Of the quartet of players in the CHL this season, all four continue to make music in the playoffs, although one has had a season filled with sour notes — even after moving to the lead chair for the first time in his career. The Canadiens have one prospect in the USHL as well.
It’s been a good week for Fortier, captain of the Memorial Cup-bound Rimouski Oceanic and last season’s top defensive forward in the QMJHL. The 2007 third-round draft pick signed a contract with the Canadiens on Mar. 19 — a three-year deal inked on the final day of winter, and one that’s sure to put a little spring into his step.
That was one of the lone bright spots in a challenging season for the Ancienne-Lorette, QC native, who missed 40 games due to a third-degree ligament strain following an early November collision with Baie-Comeau Drakkar goaltender Marco Cousineau (ANA). In 29 games this season, Fortier scored eight goals and added 27 assists — a better than point-per-game pace that hearkens back to his efforts from his draft-eligible season. His production has been steadily improving since his return from injury. In the 14 games before sitting out, he accounted for four goals and 11 assists.
Fortier saw a brief glimpse of the playoffs last year, getting in three games and scoring his first post-season goal. This year a guaranteed berth in the CHL final as host city has done little to dull the Oceanic’s edge. They’ve opened with two convincing wins over Chicoutimi. Fortier, the team’s captain, has paced the club. In an 8-1 opening-game victory, Fortier scored a goal and added an assist. In the second game, he performed twice as well on the scoresheet, netting two goals and adding a pair of assists in Rimouski’s 5-1 game two victory. And with six minutes of penalties in the first two games, Fortier appears to be regaining that physical edge that’s been an attractive part of his overall game.
Subban has made a significant leap in both performance and stature this season as a key member of the OHL‘s Belleville Bulls and as a stand-out blueliner with Team Canada. He finished the regular season with 14 goals (one shy of his OHL high) and 62 assists in 56 games. He also added 94 minutes in penalties for good measure. In Ottawa, he started the New Year off the right way, earning both team gold with the Canadian squad, and personal honors with a spot on the media all-star team.
The Rexdale, ON native has played a key role both offensively and defensively with the Bulls and impressed with his offensive prowess and defensive responsibility — something he has consistently worked on over the past couple of years.
The playoffs were the stage upon which Subban first shone during his draft-eligible year, and now the club is back with an expected long run in their future. If the Bulls are to succeed, Subban must be a leader both on and off the ice. His mettle will be tested early as the Bulls have already been surprised by the upstart Sudbury Wolves, with the heavy underdogs splitting a pair of games in Belleville. Subban has performed well so far, registering an assist in each of the first two low-scoring contests.
Robert Mayer, G, Saint John — QMJHL
Signed as a free agent, 2008
Saint John has found itself in an early hole in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs. They are down two games to none to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and Mayer has absorbed both losses for his club. He’s posted a 5.80 GAA behind a .866 save percentage, including being pulled in one of the games.
These numbers represent a drop from Mayer’s regular-season performance, where he posted a 3.21 GAA behind a .901 save percentage, en route to a 26-28 record in 57 games. Born in the Czech Republic, Mayer has Swiss/Czech citizenship and has been a staple of the Swiss club. Consistency has been a challenge for Mayer, but he’s expected to be a part of the Hamilton Bulldogs next season and may earn a call-up this spring should the Sea Dogs find themselves facing an early exit from the QMJHL playoffs.
Jason Missiaen, G, Peterborough Petes — OHL
6’8, 200 pounds
4th round, 116th overall, 2008
Things were looking up earlier for the 6’8 netminder who made the jump to the lead position between the pipes following the early-season trade of incumbent Trevor Cann (COL) to the London Knights. However, Missiaen’s been stuck behind a woeful Petes squad, which just snuck into the OHL playoffs in a seventh-place tie with the Sudbury Wolves.
However, Missiaen’s first playoff series as a starter hasn’t started in the best possible way, with the Petes falling behind 2-0 to the powerful Brampton Battalion. Missiaen has posted a 4.96 GAA in the two games, with a solid .906 save percentage.
In 38 games this season, Missiaen’s won 12, lost 21, and tied two. He’s posted a 3.81 GAA and .904 save percentage. Missiaen split time with overage veteran pick-up Ryan Daniels throughout the regular season, but was named the team’s starter for the playoffs. His cause was buoyed by winning three of his final five games to help carry the Petes into the playoffs.
The Chatham, ON native will likely remain in the OHL next season and should be better for the experience. And his playoff debut, albeit short, should serve him better in the future.
Danny Kristo, C, Omaha Lancers — USHL
5’11, 172 pounds
2nd round, 56th overall, 2008
Kristo’s season has been on a solid upward curve all year long. A key member of his Lancers squad, Kristo also played a supporting role in Team USA’s fifth-place finish at the World Junior Hockey Championships. Although the U.S. finish was lower than what they would have liked, Kristo — in an energy role — scored his first junior goal and set himself up as a key member of the squad’s future.
The Edina, MN native has committed to the University of North Dakota next season and will have ample opportunity to grow into a role with the club. His speed is what sets him apart and should serve him well at the NCAA level. It has already paid dividends in the USHL. Kristo has scored 17 goals and added 32 assists in 46 games a rookie with the playoff-bound Lancers, a club that’s tied for second place in the league’s West division. Those totals are good for third place on the team.
Kristo’s play — and his future projections — have the Canadiens feeling that they may have stolen a first-round talent with their first selection in the 2008 draft, even though it came late in the second round.