Though the QMJHL is not traditionally known as a hot bed for developing NHL defenseman, the leagues currently boasts a formidable crop of blue liners, including two former first round draft picks. Along with Nicolas Deslauriers, Simon Despres and Brandon Gormley form the top three of the QMJHL‘s best NHL defensive prospects and the trio is head and shoulders above the rest of the group.
For purposes of this list, we used the criteria whereby we ranked only NHL drafted or signed blueliners currently playing in the QMJHL.
Top 10 at a Glance:
1. Brandon Gormley, Moncton Wildcats (PHX)
2. Simon Despres, Saint John Sea Dogs (PIT)
3. Nicolas Deslauriers, Gatineau Olympiques (LAK)
4. Jerome Gauthier-Leduc, Rimouski Oceanic (BUF)
5. Jeremie Blain, Acadie-Bathurst Titan (EDM)
6. Eric Gelinas, Saint John Sea Dogs (NJD)
7. Adam Polasek, PEI Rocket (VAN)
8. Charles-Olivier Roussel, Montreal Junior (NSH)
9. Gleason Fournier, Rimouski Oceanic (DET)
10. Samuel Carrier, Lewiston MAINEiacs (WSH)
After a 2010 calendar year that saw him become a QMJHL champion, play at the Memorial Cup and be selected in the first round of the NHL draft, the year could have ended on a better note for Brandon Gormley. Invited to Team Canada’s World Junior selection camp, Gormley had to withdraw due to a knee injury and thus missed his chance to play for his country on the world stage.
Arguably the top defenseman in the QMJHL, Gormley had an excellent shot at cracking Canada’s blue line, but missing that opportunity could be the sole blotch on his record thus far. Gormley’s greatest strength is his positional play: he’s simply always in the right spot at the right time. This helps him at both ends of the ice, which is a good thing as Gormley is relied upon to play in every situation for Moncton. With a point-per-game pace of nine goals and 31 points in 31 games, Gormley is as dangerous in the offensive zone as he is solid in his own end.
As cruel as it might sound, in recent history, Simon Despres seems to have made a habit of doing extremely well, but falling just short of the ultimate prize. Not only did he and the Saint John Sea Dogs falter in the QMJHL finals last spring and miss out on a berth at the Memorial Cup, but Despres also narrowly missed cracking the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup in the fall. The last cut by his NHL team, Despres’ strong play with the Sea Dogs was rewarded with a spot on Canada’s World Junior team. Continuing the sequence, Despres won a silver medal representing his country and now slots in at second on this list.
All streaks must come to an end though and with Despres currently the top defenseman on the top junior team in the country, it is difficult to think of him as second best. With a record of 44-5-1-2, the Saint John Sea Dogs are currently the toast of the CHL and Despres is a big part of their success. Posting a point-per-game scoring average with 11 goals and 32 points in 32 games, Despres is a solid contributor at both ends of the ice. A strong skater blessed with great size, even if he doesn’t always use it to his full advantage, Despres’ first priority will be helping lead the Sea Dogs back to the QMJHL finals, this time planning for a different outcome before he makes the leap to pro hockey.
Like Brandon Gormley before him, an ill-timed injury may have been the only thing preventing Nicolas Deslauriers from the international exposure that a roster spot on Canada’s World Junior squad provides. A knee injury suffered in mid-November waylaid the blueliner’s dreams, but anyone who has taken the time to follow Deslauriers knows that he is a top-notch prospect. The 19-year-old Deslauriers is the top defender among a deep defensive core with Gatineau and he’ll be a key part of the Olympiques plan as they aim for a long playoff run this spring.
Joining the Olympiques over the off season for his final year of junior hockey, Deslauriers spent the first three years of his career with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, where he gained plenty of experience, but thus far has had playoff success elude him. An extremely talented skater, Deslauriers’ mobility helps him at both ends of the ice. Equally talented at disrupting the opposition’s attack as well as making a smart first pass out of the zone or leading the rush and showcasing a hard and accurate shot, Deslauriers was asked to take an even larger role with Gatineau this season after team captain Hubert Labrie went down in training camp with injury. Labrie has yet to play a game this season, but Deslauriers has thrived with the additional responsibility.
A former teammate of Nicolas Deslauriers and another defenseman who saw his rights dealt over the offseason, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc joined the Rimouski Oceanic and immediately became a top offensive weapon on the blue line. With Rimouski building towards a playoff run next year, Gauthier-Leduc’s addition allowed the Oceanic to deal Ryan Kavanaugh, the QMJHL’s top scoring defenseman this season during the league’s trade period for draft picks. Although Gauthier-Leduc will be unlikely to match his 20 goal output from last season, his eight goals and 35 points in 46 games place him among the defensive leaders in the QMJHL.
A bit of a riverboat gambler on the ice, Gauthier-Leduc has the size, the skating and the offensive skills that make him an interesting NHL prospect. Although he needs to continue to develop both his physical game and his play in his own end, the general consensus is that the Quebec native is just narrowly scratching the surface of his overall potential. Playing for a team like Rimouski, Gauthier-Leduc will be depended on heavily next season for both leadership and ability from the blue line. If he proves that he is up to the task, his stock could sky rocket.
Injuries have been a concern for Jeremie Blain in his first junior season since being drafted by the Edmonton Oilers. Suffering a slow-to-heal foot injury in his second game of the season, Blain did not return to the lineup until the beginning of December. But since then, he has wasted little time in taking the next step in his development, while also providing instant stability to the Titan’s blue line.
A steady blueliner at both ends of the ice, Blain might never blow anyone away with any single skill or attribute, but instead it is the sum of the parts that makes all the difference for the 18-year-old defenseman. Strong on his skates with good size, Blain moves the puck well and makes smart and safe decisions in his own end. Since returning to the Titan line-up, he’s played like a man possessed and provided an instant shot in the arm for Acadie-Bathurst. In 25 games this season, Blain is producing at just short of a point-per-game rate with two goals and 24 points.
Dealt during the QMJHL’s trade period from the middling Chicoutimi Sagueneens, Eric Gelinas has ascended to the league’s penthouse by joining the Saint John Sea Dogs to finish off his junior career. Already signed to a pro contract for next year, Gelinas is now preparing for a long playoff run as a member of the league’s best team. Of particular note is the change in his role: in Chicoutimi he was asked to be the team’s top blueliner and play in all situations, whereas in Saint John, he’s playing behind top defensemen like Simon Despres and Nathan Beaulieu and can instead focus on his strengths.
For Gelinas, those strengths are primarily offensive ability. A former forward converted to defense, Gelinas retained the ability to set up an offensive play. A good skater with great size, he can move the puck well and has flourished since joining the Sea Dogs. While his nine points in 13 games with Saint John are pretty much on pace with what he was producing in Chicoutimi, Gelinas’ plus/minus has rebounded from a minus-10 to a plus-eight on the season. All told, Gelinas has 11 goals and 33 points in 48 games between the two teams.
Skipped over in the first year that he was draft eligible, Adam Polasek opted to come to the QMJHL in hopes of chasing the NHL dream. So far, the plan has worked, with the Canucks selecting him as an 19-year-old and Polasek now well into his second season with the PEI Rocket. A native of the Czech Republic, Polasek is the type of player who can fill a number of different roles, so it should be no surprise that he sees time in all situations with the Rocket.
A physical defender with offensive upside, Polasek is a strong skater who moves the puck well and takes care of business in his own zone. When playing on the power play, he doesn’t hesitate to tee up a shot, but also has tallied 11 of his 24 assists while on the man advantage. In total, the burly Czech has five goals and 29 points in 46 games.
Touted as a puck-moving two-way defenseman when he was drafted two seasons ago by the Nashville Predators, Charles-Olivier Roussel has taken a different role this year with the Montreal Junior. After being a key addition to the Junior lineup in the off-season via a trade with the Shawinigan Cataractes, Roussel finds himself on one of the top teams in the QMJHL.
After two straight years posting over 40 points, including 15 goals and 51 points in 64 games in 2009-10 with Shawinigan, Roussel is on pace to finish the season with just 28 points this year. Despite the numbers, Nashville seems to have a knack for drafting talented defensemen and Roussel is no exception. He plays a solid overall game at both ends of the ice, skating well and making a safe first pass out of the zone. As Montreal prepares for what might be a long playoff run, it is worth noting that the last time Roussel saw significant post-season action, he posted 18 points over the course of 21 games in 2008-09.
Another offensively skilled blueliner playing for the Rimouski Oceanic, Gleason Fournier has flown under the radar for the most part of his QMJHL career. However, that is hardly a slight against Fournier as he’s gained plenty of experience during his four years with the Oceanic and has developed into a solid prospect for the Red Wings. Signed by Detroit at the end of November, Fournier is due to turn pro next fall, but first, he’s hoping for a strong finish to his junior career.
Since being drafted in 2009, a number of items on Fournier’s scouting report remain unchanged: he’s still a great skater who makes quick decisions with the puck and can quarterback a power play, but he is also still only average-sized and often finds himself overmatched physically in his own end. But just as important are the areas where Fournier has improved: simplifying his game without the puck and becoming more dependable in his own end. In total, Fournier has eight goals and 34 points in 45 games this season.
An offensively talented blueliner, Samuel Carrier is proving that last year’s breakout was not a flash in the pan. After scoring just nine points in his rookie season with the Quebec Remparts, Carrier was dealt to the Lewiston MAINEiacs for his draft year and exploded with ten goals and 42 points in 66 games. Returning to the MAINEiacs lineup this year, Carrier is again being counted on to provide offense from the blue line and contribute on the power play.
So far this year, the 18-year-old has not disappointed, tallying nine goals including five power play markers and totaling 41 points in 49 games, placing him among the league leaders in defensive scoring. A solid skater who carries the puck with confidence, Carrier needs to work on the rest of his game, but the Capitals are hopeful that they have found a diamond in the rough. The numbers that he has been able to put up thus far are undeniable and if he continues to develop, Washington just might have uncovered a late round steal.
Other Drafted Defenseman:
Konrad Abeltshauser, Halifax Mooseheads – SJ
Morgan Ellis, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles – MTL
Sawyer Hannay, Halifax Mooseheads – VAN
Adam Janosik, Gatineau Olympiques – TB
Hubert Labrie, Gatineau Olympiques – DAL