QMJHL group boasts homegrown talent

Dan Stewart2016 Draft Center

The Quebec Major Junior League is once again bolstered by a strong group of import players is home to plenty of high-end talent.

None is more noticeable than powerful right winger Julien Gauthier of Val-d’Or. He was the only draft eligible at Canada’s World Junior National Development camp in Calgary in August and acquitted himself well against the country’s top 19-year-olds.

One of Future Considerations evaluator described Gauthier as a big-bodied, raw power forward with tremendous skating abilities

“He shows solid speed for a 6-foot-3 player,” he said. “Gauthier plays a very simple game; doing a great job consistently making the smart play and showing solid maturity for his age. He is very physically strong and uses his size/strength effectively in puck battles and when getting off a shot. He has the frame and raw skills to develop into a real solid NHL player.”

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles winger Pierre-Luc Dubois has been called “a coach’s dream” with his ability to fill any role and play it any way his team needs him to. He uses his size and long reach effectively and puts up points with his willingness to go to the dirty areas and utilize his intelligence. He can play a playmakers role with his vision, but thrives in traffic and along the wall with his high-pace and energy level.

“Dubois is one of the most promising 2016 eligible I’ve seen out of the Q – besides maybe Gauthier – but the race between the two is looking pretty tight,” a FC evaluator said. “He is physical, and plays the game utilizing a strong drive and his impressive frame. He supports his teammates constantly and wins most battles he engages in. He likes to drive the net and look for pucks in the greasy areas. Has some solid puck skills and offensive creativity that make you excited for what he could become at the next level.”

Gatineau Olympiques Import Draft selection, Russian winger Vitali Abramov, might not have great size at just 5-foot-9, but he makes up for it with his drive, energy and high skill level. Always a threat offensively, Abramov utilizes his speed and slick moves to create space and has the vision to make unbelievable passes to his line mates.

“(He) has explosive speed when he needs it and can change speeds, up and down, in a flash,” noted one FC evaluator. “He explodes at the right time to streak into the open lane and receive a pass with perfect timing. Abramov has the confidence to get creative with the puck and makes some pretty impressive moves around defenders before driving to the net or down low to set up a pass. Can unload a quick and lethal wrist shot and likes to shoot whenever he sees an opening.”

The Shawinigan Cataractes look to have a real strong group this season. One of the top players on the squad is small, but highly skilled rearguard Samuel Girard. Standing at just 5-foot-9, Girard’s hockey IQ make him stand out from the crowd.

A FC Evaluator recently summed up Girard as a defenceman who couples intelligence and mobility to create opportunities in the offensive zone.

“He loves to rush the puck and create things offensively,” he said. “The Cats power play runs through him and he uses his agility to create space. Girard’s offensive instincts are the key to his game and they make everything he does with the puck look so effortless. He is a bit smaller, so he relies on his feet and speed to make plays. I think he has the upside to be one of the better defenseman coming of out Canada from this draft when it is all said and done.”

This season, the Halifax Mooseheads brought in Import pick Otto Somppi, a winger from Jokerit in Finland. Somppi looks like a kid who could use the jump overseas to his advantage and climb up the draft ranks.

“He protects the puck very effectively using strong positioning and is hard to knock off of it even though he doesn’t possess an overly big frame,” a FC evaluator said. “He plays a very calm game and never panics making plays with the puck when under pressure. He is very good in tight space and always aware of his line mates positioning. He is also a very smooth skater and looks very elegant while gliding over the ice. He’s a goal scorer and the puck seems to find him.”

Center Pascal Laberge of the Victoriaville Tigres is another prospect with top two round potential. One FC evaluator was particularly impressed with Laberge in our U18 camp viewings in Calgary as well as our early season QMJHL views.

“Laberge is one of the top Q players this season as he creates a lot of quality scoring chances and plays with a bit of an edge in the greasy areas,” he said. “He has very impressive tools, a well-planned skater that creates hard downward strength in every step. He can be inconsistent at times, but when he is on he plays a skilled, fearless game.”

The top goaltender in the QMJHL this season, at least early on this season is Sherbrooke Phoenix backstop Evan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick’s smooth mobility and solid positioning make him the prototypical NHL goalie of today.

“He has excellent posture and a stance that makes him look unbeatable to shooters coming in on him. He has the big size you look for in a modern-day goalie,” an FC evaluator said. “With his strength and fluidity in the crease he will be a highly sought after goaltending prospect come next June.”