Top 25 QMJHL prospects for 2009

By Kevin Forbes

The QMJHL is often viewed as a league of talented forwards and butterfly goaltenders, but the draft class of 2009 is headlined by defense. The top two draft eligibles this year from the league are blue liners as are half of the top ten. Indeed, the list features just two goaltenders, straying far from the traditional ideas of the Quebec goalie factory.

The list also features the usual mix of European imports, making up three of the top 25, including the top prospect overall.

Finally, there are several players highlighted who were eligible to be drafted in the past, but were passed over. Now, after strong seasons in the QMJHL during 2008-09, will they hear their names called in Montreal?

After being shut out of the first round at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the first five players listed could all hear their named called on Friday night this year, with the first two players being considered close to locks for the first round.

Here’s a look at the top QMJHL prospects eligible for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

1. Dmitry Kulikov, D – Drummondville Voltigeurs

The Drummondville Voltigeurs won the 2009 QMJHL championship due to their offensive firepower and special teams ability. This is a team that led the QMJHL in goals-for in the regular season by almost 40 and had a power play that operated at 31.9% efficiency. In the playoffs, the team scored 109 goals in just 19 games and briefly flirted with a 40% power play before settling at 35.7% efficiency. And who is the player that was the lynch pin of that offense and the quarterback of that power play? An 18-year-old rookie from Likpetsk, Russia named Dmitry Kulikov.

Kulikov is undeniably the top QMJHL prospect eligible for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and not simply because he was recognized as such at the league’s award ceremonies in April. For starters, Kulikov also picked up two other awards, in addition to the Micheal-Bossy Trophy as the league’s best professional prospect. He won the RDS Cup as the league’s top rookie and also earned the Emile-Bouchard Trophy as the league’s top defenseman. When all was said and done, Kulikov’s 12 goals and 62 points in 57 games set the league on fire and sent the hearts of many NHL scouts racing.

In addition to his superb hockey sense and confidence beyond his years, Kulikov is no slouch in his own end and he’s smooth enough on his skates to quickly in position and break up any counter-attack that he may come against. Still adjusting to the physical grind of the longer North American season, he’ll only get better as he continues to fill out and mature.

2. Simon Despres, D – Saint John Sea Dogs

After a rookie season that saw him focus primarily on the defensive side of the game, Despres easily stepped into a larger role with Saint John in his sophomore campaign. In fact, by the end of the 2008-09 season, Despres had taken over as the Sea Dogs go-to player on the blue line, living up to his pedigree as the first overall draft pick in the 2007 QMJHL Entry Draft.

At 6’4 and 215 pounds, Despres has the physical tools to make the lives of attacking players difficult as they enter the zone. Meanwhile, at just 17 years of age, he already has the poise and intelligence to make the safe and, more importantly, correct play in his own zone. His vision and ability to anticipate the play also benefit him in offensive situations, where he saw his point totals more than double over the previous year.

3. Olivier Roy, G – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

It took just seven games in the QMJHL for Olivier Roy to prove he was "legit". In the 2007-08 season, over the course of his fifth, sixth and seventh QMJHL game, the 16-year-old set the fourth longest shutout streak in QMJHL history. He hasn’t slowed down much since.

Thought to be one of the top goaltenders available in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Roy plays a hybrid style that saw him post a 35-13 record in 2008-09. Exceptionally quick between the pipes and possessing solid fundamentals in positioning as well as a quick glove, Roy approaches the game with the seriousness and maturity of a professional. With any luck, he’ll be exactly that in a few years time.

4. Jordan Caron, RW – Rimouski Oceanic

A late 1990 birthday means that this Sayabec, Quebec native is enjoying his third season in the QMJHL already. But thanks to his aggressive style of play, Jordan Caron has never played in more than 59 games in a season. A battler on the ice, Caron excels at driving to the net either with the puck in hand or to knock in rebounds and deflections. However, that willingness to get his nose dirty has come at a price and not a year has gone by without Caron missing time with injury.

With that said, 2008-09 proved to be his best year so far, as the forward potted 36 goals and finished the year with 67 points in 56 games. However, like most of his other Rimouski teammates, he saw his numbers drop in the post season, scoring just 6 goals and 11 points in 13 playoff games and continuing with two goals in four Memorial Cup matches.

5. Charles-Olivier Roussel, D – Shawinigan Cataractes

Roussel’s multi-faceted game attracts attention because he has the ability to fill whatever role is asked of him. Whether it is quarterbacking a power play and threading a pass, or shutting down the opposition’s top offensive weapons or even physically intimidating the opposing team, Roussel has the ability to accomplish the task without much difficulty.

Statistically, Roussel took a giant leap forward over his rookie season that saw him post 16 points in 50 games. Thanks in part to his increased role with the club, he finished the year tied for 10th in QMJHL defensive scoring with 44 points in 68 games.

6. Nicolas Deslauriers, D – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

An absolute wizard on the ice, Deslauriers is a pleasure to watch, thanks to his remarkable skating ability. As an offensive defenseman, Deslauriers has the ability to pick up a loose puck in his own zone and lead the counter-attack in the matter of just a handful of strides.

Though he sometimes gets carried away with his desire to rush up the ice and be a key part of the offensive attack, Deslauriers’ ability to out skate the opposition and handle the puck with the best of them means he will continue to be an intriguing prospect. In 68 games with the Huskies, he posted 11 goals and had 30 points.

7. Philippe Paradis, LW – Shawinigan Cataractes

A mixture of physical presence and scoring skill, Paradis is an attractive option for NHL teams. Playing in his second season in the QMJHL, Paradis saw his point totals more than double as a member of league contender Shawinigan.

His 19 goals and 50 points in 66 games are a testament to his hard shot and his ability to make room for himself and his teammates on the ice. Meanwhile, his 144 penalty minutes showcases that he isn’t a player to back down from a challenge. Already an intriguing medley of grit and ability, if Paradis gets faster and stronger, he could become a dominant force in the QMJHL. With that said, there has to be some cause for concern over his drop in production during the post season, where he posted just six goals and 12 points in 21 playoff games.

8. Eric Gelinas, D – Lewiston Maineiacs

A young defenseman asked to take a leadership role on an inexperienced blue line, Gelinas did the best he could in what was often a difficult situation in Lewiston. Stepping up to the challenge of whatever was asked of him, Gelinas’ contributions were a key reason why Lewiston was able to snap up the final playoff spot after changing their coach partway through the season.

All told, Gelinas scored 10 goals and added 29 assists for 39 points in 67 games with Lewiston. Meanwhile, his 156 penalty minutes kept the opposition honest and he was a respectable -9 on a team that had almost 100 more goals scored against them than they were able to score. Playing for a team like Lewiston may allow Gelinas to fly a bit under the radar, but whatever team ends up with this Ottawa native should be quite pleased with the result.

9. Guillaume Goulet, RW – Baie-Comeau Drakkar

A nifty forward with a nose for the net, Goulet excelled at entering the zone quickly and taking advantage of opposing defenders with his speed and quick hands. Given his offensive creativity, it is little wonder that the forward was able to pot 45 goals in his second year, a remarkable 38-goal improvement over his freshman effort.

However, despite his speed and excellent puck skills, the drawback with Goulet is his size, where he is listed as 5’10 and 166 pounds. The Laval native’s fast feet enable him to avoid many opposing players, but he simply does not have the strength to fight through dedicated checking against him.

10. Michal Hlinka, LW – Chicoutimi Sagueneens

Putting together a solid campaign in his North American debut, Hlinka‘s blend of size, speed and skill make him an intriguing prospect to watch as he enters the draft. Playing for the Chicoutimi Sagueneens, the Czech posted 12 goals and 34 points in 41 games, missing large swaths of the season with injury. Missing the playoffs as well, the speedy forward with the big shot is still adjusting to the North American game.

11. Jean-Francois Berube, G – Montreal Junior

Although playing behind Jake Allen (STL), already rather highly touted in his own right, J-F Berube caught the eyes of many despite his limited work. Playing in just 20 games with a record of 6-9, Berube posted a goals-against-average of 2.89 and a save percentage of .900. The big butterfly goaltender is always square to the shooter and moves quickly between the pipes. In fact, some say the only real flaw this Quebec native has is the lack of playing time and exposure.

12. David Savard, D – Moncton Wildcats

Traded from Baie-Comeau to Moncton halfway through his rookie campaign, Savard responded extremely well to his first full season as a member of the Wildcats. A solid skater, Savard does not back down from a challenge and plays an airtight game in his own zone. He’s equally adept in the offensive zone, where he posted nine goals and 44 points in 68 games to place second on the team in defensive scoring.

13. Andrej Nestrasil, LW – Victoriaville Tigres

Another Czech import selection that made immediate waves upon his arrival to the QMJHL, Nestrasil quickly established himself as a go-to guy on offense for the Victoriaville Tigres. Tallying 22 goals and 57 points in 66 games to place second on the team in scoring, Nestrasil’s ability to make plays at high speed allows him to surprise his opponents and catch their defensemen flat-footed. Although, at 6’2 and 194 pounds, he has decent size, he still has some work to do in adapting to the physical style in North America and playing a more complete game.

14. Steven Anthony, C – Saint John Sea Dogs

Entering the league with high expectations in 2007, it wasn’t until star forward Chris Didomenico (TOR) was traded away halfway through the 2008-09 season that Steven Anthony began to realize his potential. Inheriting Didomenico’s spot on the top line for Saint John, Anthony’s offensive skills flourished as he posted 27 of his 48 points in the second half of the season. More of a playmaker than a scorer, Anthony has the ability to thread a pass to wherever it needs to go, but questions abound about his work ethic. Altogether, his 19 goals and 29 assists placed him tied for third on the squad in points.

15. David Gilbert, C – Quebec Remparts

After spending just the second half of the 2007-08 season in the QMJHL, Gilbert’s 2008-09 season was still a learning experience. Still growing into his body at 6’1 and 184 pounds, Gilbert’s main assets are his vision and his hands. Able to skate up the ice with the puck on a string, he’s equally adept at making a play as he is at scoring the goal himself. However, he still needs plenty of time to round out the rest of his game and would benefit greatly from becoming both stronger and faster.  Questions abound about his work ethic as well. In 67 games with the Quebec Remparts, Gilbert scored 11 goals and had 43 points.

16. Gabriel Bourque, LW – Baie-Comeau Drakkar

Willing to take the punishment to make a play, Bourque takes a lot of hits and at 5’9 and 180 pounds; he doesn’t have the largest frame to absorb that punishment. His totals showcase that it is all worthwhile, however. In the 2008-09 season, Bourque posted 22 goals and 61 points in 60 games for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, placing him third on the team in scoring behind line mates Guillaume Goulet and Felix Petit. A speedy forward with some offensive creativity, Bourque’s size makes him easy to move from in front of the net, but he’s still determined to fight his way through. As is often the case with smaller players, the main question is this: how effective will he be as the defenders get bigger and stronger?

17. Alex Wall, D – Montreal Junior

Despite being just average sized, especially for a defenseman, Wall has a nice combination of skills at both ends of the ice, but still needs plenty of polish. A decent two-way defender, the St. John’s native is sometimes guilty of running around in his own end and will make mistakes when under pressure. With that said the 18-year-old defenseman moves the puck well and has a solid point shot that he can get away quickly and accurately. With a modest improvement over his rookie season, he posted eight goals and 21 points for the Montreal Junior in their inaugural year and will be given plenty of opportunity to succeed in the future.

18. Benjamin Casavant, LW – PEI Rocket

A rangy forward with good size and a nose for the net, Casavant has the drive and determination to park in front of the opposition’s net and feed off rebounds and deflections. At 6’1 and 210 pounds, he is a hard player to move once he has settled in. His persistence pays off, with Casavant leading the PEI Rocket in scoring with 39 goals and 80 points in 68 games. When he is not making the lives of goaltenders miserable, Casavant can inflict punishment along the boards, throwing his weight around and fighting through checks to dig pucks free for his teammates. However, that size comes at a cost and the Quebec native sometimes appears sluggish on his feet, especially later on in games.

19. Hubert Labrie, D – Gatineau Olympiques

Once thought to be a top candidate for the 2009 draft, Labrie appeared overwhelmed and overworked at times as the go-to defender in Gatineau. His slightly below-average size of 5’10 and 158 pounds works against him, as he has trouble handling opposing forwards. But that isn’t to say that he can’t hold his own physically, where Labrie is a willing combatant in the corners, but can be out-muscled by larger opponents. He still has the puck skills and solid skating ability that caught the eyes of many during Gatineau’s championship season in 2007-08, but without the supporting cast, his stat line has dropped from 17 points in 61 games as a rookie down to a lone goal and 4 points in 55 games in 2008-09.

20. Gabriel Lemieux, D – Shawinigan Cataractes

Bursting onto the scene to start the 2008-09 season with 12 points in his first 15 games, Lemieux fell back down to earth a bit in the games that followed. Finishing the year with six goals and 25 points in 66 games, Lemieux’s streaky play is a sign of his youth. With that said, he has the skills to make sure those hot periods are regular occurrences instead of just flashes in the pan. Lemieux’s a strong skater who plays confidence which is reflected in the way he moves the puck and joins in the offensive opportunities. Slightly built at 6’1 and 171 pounds, Lemieux needs to get stronger as he continues to improve.

21. Nicolas Chouinard, C – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

Another skilled forward with a smaller frame, Nicolas Chouinard was dealt from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles to the Montreal Junior during the offseason after posting 22 goals and 49 points in 66 games in his second full season with Cape Breton. At 5’9 and 162 pounds, Chouinard survives on the ice with his wits and his wheels as he can weave through traffic to make a play. He seems to have a nose for loose pucks and will take a hit to make a play, but he needs to get stronger on his skates to continue to be effective as the opposition gets larger.

22. Philippe Lefebvre, LW – Drummondville Voltigeurs

A talented player in his second year in the league, Philippe Lefebvre played a complementary role with the Drummondville Voltigeurs as they won the QMJHL championship. His offensive totals jumped from 25 points in the 62 games of his rookie year to 21 goals and 48 points in 68 games during his sophomore effort. With a knack for digging out loose pucks and sliding them home, Lefebvre’s game would be more effective if he was able to fight for positioning among the bigger and stronger players in the league. At 5’11 and 186 pounds, he needs to get stronger and be willing to go into traffic in order to improve.

23. Gleason Fournier, D – Rimouski Oceanic

Talented offensively, the problem for Gleason Fournier is that he is a defenseman first and foremost, but sometimes he doesn’t play like one. Able to make quick decisions with the puck and move it well, he sometimes struggles in his own end, especially when under pressure. A valuable tool on the power play, Fournier posted three goals and 28 points in 66 games with Rimouski. At 6’0 and 174 pounds, he would benefit tremendously if he can get larger and stronger on his skates in the coming years.

24. Mikael Tam, D – Quebec Remparts

It would be easy to take Mikael Tam at face value and discount him simply because he’s an undersized defenseman. But somehow, despite being listed at 5’10 and 181 pounds, Tam plays an effective two-way game. Sure, he has his struggles with larger forwards and his skating isn’t outstanding, but the Quebec native playing in front of his hometown crowd does not back down from anyone, as evidenced from his two years of 100+ penalty minutes. In 68 games for the Remparts this season, Tam scored eight goals and finished with 18 points.

25. Gabriel O’Connor, D – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

A bruising stay-at-home defenseman, O’Connor‘s game rest mainly in his own zone. In fact, the three-year veteran did not score his first QMJHL until the final game of his third season. But O’Connor has made an effort to physically punish forwards who enter the defensive zone but sometimes takes him out of position to deliver the blows. Traded from Halifax to Rouyn-Noranda in the off season, O’Connor had the single goal and 14 points as well as 128 penalty minutes in 2008-09 with the Mooseheads.

Worth another look

Here are five QMJHL players who have been passed over in previous years, but could hear their names called in Montreal this June.

Mike Hoffman, RW – Saint John Sea Dogs
After failing to stick with the hometown Rangers in the OHL, this Kitchener native headed east to the QMJHL. Finding his stride with Drummondville, in his second year in the Q, Hoffman’s 94 points were fifth in the league, while his 52 goals were second best overall. A huge part of Drummondville’s championship season, Hoffman’s great speed and shooting ability led to him tallying 21 goals and 34 points in 19 playoff games.

Michael Kirkpatrick, C – Saint John Sea Dogs
Kirkpatrick’s QMJHL career started rather ordinarily with just 14 goals and 22 points in 69 games as a rookie in his draft year. However, a year later, he was leaned on to be a crucial piece of Saint John’s game plan in all three zones of the ice. Kirkpatrick responded with 34 goals and 64 points in 67 games to lead the club.

Dmitri Kostromitin, D – Montreal Junior
The reluctance to draft players out of the Russian leagues may have led to Kostromitin’s name being left uncalled at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. But to show his determination to make it to the big leagues, he joined the Montreal Junior for the 2008-09 season. The skilled defender posted seven goals and 28 points in 51 games as he adjusted to the North American game.

Dave Labrecque, C – Shawinigan Cataractes
Splitting his draft year between the QMJHL and Junior A, it is little wonder that Labrecque didn’t hear his name called at the draft, especially when you consider he posted just 11 points in the 22 games he did play. Unquestionably skilled, Labrecque had a full season in 2008-09 to show his stuff and responded with 61 points in 59 games, fifth among Shawinigan players.

Sergey Ostapchuk, RW – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

Like Kostromitin, the absence of the transfer agreement likely led to Ostapchuk passing through the 2008 draft without being picked. The Russian sniper wasted no time adjusting to the QMJHL and his 29 goals and 63 points led the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.

Nicola Riopel, G – Moncton Wildcats
Passed over in the previous two drafts, Riopel is making it exceptionally difficult to be ignored a third time around. The Moncton goaltender was by far tops in the league with a 43-15 record to go along with a 2.01 goals-against-average and .931 save percentage. Riopel was not only named the league’s best goaltender in 2008-09, but also won the award as the league’s most valuable player.