After a lackluster crop of 2012’s, the 2012-13 season is going to be a good one to be following Quebec Major Junior Hockey League eligibles.
Sure, the looming lockout means that players like Jonathan Huberdeau might grace the league with their skills for another year before moving on to bigger things, but it’s the 2013 draft class that has QMJHL enthusiasts buzzing. For the third year in a row, the Q will open the season with one of the contenders for the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Halifax’s Nathan MacKinnon is hoping that he can build on a strong rookie season to maintain his spot at the top of the charts, unlike Quebec’s Mikhail Grigorenko last season or Drummondville’s Sean Couturier two years ago.
In addition to the top talent that we were able to preview in the Q last season, this season has a nice crop of rookies, in particular Europeans. Wingers Martin Reway (Gatineau), Patrik Zdrahal (Acadie-Bathurst), Dominik Rehak (Victoriaville) and Tomas Torok (Sherbrooke) as well as defensemen Jan Kostalek (Rimouski) and Vladislav Lysenko (Sherbrooke) are amongst the rookies trying to make the most of their first draft eligible seasons.
Undoubtedly, scouts will be flocking to the QMJHL’s two biggest cities this season, as a combined six potential first rounders call Quebec or Halifax home.
In addition to MacKinnon, Halifax feature playmaking winger Jonathan Drouin and star goaltender Zachary Fucale, Future Considerations’ top rated goaltender for the draft.
Quebec, on the other hand, feature shifty winger Anthony Duclair, American power-forward Adam Erne and Swedish import Nick Sorensen, who is looking to catch up after losing nearly a year of development with an injury last season.
Away from the big cities, however, there are still gems to watch. Five players in particular are worth watching: three late-born ’94 players who found their scoring touch last season and two solid ’95 born defensemen.
Cape Breton Screaming Eagles winger William Carrier is a player who opened a lot of eyes last season. Playing for the lowly Eagles, Carrier followed up a 12-point rookie campaign by banging in 27 goals and 70 points in 66 games last season. He added three goals and three assists in his team’s four game playoff sweep.
The strong power forward has soft hands around the net and can spot an open player in addition to his ability to bring the puck to the net. Now listed at six-foot-one, 198-pounds, he’s grown an inch from last season and will look to physically dominate the league in his draft year.
Blainville-Boisbriand Armada’s Marc-Olivier Roy really showed what he was able to do in last season’s playoffs. After a 39-point season, Roy scored six goals and eights assists in 11 games. Scouts wonder if the six-foot-one winger can replicate that success.
Roy plays a much more transitional game than Carrier, with his skating speed a particular strong point. He’s gotten stronger over the summer and will look to dominate the league with linemate Chris Clapperton, who will have a chip on his shoulder after being passed over in the NHL Draft. Blainville are a top contender this season, which should maximize Roy’s exposure deep into the playoffs.
In his rookie season last year, Val d’Or winger Anthony Mantha appeared shy and reserved on the ice. Once he got comfortable, however, he became a game-breaker that no one quite expected.
The best pure sniper from the Q in this draft class, Mantha piled on 13 goals and 11 assists in his last 12 games last season. At six-foot-three, Mantha has a big body to go alongside his excellent wrist shot, which he loves to use ferociously from the area around the dot, and his NHL level speed. He showed flashes of aggressiveness, scoring a few driving goals late last season. More of that would establish him as a quality power forward prospect. Having started the preseason on fire (four goals in three games), Mantha is out to prove that he’s a prospect to be taken seriously.
While Mantha will be a big attraction for scouts in the Val D’Or region, the tremendously unspectacular Matt Murphy could turn heads..
A six-foot-one defenseman out of Fredericton, Murphy’s solid two-way play has cemented him a role in Val d’Or very deep top-4 and on their special teams. The fifth overall pick in the 2011 Q draft, Murphy’s progression has been very different from Mantha’s. From his very first QMJHL game, Murphy was cool and collected, showing poise with every decision. Murphy knows when to pick his spots offensively, which explains a modest production last season (3-13-16 in 61 games). Expect that total to grow this season.
If Murphy, and the rest of the 2013 NHL Draft eligible can chart that growth, it could be an interesting crop from the Q.
And if last season was considered a disappointing year for QMJHL, this one should more than make up for it.