Oceanic’s Morin tops thin group of drafted QMJHL defensemen

By Chris Roberts
Samuel Morin - Team Canada - 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship

Photo: Rimouski Oceanic defenseman and Philadelphia Flyers prospect, Samuel Morin won a gold medal as a member of the Canadian squad competing at the 2015 World Junior Championship (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

 

There are no more than 10 defensemen playing in the QMJHL whose rights are owned by NHL teams; over the past two seasons, just seven were drafted, while a few others signed NHL contracts as free agents.

This June’s draft could see the most ‘Q’ defenders taken in years, with highly-touted rearguards like Nicolas Meloche, Jeremy Roy and Jakub Zboril all expected to go in the first round.

With that in mind, a top-10 ranking of drafted QMJHL defensemen may be needed next year, but this year’s small crop has been shortened to include just the top five.

1. Samuel Morin, Rimouski Oceanic
Drafted: 1st round, 11th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers (2013)

It’s hard to make a case against Morin, a 6’7” defender with decent offensive instincts, being the QMJHL’s top defender. He’s the only defenseman in the league to be drafted in the first round of the NHL Draft, and with good reason. Morin is listed at 6’7 and 210 pounds and he uses his size to his advantage to clear defenders away from the net and give himself space in the corners. Not surprisingly, Morin was named to the Canadian World Junior team which won gold in Toronto, but he saw his ice-time limited with the emergence of Joe Hicketts (DET). Morin eventually was used as the team’s seventh defenseman.

He missed a lot of time at the beginning of the season after taking a slap shot to the face, which he called “the worst injury of (his) life.” He has 22 points in 23 games this season and is a +13; since the start of the New Year, upon returning from the World Juniors, Morin has been held pointless in just two games, recording a combined 13 points in 11 games. It doesn’t hurt that he is often on the ice with Jan Kostalek, who is also on this list.

2. Dylan Labbe, Shawinigan Cataractes
Drafted: 4th round, 107th overall by the Minnesota Wild (2013)

Dylan Labbe is seventh in scoring among QMJHL defensemen, behind a group of well-regarded 2015 draft-eligible prospects. Playing in his final year of junior eligibility, the 20-year-old already has career highs in goals, assists and points; he is the Cataractes top-scoring defender with 11 goals and 25 assists.

His point totals in the last two months have risen, as well. Labbe recorded eight points in November, nine in December and 10 in January. Earning first-pairing power play time, four of his goals have come with the man advantage, while he can also play a shutdown role effectively with his 6’2”, 186-pound frame. Labbe played 11 games with the AHL’s Iowa Wild last season.

3. Ryan Graves, Quebec Remparts
Drafted: 4th round, 110th overall by the New York Rangers (2013)

The Quebec Remparts have a strong defensive core that includes highly-skilled, undrafted rearguard Nikolas Broillard, who leads all QMJHL defensemen in scoring, and Cody Donaghey (TOR). But perhaps the most steady of the bunch is Ryan Graves, who is in his first season with the team, and playing for his third team in his QMJHL career.

Graves entered the league with the PEI Rocket (now the Charlottetown Islanders) and, following his draft year, was dealt by the Islanders to Val d’Or. Prior to this season, Graves was traded once again, and he has thrived in Quebec. Through 34 games this season, the 6’4”, 225-pound product has 11 goals and 13 assists. He had scored 10 goals combined in his previous 195 games of QMJHL experience. The Rangers signed Graves to an entry-level deal in March of 2014.

4. Daniel Walcott, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Drafted: 5th round, 140th overall by the New York Rangers (2014)

After just one season at Lindenwood University, a Division-2 NCAA program, Daniel Walcott moved to Blainville-Boisbriand for the 2013-14 season, where his offensive ability from the point stood out. Despite turning 19 months before the 2014 NHL Draft, the Rangers were impressed enough by Walcott’s 39-point campaign to select him in the fifth round.

Instead of turning pro, as he could have this season, Walcott was sent back for his overage year in junior. Having only played one season at that level, the Rangers felt it would be best for his development, and so far it hasn’t been a bad decision. Through 43 games, Walcott has 32 points and is a +23 on a strong Armada team. Turning 21 in February, the Armada captain currently averages more than 30 minutes of ice time a night, playing in all situations.

5. Jan Kostalek, Rimouski Oceanic
Drafted: 4th round, 114th overall by the Winnipeg Jets (2013)

In his final season of junior eligibility, the Czech-born Jan Kostalek has been a big contributor to the success of the Rimouski Oceanic this season. His 29 points puts him among the league’s top-20 offensive defenders, while his +40 rating is a league high.

Kostalek, for the second straight year, represented his country at the World Junior Championship. His above-average skating ability seemingly always has him in the right area of the ice, as well as his ability to quickly recover his position. Despite his impressive campaign, Kostalek has yet to be signed by the Jets; the team will lose his rights if he is unsigned by the June 1st signing deadline.

Follow Chris Roberts on Twitter via @ChrisRoberts_7