After seeing six of its players taken in the first round of a very strong 2013 NHL Draft, 2014 appears to be a much more ordinary year for the QMJHL.
However, the lack of a Nathan MacKinnon or a Jonathan Drouin doesn’t mean that there aren’t any decent prospects to keep an eye on in the Q.
In fact, many eyes will be one QMJHL creases this season, where an abundance of young goaltenders are starting to make some noise.
It’s a strong year in the crease in the QMJHL in general, so many of the promising young goaltenders will form time-shares in goal with a more experience netminder. This could be a valuable experience for the likes of Mason MacDonald (who will share time with Jacob Brennan), Alex Bureau (Maxime Lagace), Julio Bilia (Domenic Graham) and Storm Phaneuf (Marvin Cupper).
With attention focused between the pipes, there’s plenty of spotlight to be stolen by a pair of Alexis’.
Charlottetown winger Alexis Pepin is a 6foot-2, 238-pound power forward with a good head for the game and some soft hands. Questions have been raised about his ability to play at that size and his acceleration does need some work, but he’s could turn into a dominant physical forward if everything pans out in his favor.
Baie-Comeau’s Alexis Vanier has come out of the gate flying this season, too.
The hulking 6-foot-5, 224-pound rearguard has already equaled his output from 53 games last season (eight points) in his first four games this year (3 goals, 5 assists). His skating remains remains an issue, but there’s enough potential there for him to jump up the rankings this season.
Amongst his strengths are a booming shot, which is being displayed on the Drakkar power play this season, the willingness to throw that big body of his around and the discipline to know when to do so.
Over in Saint John, puck-moving defenseman Olivier Leblanc is looking to improve on a successful rookie season in which he produced 18 points. The 5-foot-11 Leblanc is a bit on the small side, but he can run the power play and should get quality minutes on a rebuilding squad.
Carl Neill is another puck-moving defenseman on an up and coming team. He needs to work on his skating, but he’s improved his decision-making from last season on an error-prone expansion team.
Daniel Audette, Neill’s teammate, is a speedy scoring center who’s looking for a breakout season this year. The son of NHL veteran Donald Audette is a smart player but, at his size (5-foot-9), he needs to learn how to impose himself for 60 minutes instead of flashing brilliance once in a while.
Rouyn-Noranda rookie Julien Nantel is looking to take advantage of that extra year in which he dominated AAA to make that leap to the QMJHL. He’s a natural talent who plays a very complete game. His development this season will be watched closely.
Finally, there’s Cape Breton center Clarke Bishop, one of the most complete players available. He’s a smart player who is light on his feet, defensively responsible and has a knack for the goal. Even with all that, though, his work ethic has been described as his strongest point. Bishop’s started off the season well with three goals in his first four games.
Despite the lack of a MacKinnon, there is still a lot to be seen in the QMJHL this season. These are just a few of the players trying to gain momentum on the long road to the 2014 NHL draft. Multiple import players have started the season strongly as well; it’s going to be an interesting season in Quebec and in the Maritimes.