Gamache was a star in the QMJHL. He finished as the top scorer of the in 2000-01 with 184 points in 72 games. He was named the 2001 Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year, as well as the 2000-01 QMJHL MVP and MVP of the 2001 QMJHL playoffs. He led his team to the Memorial Cup finals. And most impressively, he beat Mario Lemieux QMJHL’s playoff point record with an amazing 57 points.
Despite these very impressive numbers, Gamache was drafted in the 9th round in the 2000 Entry Draft. Thrashers GM Don Waddell said after the draft that the only reason he fell so far was because of his size, but it is hard to tell if this is the real reason, since Waddell speaks well of all his prospects, even the ones who are longshots. Even if Waddell saw something lacking in his game, he is unlikely to state that publicly.
The question on everyone’s mind is: will Simon Gamache make it to the NHL?
Gamache has good hands, vision, and passing skills. He’s high energy, and exciting to watch. His greatest gift is his ability to put the puck in the net. On the other hand, he’s small, listed at 5’10”, 180 pounds, which does not automatically preclude him from succeeding in the NHL, but unlike some other small players like Paul Kariya or Steve Sullivan, Gamache may lack the speed to compensate for his size.
First Pro Season
Like many players before him, Gamache’s success in juniors has not translated into immediate success in pro hockey.
Gamache had an unimpressive 2001 training camp. The Thrashers had a fantastic 4-2-1 record in preseason games, but Gamache did not look like he fit in with the young squad iced for those games. Following camp he was assigned to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. He was not getting much icetime in Chicago for reasons that are not quite clear, but there is some evidence that Anderson prefers to play veterans who he trusts. Gamache was naturally unhappy with this situation. He got his wish for more icetime when he was reassigned to Greenville Grrrowl of the ECHL. This move was surprising at the time, but over the course of the year, Atlanta sent more and more of its young prospects to Greenville to increase their icetime, five in all (Gamache, Blatny, Sellars, Kaczowka and Dessner).
Gamache scored at a good clip in Greenville, 38 points in 31 games. He is a go-to guy on the team. Not surprisingly for a prolific goal scorer, he is getting double-teamed defensively and worked over pretty good physically. That’s to be expected, especially in that league, but it appears as though Gamache is letting it get him off his game at times.
Regardless of his success in the ECHL, it is not the right league for Gamache to develop in. Although the E has improved because of the demise of the IHL, it is a big drop-off in skill, as well as being a more physical league than the AHL. The AHL is where Gamache needs to play, because of the skill and speed of the league, but he has to first convince the coaching staff that he is capable.
(*Note that currently Gamache is back up in Chicago, due to the fact that the NHL trade deadline left them short of forwards. He will return to Greenville for the playoffs.)
Gamache has a long way to go to prove himself. He absolutely must demonstrate an ability to produce in the AHL before he will even be considered for a tryout in the NHL. Fortunately, he will most likely get that chance in Chicago in 2002-03.
As far as Gamache’s potential role is concerned, Theo Fleury, a small player also drafted in the 9th round, made it in the NHL by being willing to take a beating standing in front of the net. Gamache likes to go to the net, but gets upset by the beating he takes for standing there, sometimes taking penalties himself in the meantime. If Gamache makes it to the NHL, he will have to get used to getting pushed around. It’s possible he may do so as a power play specialist, since size does not matter when the ice is more open. It’s also possible that he may be forced to move to the less demanding wing position.
Another thing to remember is that the Thrashers farm system is stocked with talent right now (and rated #3 by Hockeysfuture). It is near the limit for the number of players under contract, which helps explain why they had to assign some to the ECHL this year. A stocked depth chart hinders Gamache as his size does.
In sum, Gamache might get a shot one day, but right now, his future chances at the NHL level remain very uncertain.