Barbashev, Gauthier are tops among QMJHL centers

By Chris Roberts
Ivan Barbashev - Team Russia - 2015 IIHF World Junior Championship

Photo: Moncton Wildcats forward and St. Louis Blues prospect Ivan Barbashev, shown here playing for Russia at the 2015 WJC, has produced 24 points in 15 games for the Wildcats in the 2015 QMJHL playoffs (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

 

 

The QMJHL might house the lowest amount of future NHL players among the three Canadian junior leagues, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an abundance of quality prospects – particularly in the middle of the ice. A total of nine NHL-drafted centers played in the ‘Q’ this season, while recent signing Danick Martel rounds out a formidable Top 10.

1. Ivan Barbashev (STL), Moncton Wildcats

Despite playing the wing for much of his QMJHL rookie season in 2012-13, Ivan Barbashev has not only been the top center for the Moncton Wildcats the past two seasons, but the entire league. After posting 68 points in just 48 games last season, the Russian continued to build on his tremendous chemistry with undrafted and undersized winger Conor Garland this season. Garland led the entire QMJHL in scoring with 129 points, while Barbashev finished with 95 in just 57 games, all while playing a solid 200-foot game.

Selected by the St. Louis Blues early in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft, Barbashev possesses elite-level goal-scoring and playmaking skills. He struggled in December and January, posting just 16 points in 15 games in between a stint with Russia at the World Juniors – and those numbers are inflated by a five-assist game on January 30th. However, in the final two months of the season, Barbashev failed to record a point in just three games and totalled 31 points in 18 games. Barbashev has continued his strong play in the 2015 QMJHL playoffs, posting 13 goals and 11 assists in 15 games for the Wildcats, placing him third overall in playoff scoring.

2. Frederik Gauthier (TOR), Rimouski Oceanic

The much-maligned Toronto Maple Leafs prospect doesn’t possess the offensive skills of an Ivan Barbashev, but owns the physical tools – and face-off skills – to be an effective NHL center. For the past two years, Frederik Gauthier has filled the role of defensive and face-off specialist for the Canadian World Junior team, and it’s likely the role the first round draft pick will fill once he turns pro.

The 6’4″ pivot missed time this year due to a pair of injuries, the most recent being a concussion. He dressed in just 37 regular season games for the Oceanic, scoring 16 goals and adding 16 assists. The Oceanic are making a run through the 2015 postseason, with Gauthier contributing a goal and 10 assists in 11 playoff games so far.

3. Laurent Dauphin (ARZ), Chicoutimi Sagueneens

Laurent Dauphin’s overall game isn’t as polished as Gauthier, and he isn’t as offensively skilled as Barbashev, but the Arizona Coyotes‘ second round pick in 2013 is an effective two-way center with an ability to score in junior. Whether or not his offensive game translates at the pro level will be determined next fall, as he is likely to suit up with the Portland Pirates of the AHL.

The 6-foot center could stand to add strength to his frame – a surgery to remove his appendix had his weight down to 162 pounds this season, though he is now back over 170. In his final regular season of junior eligibility, Dauphin led the Sagueneens offensively with 75 points in 56 games. He’s also an adept face-off man, recording a 53.1 success rate on the season. In the post-season, Dauphin recorded eight points in five games as Chicoutimi was eliminated by the Moncton Wildcats.

4. Daniel Audette (MTL), Sherbrooke Phoenix

A pure offensive center, but slightly undersized at 5’9, Daniel Audette recently saw his QMJHL season come to an end as his Phoenix were beaten in six games by the Charlottetown Islanders. The 18-year-old scored 29 goals this season while adding 44 assists in just 60 games. He also recorded six points in six playoff games.

Audette is the first player on this list eligible to return to junior next season, and he’ll be expected to surpass the 70-plus point plateau that he reached in the previous two years. He’ll also have a shot at making the Canadian World Junior team. Audette played for the U18 team in 2014 and picked up three points in seven games. If he can overcome his lack of size, he could very well be a steal in the fifth round for the Montreal Canadiens.

5. Clark Bishop (CAR), Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

Clark Bishop, like Audette, is a 2014 fifth round selection who is also eligible to play one more year of junior hockey before turning pro. He doesn’t possess the offensive skills of those listed above him, but his goal-scoring ability has been improving over the course of the past two seasons. In what was an injury-plagued season, Bishop scored 19 goals in 38 regular season games; in fact, his 35 points were two more than the 33 he recorded in 56 games the season prior.

The Newfoundland native captained the Screaming Eagles this season and was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes largely for the intangibles he brings to the ice. In addition to his leadership skills, he’s regarded as a hard-working center who never takes a shift off. A strong start to next season and he could also be considered for the Canadian World Junior team – like Audette, he also played for the U18 team last season.

6. Jeremy Gregoire (MTL), Baie-Comeau Drakkar

A 6-foot, 190-pound center, Jeremy Gregoire missed the first half of his final QMJHL season due to injury. But since returning to the lineup, the Montreal Canadiens prospect helped vault the Drakkar to the top half of the QMJHL standings, and, more recently, helped his team defeat the Saint John Sea Dogs 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs. Since his return, Gregoire scored 20 goals and added 21 assists in 32 regular season games. Despite missing half of the season, he still finished fourth in team scoring.

Gregoire accumulated 23 points in 22 playoff games last season, leading his team to the QMJHL finals. In the first round of this year’s playoffs, the Sherbrooke, QC native scored eight points in five games. His team matched up with the Val d’Or Foreurs in the second round in a rematch of last year’s finals, a tight series won by the Foreuers, 4 games to 3. Gregoire finished the 2015 postseason with 10 goals and 11 assists in 12 games, a total that still has him tied for fourth overall in playoff scoring.

7. Marc-Olivier Roy (EDM), Quebec Remparts

Marc-Olivier Roy, who has a late-94 birthday, played his overage season in the QMJHL this year. That normally isn’t an odd situation, but given the fact that Roy was a second round pick in 2013, it’s a little strange to see the Edmonton Oilers allow him to return for another year of junior instead of turning pro. But, considering the Oilers recent success, or lack thereof, in developing mid-round prospects, the case can be made that another year of junior was in the best interest of both Roy and the organization, particularly since the Boisbriand, QC native missed parts of last year with a wrist injury and concussion.

Roy spent his first three seasons in junior with his hometown team – the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada – but was shipped to the Quebec Remparts this season, who had the required overage spot open. He finished sixth on the team in scoring with 50 points in 59 games, which on the surface appears decent, but isn’t the expected amount of offense for a player of his pedigree. In the 2015 playoffs, Roy has picked up three goals and eight assists in 12 games for a Remparts squad that is poised to move on to the QMJHL championship series.

8. Danick Martel (PHI), Blainville-Boisbriand Armada

Undrafted but signed by the Philadelphia Flyers in March, Danick Martel gained attention throughout this season thanks to an increased scoring punch due in large part to his chemistry with Latvian Nikita Jevpalovs. In his previous two seasons with the Armada, Martel scored 101 points in 131 games; this season, the overage pivot accumulated 102 points in just 64 games, including a team-leading 54 assists.

After a disappointing September in which he picked up just three points in six games, Martel’s production really took off. His most productive month was in January when he scored 25 points in 12 games. At 5’8″ and just 162 pounds, Martel is very undersized, but could become a productive AHL scorer as early as next season.

9. Alexis Pepin (COL), Val d’Or Foreurs

A big-bodied center who could perhaps use his 6’2, 224-pound frame a little more to his advantage, Alexis Pepin spent the 2014-15 regular season split between the Gatineau Olympiques and the Val d’Or Foreurs. Combined, the Candiac, QC native scored 18 goals and added nine assists in 45 regular season games. Through 15 playoff games, Pepin has notched four goals and four assists, which includes the overtime goal in Game 7 of the Foreuers series against Baie-Comeau.

Pepin is only the third player on this list likely to return to the QMJHL for another season. He is already with his third team in three seasons; a full year in Val d’Or next year should provide the stability he needs to develop his game.

10. Vincent Dunn (OTT), Rimouski Oceanic

A lengthy, four-year QMJHL has ended in turmoil for rugged pivot Vincent Dunn. The 5’11″, 186-pound Gatineau native was a point-per-game player the past two seasons, but struggled to find his footing in Rimouski, recording just 32 points in 46 games. He did, however, lead his team in penalty minutes – he recorded 153 – for the second straight season.

Despite the Oceanic being the league’s top team and currently playing in the third round of the playoffs, Dunn was essentially released from the team following a string of suspensions for what some are suggesting were related to behavioural and character issues. He was signed by the Ottawa Senators to a three-year deal in August and will likely begin his pro career in Binghamton next season.

Follow Chris Roberts on Twitter via @ChrisRoberts_7