The season started out strong for Hendrix Lapierre.
The 2020 NHL Draft prospect was a star at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup last August, collecting 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in five games — the second-most in the tournament all-time — to help Canada to a silver medal.
He then returned to the QMJHL, ready to battle with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. His season got off to a great start, collecting 17 points (two goals, 15 assists) in his first 19 games and the team looked like it was ready to make some noise.
But in November, Lapierre’s season was interrupted after a collision with Moncton Wildcats captain and Calgary Flames prospect Jakub Pelletier. The result was a concussion.
It was his third in eight months.
“It was very difficult,” the Gatineau, QC product said. “I was really disappointed with the situation and I just tried to stay positive. As a guy who loves to play hockey it was really hard to be away from the game.”
Between the latest concussion and the COVID-19 outbreak cancelling the season, Lapierre hasn’t played a game since the November, losing the majority of his draft year.
“I was really looking forward to playing with my teammates again this year, especially since we had a really good team,” said Lapierre, No. 26 in Future Considerations’ Spring ranking for the 2020 draft. “But I can’t control these things and I’ll be back stronger next year.”
Concussions are always a difficult recovery, with no definitive timeline.
For Lapierre and the Saguenéens, they took a patient approach to his recovery and that seems to have been the right call for the young player.
“I had a lot of neck exercises to get my neck stronger so when I get hit it doesn’t extend that far,” he said. “I’m being treated by physiotherapists. They make sure my neck is OK and that I’m good to go… I’m feeling better, I’ve been feeling better for quite a long time now.
“I don’t have headaches anymore. Things are going pretty well.”
Before the cancellation of the QMJHL season on March 17, a return to the lineup seemed like it wasn’t far off for the 6-foot, 181-pound forward, who was looking forward to a deep playoff run in his second year in Chicoutimi.
“I was pretty close (to returning),” Lapierre said. “I was actually getting back in shape right before we had the virus outbreak and I think I was just about to play. I obviously had to see the doctors and the team to make sure I was OK, but things were looking pretty good.
“I think we had a really good team and it would have been really nice to make a good push in the playoffs since last year we lost in four games. It was a good experience last year, but I haven’t had the full playoff package yet and I thought we had a really good chance. But we’ll be back stronger next year.
“Things like this happen, and I think neutralizing the virus is way more important than playing hockey right now.”
Obviously, it was hard to miss out on this crucial development time for Lapierre.
He had to watch his team as they battled for a playoff spot and watch Team Canada win gold at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship, where he very well could have been playing after his Hlinka performance.
He hasn’t let this weigh him down though or take away from his positive outlook.
Lapierre has remained optimistic about his future and his support system was a big part of that.
“I was with (the team) every day, they saw how hard I was working, and I think they were really looking forward to playing with me when I was back,” he said. “My teammates really helped me through this situation, as did the (organization) and my parents. Everyone was very supportive and that really helped.”
For now, Lapierre will be looking forward to next season and to the NHL Draft — whenever that may be.
For the draft, he’s using his very positive, healthy mentality and not stressing about the details too much.
“I think I did everything in my power to make sure that I was in a good situation to enter the draft,” Lapierre said. “I wasn’t able to play, but I did everything else I could to get back stronger and faster. Obviously, I don’t really know what to expect in the draft, but I think it’s going to be an incredible day no matter where I go and no matter what rank.”
He utilized this approach throughout the season, not following draft rankings and not holding any expectations for what comes next.
With that, he remains confident heading into this uncertain time.
And hopeful of a strong finish to a trying season.
“It’s kind of unpredictable where I’ll go,” he admitted. “Maybe teams will be willing to take a chance on me if they have a lot of picks. I think I’m just going to enjoy the day and I’m not going to put any pressure on myself. I’m just going to be happy for myself and all the people that have made sacrifices for me. I’m going to get drafted; it doesn’t matter if it’s early or later in the draft.”