Imports top QMJHL 2014 draft prospects at season’s midpoint

By Kevin Forbes

Daniel Audette - Sherbrooke Phoenix

Photo: Sherbrooke Phoenix forward and 2014 draft prospect Daniel Audette is the son of former NHL forward Donald Audette, and a top prospect for this year’s draft out of the QMJHL (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The QMJHL was the toast of the hockey world at the 2013 NHL Draft. Not only had the league just taken home their third consecutive Memorial Cup win, this time courtesy of the Halifax Mooseheads, but two of that team's top players went first and third in the NHL Draft. Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin were joined by four other QMJHL players hearing their name called in the first round, and a total of 31 QMJHL players were chosen in last year's draft.

The 2014 draft class does not appear to be as talented as last year's group, but there still are plenty of interesting prospects looking to be selected next summer in Philadelphia, hoping to take that next step in their road to the NHL. Headlining the list are two import players with excellent chances of being selected in the first round.

Here's a look at some of the top draft-eligible QMJHL players available for the 2014 NHL Draft.

Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax Mooseheads

After MacKinnon and Drouin were selected in the first round last summer and two other Moosehead players were also drafted, it is a testament to the management in Halifax that, once again, they have one of the top draft-eligible prospects in the QMJHL. Joining the defending champions, Nikolaj Ehlers has been tasked with the unenviable job of helping replace the missing offense now that players like MacKinnon, Martin Frk and Stefan Fournier have made the move to the pro ranks.

There was barely any adjustment needed as the Danish-born player made a smooth transition from the Swiss junior leagues to the CHL. In 38 games this season, Ehlers has already notched 23 goals and has 56 points to lead all QMJHL rookies as well as leading the Mooseheads in scoring. A crucial part of Halifax's bid to defend their title, Ehlers played for Team Denmark at the Division 1A World Juniors. At the tournament, he tied for second on the team with six points in five games to help his country earn the promotion to the top group next year.

A speedy forward with an excellent wrist shot, Ehlers doesn't back down from chippy play and is already beginning to round out his game. Listed at 5'11 and 163 pounds, he will be even more effective as he continues to get stronger and starts to win more puck battles. His next challenge will be the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game next week where he will be a member of Team Orr.

Ivan Barbashev, C, Moncton Wildcats

Unlike Ehlers, there's been no need for an adjustment period for Ivan Barbashev this season. After joining the Moncton Wildcats as a 17-year-old, the talented forward was considered the top draft-eligible prospect coming out of the QMJHL as he entered his second season. Although Ehlers has now drawn even with the 6-1, 185-pound pivot, Barbashev is well on his way to career totals this year with the Wildcats.

After potting 18 goals and 62 points in 68 games in his rookie season, Barbashev was Moncton's leading scorer this year when he left the team in early December to join Team Russia for the 2014 World Junior Championship tournament. Although two of his major junior teammates have since passed him in the team scoring race, his 13 goals and 37 points in 29 games means he is in a comfortable lead when it comes to points-per-game production.

As a member of Team Russia, Barbashev posted a goal and two points in seven games played. Selected to play for Team Cherry at the CHL Top Prospects Game, Barbashev's offensive abilities are unquestionable. He sees the ice well and his great hands allow him to thread a pass or let loose with a quick shot with equal levels of precision. Strong on his skates, Barbashev protects the puck well with his body but needs to display a more consistent and complete game.

Daniel Audette, C, Sherbrooke Phoenix

"Good things come in small packages" is a well-used saying, but it definitely fits when it comes to Daniel Audette. Listed at 5'9” and 176 pounds, the first overall pick in the 2012 QMJHL Draft has plenty of offensive talent and has been the face of the Sherbrooke Phoenix since their inception last year.

As a rookie, Audette finished last year fifth on the team in scoring with 10 goals and 29 points in 54 games. Now in his sophomore season, he's much improved, surpassing last year's output of 10 goals already while posting 48 points in 43 games played. This comes after playing for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament where he scored a single goal and had three points in five games as Canada came away with a gold medal.

An explosive skater with dynamic offensive talent, Audette is set to play for Team Cherry at the CHL Top Prospects Game. A playmaker first and foremost, Audette's puck handling and passing abilities make up for his smaller size, but the question remains how effective he will be at the next level.

Alexis Vanier, D, Baie-Comeau Drakkar

What a difference a year makes. After posting just eight points (all of them assists) in the 53 games of his rookie season, Alexis Vanier has exploded offensively in his sophomore year. Currently eighth among league defensemen with 13 goals and 29 points in 37 games, Vanier also sits seventh among Baie-Comeau's scoring leaders.

A big and strong defender at 6-5 and 224 pounds, Vanier puts all of that size into his point shot, which has led to his offensive jump this season. After registering just 26 shots last season, Vanier has fired the puck on net 77 times this year so far and is finding success at a rate of 16.9%. He's also not afraid to throw his body around and play physical. Venier's size comes with a downside, however, as the defender will need to improve his mobility on the ice to take the next step.

Named a member of Team Cherry for the CHL Top Prospects Game, Vanier is playing a large role as a sophomore for Baie-Comeau, a team that made it to the QMJHL finals last season. It remains to be seen if that is a preferred situation for the Drakkar or if they will look to add a veteran presence on the back end to help carry the load as they look towards the second half and an expected lengthy playoff run.

Julien Nantel, LW, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

A speedy two-way forward, Julien Nantel has impressed in his first full season in the QMJHL. After staying in Midget AAA for most of last season and only appearing in four games with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (scoring a single goal), Nantel had an immediate impact with six points in his first eight games. Although he has cooled from that pace, the left-winger is proving to be a valuable addition to the Huskies lineup.

Seeing time in all situations, Nantel has seven goals and 21 points in 41 games this year. Able to make plays at full speed and use his skating ability to help his team at both ends of the ice, Nantel might not be a natural scorer, but his hockey sense and work ethic should guarantee he hears his name called on Draft Day.

Vaclav Karabacek, RW, Gatineau Olympiques

A Czech sniper, Vaclav Karabacek once scored 61 goals in 32 games with an Under-16 team back in his home country. Although his production has not been as prolific in his first QMJHL season, Karabacek's nose for the net is undeniable. Sitting fourth on the Olympiques in scoring with 13 goals and 28 points in 39 games, Karabacek is following a long line of Czech players who are finding success in the QMJHL while chasing their NHL dreams.

An elusive forward at 6'0” and 190 pounds, Karabacek excels at finding open ice and firing with his quick release. He shoots often, sitting second in shots on the Olympiques as well as placing third among all QMJHL rookies. He might not be scoring goals at a comparable clip to his days back in the Czech Republic (he is currently sitting with a 9.4 shooting percentage), he appears to be on the road to being even more productive in the future.

Nicolas Aube-Kubel, RW, Val-d'Or Foreurs

Nicolas Aube-Kubel already has a reputation as a hard worker and in his second season with the Foreurs, he's starting to see even more results. Aube-Kubel has already surpassed his rookie season totals in almost every offensive category. After posting 10 goals and 27 points in 64 games last season, the 5'11”, 190-pound forward has already scored 15 goals and has 31 points in 41 games this year. With both the number of shots he's taking and his shooting percentage on the rise, it should be no surprise that Aube-Kubel is setting career numbers in his sophomore year.

A high draft pick when the Foreurs selected him in the 2012 QMJHL Entry Draft, Aube-Kubel skates extremely well and fights for every inch on the ice. His hard work serves him well at both ends of the ice and his skating ability allows him to capitalize on turnovers and drive to the net, creating chances and causing confusion in front of the net.

Maxim Lazarev, RW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

Missing the first 20 games with injury isn't the preferred way to start a rookie campaign in a new country and a new league, but Maxim Lazarev comes with a highly-touted skill set. Russia's leading scorer at both last year's Under-17 Hockey Challenge (five goals and 10 points in six games) and this summer's Ivan Hlinka Tournament (three goals and six points in five games), Lazarev is a dynamic offensive talent.

Although he has only appeared in 21 games for Cape Breton so far this year, initial reports are extremely positive. Lazarev scored his first QMJHL goal in his second game and now has seven on the year and 15 points. Although on the smaller side at 5'10” and 159 pounds, Lazarev is a shifty player on the ice with great hands and excellent vision. Cape Breton is continuing a rebuilding process this year, so Lazarev can expect plenty of ice time in every situation to showcase his skills going forward.

Emil Aronsson, C, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada

Another import player, Emil Aronsson is a bit of rarity. The CHL doesn't often attract players from Sweden but Aronsson has quickly fit in with the league-leading Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Injuries have taken their toll on the Armada throughout the first half of the season and though the team has kept on winning, missing players from the lineup has led to increased responsibility for Aronsson in his rookie year. Unfortunately, he hasn't been immune to the injury bug himself, missing almost all of October with injury.

Aronsson's soft hands and intelligence with the puck has led to a stat line of eight goals and 20 points in 29 games this season, but it isn't just his offensive abilities that have been attracting attention. A hard worker on the ice, Aronsson takes care of business at both ends of the ice and he boasts a 51% faceoff percentage.

Alexandre Goulet, LW, Charlottetown Islanders

Although many scouts may have been travelling to see Charlottetown play in order to catch a glimpse of Alexis Pepin, it has been Alexandre Goulet who has impressed so far this year for the Islanders. As a QMJHL rookie, Goulet has been a huge part of the youth movement happening on Prince Edward Island and has benefited from seeing plenty of minutes and time in all situations.

In 40 games this season, Goulet has tallied 18 goals and has 28 points, which places him second on the team in scoring and tied for fifth among first-year players in the league. Seeing time down the middle on Charlottetown's top line, Goulet's faceoff win percentage is a respectable 50.6%. Strong on his skates at 5'11” and 190 pounds, Goulet's debut has been impressive. But there is still plenty to work on including rounding out his game and playing with more consistency.

Other Notables

Julio Billia, G, Chicoutimi Sagueneens – Gold medal-winning goaltender for Canada at last summer's Ivan Hlinka Tournament, now splitting duties in his second season in the QMJHL and playing for Team Orr at the CHL Top Prospects Game.

Clark Bishop, C, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles – Playing for Team Orr at the CHL Top Prospects Game, this hard working defensive forward with great speed is considered a safe pick.

Keven Bouchard, G, Val-d'Or Foreurs – After splitting time with St. Louis Blues prospect Francois Tremblay, this big goaltender may see less time in the second half behind new partner Antoine Bibeau, a Toronto Maple Leafs prospect.

Anthony DeLuca, LW, Rimouski Oceanic – Passed over in last year's draft, but one of the league's top scorers this season.

Olivier Leblanc, D, Saint John Sea Dogs – Playing defense on a weak team isn't easy, but it is hard to duplicate the experience that he is gaining.

Nikita Liamkin, D, Chicoutimi Sagueneens – Big defender finding his way in his first season in North America.

Mason McDonald, G, Charlottetown Islanders – Looking for a larger opportunity with a new team after a mid-season trade, he will be playing for Team Orr at the CHL Top Prospects Game.

Alexis Pepin, LW, Charlottetown Islanders – More is expected from this crash and bang forward in his sophomore season.

Vladimir Tkachev, LW, Moncton Wildcats – Undrafted last season, this talented forward started the year in Russia and is now awaiting his Visa to join the Wildcats.

Follow Kevin Forbes on Twitter via @kforbesy

 

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