Ehlers, Duclair the cream of a solid crop of NHL-drafted wingers in the QMJHL

By Chris Roberts
Nikolaj Ehlers - Halifax Mooseheads

Photo: Halifax Mooseheads forward and Winnipeg Jets prospect Nikolaj Ehlers has posted 2014 points in 114 QMJHL regular season games in his two seasons in that league (courtesy of Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)

 

Variety is the keyword when discussing the top 10 NHL-drafted or signed wingers playing in the QMJHL. The 10 players below each bring a different skill set to the ice, with some being more talented than others while some are more physically inclined.

The list also includes variety of nationalities – just five of the top 10 are Canadians. Also included is a pair of Americans, a Russian, a Latvian, and a Dane.

1. Nikolaj Ehlers (WPG), LW, Halifax Mooseheads

A skilled, slick-skating winger with an affinity for big goals, Nikolaj Ehlers showcased his skill on the big stage during the 2015 World Junior Championship. He was unable to push his native Denmark into the tournament’s medal round, but scored a goal and added three assists in five games.

In the QMJHL, Ehlers took a step forward offensively for the Mooseheads, finishing the season with 100 points in just 51 games; the season prior, Ehlers posted 104 points in 63 games, but did so playing alongside Jonathan Drouin (TBL). Selected by the Mooseheads sixth overall in the 2013 CHL Import Draft, Ehlers’ junior career is likely coming to a close in the near future. The Mooseheads qualified for the QMJHL postseason, but finished 12th in league standings and are up against the fifth-place Shawinigan Cataractes in the first round. Ehlers won’t turn 20 until next February, so he can play another season with Halifax, but after two 100-point seasons, it’s hard to imagine that he has much left to learn at the junior level.

2. Anthony Duclair (ARI), RW, Quebec Remparts

A physically mature winger who earned rave reviews with the New York Rangers at the beginning of the season, Anthony Duclair may be one of the more complete wingers in the QMJHL. His offensive skill level doesn’t quite match Ehlers, but he can play a physical game and is defensively responsible.

Duclair rose to the forefront of the hockey scene when he cracked the Rangers’ lineup as a 19 year old, but the Laval native had established himself as a prospect to be taken seriously the year prior with a 50-goal campaign for the Remparts. In December, the Rangers loaned Duclair to the Canadian World Junior team and he played an integral part in the team capturing gold. Following the World Juniors, he was sent back to Quebec where he would get more opportunities to develop offensively, playing top-line minutes, and he helped drive the team to a fourth place finish league-wide, scoring 34 points in 26 games. The Rangers traded Duclair’s rights to the Arizona Coyotes at the NHL trade deadline as part of a package for Keith Yandle.

3. Adam Erne (TBL), RW, Quebec Remparts

Adam Erne, Duclair’s teaqmmate in Quebec, plays with more of an edge than the two players listed above him, but also brings an abundance of skill to the ice. The American, who is in his fourth season with the Remparts, finished the year with a career-high 86 points in 60 games. He also recorded a career-high 102 penalty minutes. At 6’2 and 218 pounds, Erne is often one of the more physically-inclined players on the ice and uses his size well to establish position in the offensive zone.

Throughout his four-year career in the QMJHL, Erne has scored 118 goals and collected 157 assists, making him one of the more offensively talented American players to play in the league. He was recognized for his effort by USA Hockey when he was selected for the 2014 World Junior team, but was left off of this year’s team, which, coincidentally, could have used his rugged style of play in its lineup.

4. Nicolas Aube-Kubel (PHI), RW, Val d’Or Foreurs

A trip to the Memorial Cup last season has certainly helped Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s development this season. After a 53-point campaign last season, the tenacious winger, who can also play center, emerged as one of the Foreurs most important players, following the loss of Anthony Mantha (DET) to the AHL. Still 18 (he doesn’t turn 19 until May), Aube-Kubel finished third in team scoring this season, compiling 80 points in 61 games. His 38 goals were second on the team behind Anthony Richard (2015), while his 81 penalty minutes were the most among Val d’Or forwards.

Selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of last year’s draft, Aube-Kubel still has another year of junior eligibility before he can turn pro. Should he stay healthy, he has a very real chance of representing Canada at the World Juniors next year. Aube-Kubel has prior international experience, as he has participated in two U18 camps and represented Quebec at the U17 World Hockey Challenge.

5. Valentin Zykov (LAK), LW, Gatineau Olympiques

Aside from Ehlers and Duclair, Valentin Zykov may be one of the more highly-touted players on this list, thanks in part to a 40-goal rookie campaign in 2012-13 that earned the Russian a second round selection in the 2013 NHL Draft. Yet, he hasn’t quite dominated the QMJHL to the level that some expected following his rookie season. Instead, he has scored just 44 goals over the past two seasons, albeit in only 28 more games than the 67 it took him to reach 40 in 2012-13.

He is crafty with the puck and displays creativity that few wingers in the league can match, but he can often be inconsistent. Zykov was dealt from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar to Gatineau this season, and with the Olympiques recorded 28 points in 26 games. He’ll have to be at his very best if his team has any intention of moving past third seed Blainville-Boisbriand in the first round of the playoffs. Zykov’s offensive prowess will be tested next season when he is expected to make the leap to pro hockey – likely in North America, though his KHL rights belong to CSKA Moskva, who selected him in the second round of the 2012 KHL Draft.

6. Samuel Blais (STL), LW, Victoriaville Tigres

The St. Louis Blues took a gamble on Samuel Blais in the sixth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, and thanks to some solid scouting it appears to have paid off, at least so far. Blais played just 29 games last season including the playoffs; it was his rookie season in the QMJHL, but the Blues saw enough potential in the 5’11”, 178-pound winger. He has been healthy this season and, despite playing on one of the worst teams in the league, accumulated 82 points in 61 games.

What is most encouraging about Blais’ season is his second-half numbers. Since January 1st, he found the scoresheet 44 times in 27 games; in fact, in the final two months of the regular season, Blais recorded two or more points in nine of 15 games, including a five-point performance against Sherbrooke.

7. Nikita Jevpalovs (SJS), RW, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada

Undrafted but not unheralded, Latvian winger Nikita Jevpalovs earned his recognition this season when he was signed by the San Jose Sharks. An adept signing by the Sharks, Jevpalovs led the Armada to the top of the QMJHL’s West Division this season; the 20-year-old scored 49 goals and added 51 assists in 64 games, consistently showcasing his goal-scoring and playmaking abilities. He finished fourth in league scoring.

Jevpalovs formed a dangerous duo with fellow 20-year-old Danick Martel, who recently signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. Unlike Martel, Jevpalovs has the size to handle the rigors of a full pro schedule – at 6’1” and 198 pounds, he doesn’t play an overly physical game, but isn’t afraid to get involved in the corners or finish his check.

8. Francis Perron (OTT), LW, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

Francis Perron’s biggest drawback is obvious – the Blainville native is a humble 6’ but, pushing just 170 pounds, needs to fill out considerably. That said, his skill level is obvious, and a big reason why the Ottawa Senators took a flier on him in the seventh round of the 2014 NHL Draft.

This season, the third-year player took major steps forward in his offensive development, scoring 29 goals (up from 16 a year ago) and assisting on 47 (up from 39 a year ago). He finished second on the Huskies in scoring behind 20-year-old Mathieu Lemay. The next two summers will be increasingly important for Perron’s development as he attempts to bulk up and become stronger without losing any of his impressive mobility and agility.

9. Cameron Darcy (TBL) RW, Sherbrooke Phoenix

The oldest player on this list (he recently turned 21), Cameron Darcy has been a valuable addition to the Sherbrooke Phoenix. The South Boston native was selected in the seventh round of last year’s NHL Draft by the Tampa Bay Lightning after a breakout campaign with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Darcy, serving as an assistant captain with Cape Breton, led the team in scoring with 82 points in 65 games.

After leaving Northeastern University just nine games into the 2012-13 season, Darcy spent the remainder of the year playing in the USHL before joining Cape Breton. He returned to the Screaming Eagles as an overager this season, but was dealt to Sherbrooke after scoring just once in 19 games. Since the trade, however, Darcy has been revitalized, scoring 20 goals and adding 25 points in 37 games.

10. Gabryel Boudreau (SJS), LW, Chicoutimi Sagueneens

The Chicoutmi Sagueneens picked up Gabryel Boudreau in the off-season, hoping a change of scenery would revitalize the San Jose Sharks’ second round selection in 2013; unfortunately, Boudreau played just nine games this season due to injury.

In those nine games, Boudreau’s play resembled that from his QMJHL rookie season in 2012-13, when he recorded 63 points in 67 games. He scored twice and added seven assists with Chicoutimi this season. The Sagueneens are playing the Moncton Wildcats in the first round of the playoffs. Boudreau’s team is very much the underdog in the series, but his return to the line-up gives the team an immediate boost and perhaps a chance at an upset.

Follow Chris Roberts on Twitter via @ChrisRoberts_7