The QMJHL season is off and running and, as in previous years, there are many interesting story lines for which to follow.
With much of the early focus going to phenom Nathan MacKinnon of the Halifax Mooseheads, homework must be done on this year’s crop of players. This group is shaping up to being one of the stronger in recent years.
The most obvious player is young Russian star Mikhail Grigorenko from the Quebec Remparts. Grigorenko is the most talented prospect to come through the QMJHL since Sidney Crosby. That is large praise since Claude Giroux, Alexander Radulov and Jonathan Huberdeau have all passed through.
The center possesses an excellent skating stride which is long, fluid and powerful. His hockey sense is incredible which makes him extremely dangerous on the powerplay. The three critiques seem to be his finishing ability, his lack of physical play and his wavering effort levels from shift o shift. So far this season Grigorenko has put one of those fears to rest as he has scored 11 goals in 15 games. He also has a respectable 27 dangerous shots directed towards the net. Grigorenko is more known as a playmaker so these statistics are surprising and exciting moving forward. I believe it’s almost assured Grigorenko will be the first player selected from the QMJHL next June.
Continuing with the Russian trend, slick winger Denis Kamaev is another player who has impressed this season and we see him as a riser as we get closer to the NHL draft.
Kamaev is a small, above average skater who has wonderful puck skills and hockey sense. He along with Sven Andrighetto form an electric combo for Rouyn Noranda with Kamaev being primarily the playmaker on the line. While Kamaev only has above average top end speed, he is very quick darting from side to side and his edge work makes him very slippery on the ice. One area Kamaev needs to improve would be core strength. He looks quite undeveloped on the ice and can be over matched against stronger players. In all, his six goals and 14 assists in 18 games is a great start to his North American career given the overall weakness of his team.
The first Canadian bright spot on my list is that of Raphael Bussieres of the Baie Comeau and he is showing why he was drafted fifth overall by Moncton in 2009.
Bussieres is very high on my QMJHL list as a great skater who is both quick and powerful. He uses his skating ability and strength to create much of his offense off the rush. He is very aggressive in his play and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. He has the skill set and makeup that NHL teams love. His once weak defensive play is no longer an issue. After a strong NHL RDO camp, Bussieres has since posted eight goals, 14 assists in 15 games with the second best plus/minus on the team at plus-14.
In terms of a dark horse pick I really like, it would be Marc-Olivier Brouillard of Drummondville. Brouillard is a small but crafty playmaker with tremendous vision and patience. His speed, like Kamaev, is only a hair above average but he has quick feet and corners very well. Brouillard isn’t physical but he has a very quick stick that he uses defensively. One thing he must improve is his strength on the puck, it wouldn’t hurt to see him put a few pounds of muscle on. Brouillard was draft eligible last season so taking that into consideration, I believe he could go anywhere from the fourth to sixth round at the moment.
The most difficult situation must go to Martin Frk of the Halifax Moosehead.
After appearing strong in the preseason, Frk has been sidelined with a concussion. It is hard to put the blame on Frk for this incident but moving forward, a fairly significant concussion is another red flag that Frk will have to overcome in the future. Frk is still a projected top pick out of the QMJHL and should be back in the lineup sooner rather then later.
As we have learned in the past, the second half can more then make up for a weak first half so it will be interesting to see whose development curve is steeper in the future months.