17 World Hockey Challenge roster. He scored four goals in the tournament, leading the team in that department.
Headed into his draft season, Pelletier was tabbed as one to watch from the QMJHL. He lived up to the expectations, finishing first among all first time eligible QMJHL prospects in scoring, and was selected 26th overall by the Flames.
Stats, numbers, and everything therein
Well, “finishing first among all first time eligible QMJHL prospects in scoring” tells you a lot already, but let’s look at what else he succeeds in.
A top line fixture all season, Pelletier was a pretty consistent scorer all year long, his longest scoring drought lasting two games. He also liked to rack up the multi-point games, picking up 30 of those during the season. He was also an all situations contributor, picking up 28 powerplay points and four shorthanded points. Of course, that pales in comparison to his 5v5 scoring, where he scored 52 points with 36 of them being primary. That means he contributed on 33% of all of Moncton’s 5v5 goals, and made the primary contribution on 23% of them.
Relative to the rest of the Q, Pelletier finished seventh in scoring league-wide and ninth in point-per-game scoring. Look at just U18 players, he finished second in both categories behind budding superstar Alexis Lafreniere, meaning that he led all draft eligible prospects (side note: Lafreniere is amazing).
The major selling point for Pelletier is his defensive acumen in addition to his offensive skills, but that’s harder to track given the lack of data in junior leagues. He was generally trusted in all high leverage defensive situations for Moncton: he saw the opposition’s best players often, he was a penalty killer, and he was trusted to defend the net during extra attacker situations. If you still believe in plus/minus, he was the highest rated Moncton forward at +27.
The only major issue in Pelletier’s numbers is that they’re QMJHL numbers, which have the reputation of being inflated and rarely translatable. Even though he’s ahead of the rest of his cohorts, there’s always going to be that suspicion hanging around that he’s not as good as his numbers suggest.
Those in the know
Moncton coach John Torchetti offers his view of where Pelletier could improve:
Strength. Definitely his strength, but that comes with age, too. From knees to chest, just strengthen that core up and get stronger, which will make him a harder, quicker skater. Put on about another 6-8 pounds of strength. I think he can keep working on his give and go game. Not too much defensively. One of the things he didn’t play before I got here, I put him on the penalty kill, and he really made us a threat defensively… This kid’s gonna block shots, he’s gonna make the big block when it’s 3-2 in the third with a minute left. When your top players are doing the little things to win hockey games, all the other things fall into place.
QMJHL scout for Hockey Prospect Jerome Berube on the same subject:
He’s got to improve his speed, strength & shot. He’s an excellent junior player already in the QMJHL but by improving those he’ll make himself a better NHL prospect and the chance to play higher in a NHL lineup.
On the horizon
With a relative lack of first round picks in the Brad Treliving era, Pelletier has become one of the Flames’ most exciting prospects by default. If he can keep up his hard work and offensive output, he could become a fan favourite very quickly.
Pelletier might get the nine game cup of coffee depending on his preseason (I don’t mean to dampen the mood, but the Flames are down a pretty important left winger right now, and could be for the opening few games of the season), but he’s going to be back in the QMJHL for the season. The Flames have ELC slide years to use (even though Pelletier doesn’t have a contract yet, but priorities), and they will absolutely use them.
Although being one of the Q’s best is a tough thing to improve upon, Pelletier’s year-over-year growth suggests that he might be able to do something special next season. It’s likely not very long until we see him in the NHL.