2004 Prospects: Martin Houle

By Simon Richard





2004 Prospects: Julien Ellis






Since Patrick Roy emerged as an NHL franchise player, there has been a
tradition of goaltenders born in
Quebec
being highly touted at the annual NHL Entry Draft. The last one was Marc-André
Fleury
, the first overall pick in 2003.

From 1994 to 2003, the first Quebec-born player selected at the NHL
Entry Draft was a goaltender seven times. It likely won’t be the case this year
as this honor should go to left wing Alexandre
Picard
.

The province
of
Quebec

is used to placing many goalies among the very first to be taken at the annual
entry draft. It seems though that it will be a bit different this year as the
best rated
Quebec
goalie, Julien Ellis, is only ranked 10th
among the goalies in
North America
by the Central Scouting Bureau. Philippe Roberge (14th), Gabriel
Bouthillette
(15th), Cedrik Desjardins (18th),
Loic Lacasse (24th) and Martin Houle (27th)
are the other ones from Quebec that are ranked among the first 30th
goalies in North America by the CSB.

Ellis, Roberge and Bouthillette are almost sure to find a spot at the
end of June. Desjardins should also find a niche late in the entry draft. Things
could technically be more complicated for Lacasse. As
for Houle, his 27th rank given by the CSB won’t prevent him from
being among the top 10 North American goalies to be selected.

Great performances

Born on February 12th in 1985, Houle spent two years with
midget AAA College Antoine-Girouard Gaulois. The second year, he shared his
duty with Julien Ellis. Both years, Houle was invited to the annual All-Star
Game.

Houle’s performance was noticed. In 2001, he was selected in the fourth
round by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. As Marc-André Fleury was already in
place, Houle played a second role in his NHL year eligibility.
At the end of the 2002-03 season, the 5’11’’ and 171-pound goalie was ranked 16th
in
North America by the CSB.
Unfortunately, he remained undrafted.

Because Houle’s teammate Marc-André Fleury stayed with Pittsburgh
Penguins in October 2003, Houle had his chance to show off with the Screaming Eagles.
He did not miss his opportunity, playing almost every game until the Pens sent
back Fleury to
Cape
Breton

in February. At this time,
Cape
Breton

was the No. 1 seeded team in the CHL.

"After Marc-André came back, I played only 7 of the remaining 17
games because I got a virus," told Houle to Hockey’s Future in a recent
telephone interview.

The Saint-Hubert, Que. native concluded the regular season with an
average of 2.32 goals per game, the best of the QMJHL goalies who played more
than 30 games. He recorded the best save percentage of the league with .921.

When the playoffs began, the coach Pascal Vincent decided to place
Fleury in the net.

"Marc-André is a very good friend of mine. Nevertheless, it was a
very difficult moment for me," said Houle. "I had a good conversation
with the coach, then I placed my personal case aside
and worked for the team," stated Houle.

Chemistry is a very important element in hockey as it has been
demonstrated so many times.
Cape
Breton

ended their regular season in the third place of the Montreal Bank Top Ten.
Then, the Chicoutimi Saguenéens
created a huge surprise eliminating
Cape
Breton

in five games. Houle was only sent between the pipes in the last one.

Honors

Houle lost an
opportunity to show what he is made of in the most important time of the
season. But he has done everything that was under his control.

At the end of the season, he was named the Screaming Eagles MVP. He
received the Jacques-Plante trophy, the emblem of the best QMJHL goalie. Houle
was also named on the first All-Star team.

The
future

Houle’s ranking by the CSB for the 2004 draft is very
surprising considering what he has done this year. We talked to few QMJHL
insiders lately and none of them could explain why Houle was so badly ranked by
the CSB. They all believe that Houle should be much
higher ranked. The tide may be turning as The Hockey News places him 125th
overall in its last electronic issue.

"I’m confident to be drafted,
indeed, I am more confident than last year though I was ranked higher by the
CSB," Houle told Hockey’s Future. "I do not
care in which round I will be selected but I think that with the season I had,
NHL scouts have an idea of the type of performance I can offer," he added.

 

The young prospect represented by Bob Perno, of
Newport Sports Management, had not had any interviews yet with NHL teams but he
has reasons to be optimistic as his statistics speak for him. He is not that
tall and big but so are NHLers as Ed Belfour (undrafted), Curtis Joseph
(undrafted) and Manny Legace (eighth round) to name a few.

 

The near future for Houle could hold an invitation to
the summer camp of the Canadian junior team.

 

"I did not receive any news yet but I think that
I have reasonable chances to be invited and I hope I will."

 

There are great goalies in the QMJHL. Will the staff
of Team Canada Junior consider that the one who was recognized as the best of
all in
Quebec’s
league in 2003-04 deserves an invitation to the summer camp?

 

We will see very soon. In the
meantime, Houle is training while continuing his studies in college.

 

 

Simon Richard is the author of La Serie
du siecle, Septembre 1972, a book about the
Summit Series
published in 2002.