At the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the QMJHL found itself completely shut out of the first round, with none of the league’s players hearing their name called on Friday night. Although 25 players from the Q ended up being selected the following day (matching the previous year’s crop), the league looks to have a handful of players hear their names called in the first round for 2009.
The team to watch this seasons seems to be the Shawinigan Cataractes, with three players cracking the top 10 list and another listed as notable. The fourth is of particular interest, as David Labrecque, a 2008 eligible, had a cup of coffee with the club two seasons ago, and split last year between Junior A and the QMJHL. Of the remainder, Gabriel Lemieux is the only one with more than a single season of major junior experience.
Also of note, as is often the case with the QMJHL, is the goaltending situation. Last season saw four goaltenders drafted, including two in the second round, but the 2009 class looks a little slim between the pipes. What it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality in Olivier Roy. Roy could potentially be the first goaltender selected in the draft, and he could also be the first player drafted from the QMJHL in 2009.
In alphabetical order, here are the top 10 2009 QMJHL prospects.
Simon Despres, D
Saint John Sea Dogs
Primarily known as a defensive defenseman, this Laval native was already catching attention as a rookie in 2007-08 for his solid play. That’s heady praise for a 16-year-old on one of the top blue lines in the league, featuring notable defenders such as Alex Grant (2007 pick by Pittsburgh) and Yann Sauve (2008 pick by Vancouver).
With an additional year under his belt, Despres is embracing an even larger role for the squad. He routinely lines up on the Sea Dogs top defensive pairing. Just as routinely, he shuts the top opposition down and eliminates their effectiveness. His impact perhaps can best be seen on the penalty kill, where he is a key cog in the Sea Dogs second-ranking unit in the league at 85.2 percent.
Despres’ no-nonsense, simple and efficient game has also served him well offensively. At the midway mark of the season, he has already surpassed last year’s point total of 14, with a goal and 18 points in 37 games.
Jordan Caron, RW
Born in November of 1990, Jordan Caron is already playing in his third QMJHL season. But after starting his major junior career as a 15-year-old, Caron has done nothing but prove his doubters wrong, not only that he belonged at this level, but now that he is one of the top offensive weapons in the league. With his Rimouski Oceanic hosting the Memorial Cup, he will be given an even bigger stage leading up to the draft to show his stuff.
For Caron, it’s not just his immense offensive skills, or his play in his own end that draws a buzz. In fact, the driving force behind Caron is just that: his drive and determination on the ice, never backing down from the opposition and fighting through defenders to find room on the ice to make a play.
However, that rambunctious style has taken its toll over the last three years, with Caron missing time with injuries. He has yet to play more than 60 games in a season and even this year has missed time with an ankle injury. In 25 games for Rimouski, Caron has scored 15 goals and has 26 points.
Eric Gelinas, D
A two-way blueliner for Lewiston, Gelinas joined the team the year after their run to the QMJHL championship and the Memorial Cup. As is often the case in junior hockey, teams build up for one big year and then have to pay for it close to the bottom of the pack in the years that follow. Despite these less than stellar surroundings, Gelinas has established himself as a go-to man for MAINEiacs.
Though possessing ample size, Gelinas’ game is not one of physical play, nor has he filled out his frame enough to be effective in that role should he choose to play that way. Instead, he plays a much more cerebral style, both in his own zone and offensively. After a rookie season that saw him tally three goals and 19 points in 54 games, Gelinas has easily broken all those marks with six goals and 22 points in the 37 games so far this season.
With the 2009 crop of QMJHL prospects featuring numerous defensemen, Gelinas may fly under the radar a bit. However, his dependable all-around game will be a solid addition wherever he ends up.
David Gilbert, C
After his rights were acquired in a trade, David Gilbert joined the Quebec Remparts for the latter portion of the 2007-08 season and wasted little time making an impact. In 28 games for the squad, Gilbert potted seven goals and finished with 14 points. Though he slowed down considerably in the playoffs, with just a single goal in 11 games, that initial outburst proved to be just a taste of his offensive skill.
A dazzling player in the offensive zone, Gilbert is equally adept at putting the puck in the net as he is at setting up his teammates. His soft hands and great vision have helped him surpass last season’s totals quite easily with 24 points, including seven goals, in 36 games.
While his offensive talents make him an enticing prospect, Gilbert is still finding his way in his first full season in the league. At times, he struggles with the lack of space afforded to him on the ice and despite his decent size, he shows a reluctance to fight through traffic to make a play. However, as he continues to grow, he could become quite an exciting player.
Dmitri Kulikov, D
It’s possible that the top prospect coming out of the QMJHL isn’t even from Quebec or the Atlantic Provinces. Czech-born defender Dmitri Kulikov, in his rookie season, has been the player to see most nights and that could translate into big dividends at the draft.
Usually, import players take some time to adjust to the North American game. In Kulikov’s case, he started the season with two goals and nine points in his first six games and hasn’t looked back since. He’s currently second among all rookies in scoring with five goals and 35 points in 30 games and finds himself behind only forward Dmitri Kugryshev, another Import who is a year his senior and already drafted by the Washington Capitals.
Clearly, Kulikov is making a name for himself offensively, where he displays confidence almost unheard of for a 17-year-old. His quick puck distribution is a key component to spurring the Drummondville attack, while his stellar on-ice awareness serves him well at both ends of the ice. If he is just getting used to QMJHL hockey at this point, the league could be in for quite a ride when he finds his comfort zone.
Gabriel Lemieux, D
Another third-year player who benefits from a late-1990 birthdate, the main question with Gabriel Lemieux is which player is he. Is he the offensive-minded defenseman who started the season in a flurry with 12 points in his first 15 games and saw his stock rocket up many a scouting service’s list? Or is he the blue liner who has struggled with injury and has tallied just a single assist in the 20 games since?
A solid skater who likes to carry the puck, Lemieux is talented player who despite the "extra" year of experience, needs to continue to grow, both physically and mentally. Like most young offensive defensemen, Lemieux is still learning where and when to pick his spots.
Undoubtedly, he’s a lot better player than the last 20 games have indicated, while he might not be as strong as his first 15 games showed.
Andrej Nestrasil, LW
Another import selection in his rookie year, Andrej Nestrasil joined the Victoriaville Tigres from his native Czech Republic and has made an immediate impact.
Currently, his 10 goals and 30 points in 36 games leads the Tigres in scoring and places him fourth in QMJHL rookie scoring (behind three other import players). Perhaps the most important part is that he is visibly still adjusting to the grind of the North American game and playing a consistent, complete game.
Possessing great size and some slick skills, Nestrasil has the combination that teams love. Although he is still needs to work on his skating and strength, Nestrasil’s skills are undeniable.
Philippe Paradis, LW
A big, strong offensive forward for one of the top teams in the league, it’s hard to think of a better situation for a young player in his draft year. Though Paradis usually sees time on the left wing, he’s a natural center and has great skills in the faceoff dot.
Regardless of whether he is playing on the wing or down the middle, it doesn’t seem to be affecting his totals, as in 36 games, the Quebec native has 11 goals and 28 points. This represents a five point increase over last year’s totals in nine fewer games.
Although it is often the case that a player who is already approaching pro league size is slow or gangly on his skates, this isn’t true for Paradis, who often surprises opposing defenders with his speed.
Charles-Olivier Roussel, D
A two-way blueliner, Charles-Olivier Roussel is one of the main reasons that the Shawinigan Cataractes are among the top teams in the league this year.
Poised well beyond his years, Roussel is as equally adept playing a physical, shut-down role in his own end as he is moving the puck and playing the point on the powerplay. His versatility shows on the score sheet, where Roussel’s eight goals and 29 points in 37 games place him second amongst Cataractes defensemen.
While he may not be held in the same esteem as fellow QMJHL eligible defensemen such as Kulikov or Despres, Roussel’s all-around game should guarantee that he gets drafted and whichever team picks him up should be more than happy.
Olivier Roy, G
Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
First, the answer to the obvious question: no, there’s no relation. Despite a famous hockey surname, especially for a goaltender, Olivier Roy is his own man and is unrelated to the coach/GM of the Quebec Remparts. But he is the top goalie coming out of the QMJHL and possibly the top goalie in the draft.
After carving out a role as a 16-year-old starter last season, Roy has done nothing to diminish his stature so far this year. He sees a fair amount of rubber (on average, just over 31 shots a game), but turns most of it away with ease (.904 save percentage), thanks to his quick legs and hybrid style. All told, he has a 19-8 record and has helped lead the Screaming Eagles to fifth spot in the league.
The Quebec goaltender factory may have slowed down a bit over the past few years, with the league no longer producing players of the caliber of Martin Brodeur or Roberto Luongo. If Roy is any indication, however, the doors haven’t completely closed.