The 2012 NHL Draft has come and gone with the QMJHL seeing 19 of their players selected. This total represents a drop after the league has seen, on average, almost 24 players drafted each year over the past five years, including 22 players selected in each of the previous two drafts.
The QMJHL lagged far behind their sister leagues in the CHL, with the OHL boasting 48 selections and 32 WHL players hearing their names called. Furthermore, the USHL also surpassed the QMJHL for the second straight year, with 24 of their players being selected. This all points to a weaker year by the QMJHL when compared to both their own history and their fellow development leagues.
Perhaps a better indication of the quality of this year's draft class can be found by examining the types of players that were drafted out of the QMJHL. Of the 19 players selected, five players had been passed over in previous drafts, only to hear their names called this year. While in each case, it could be argued that the player took an additional step in his on-ice development after the draft day snub, it could also represent scouts taking a second-look at previously dismissed options after being unimpressed by the 2012 draft class offering in the QMJHL.
In addition, after having five players selected in the first round of last year's draft, this year's group only featured one Top 30 talent: the much maligned Mikhail Grigorenko. Dogged by claims of indifferent play and hampered by injuries during high profile events such as the World Juniors, the CHL Top Prospects Game and the QMJHL playoffs, the opinion on the Quebec Remparts star leading into the draft was divisive. In fact, in the days leading up to the event in Pittsburgh, rumours that the big Russian was secretly older than he was listed swirled, prompting many to wonder how far he would fall on draft day.
The Buffalo Sabres answered that question by making him their first round draft choice at 12th overall. Considering Grigorenko was once thought to be competing with top selection Nail Yakupov for the privilege of being the first name called, this selection by the Sabres could be the steal of the draft, depending, of course, on what criticisms are believed and how much truth is behind them. Though Remparts management has expressed a desire for Grigorenko to return to the team in the fall, recent news out of Buffalo indicates that the NHL squad will give the Russian the chance to win a roster spot. Since the draft, the Sabres have also traded away pivot Derek Roy, further pointing to the fact that the opportunity to make the immediate jump to the NHL exists.
Should Grigorenko find himself returned to the QMJHL, all will not be lost for the talented center. The Quebec Remparts are a team loaded with young talent (including a number of promising players eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft) and are expected to be one of the QMJHL's top teams next season. Furthermore, a return to junior hockey almost assuredly guarantees that Grigorenko will get another chance to compete for Team Russia at the World Juniors. After suffering an ankle injury during last year's tournament, Grigorenko no doubt feels he has some unfinished business on the international level, especially with Russia being forced to settle for the silver medal last year.
Raphael Bussieres will no doubt be returning to the QMJHL next season and isn't likely to be named to a World Junior squad in the winter, but he was the next QMJHL player drafted in the 2012 NHL Draft. The burly forward was a second round selection, picked 46th overall by the Minnesota Wild and he also faced his fair share of criticism as a member of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. Bussieres' main issue appeared to be consistency, but how much of it was due to his own play, and how much was due to the overall team continues to be a mystery. Both Bussieres and the Drakkar started the 2011-12 season with a bang, but fizzled out shortly after Christmas, only to appear to be re-energized after a late season coaching change, before eventually retiring in the second round of the playoffs. Bussieres' style of play could lead to him being penciled into a number of different spots in the lineup in his possible pro future. Even if his scoring abilities do not translate to the next level, his rough and tumble style may eventually lead to him being a valued member of a future Minnesota Wild checking line.
Like many 2012 draft eligibles, Dillon Fournier faced injuries that led to him missing time and not playing at 100% when he was in the lineup. In Fournier's case, a shoulder injury wreaked havoc on his second half and limited him to 52 games with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Despite these concerns, the Chicago Blackhawks selected him in the second round at 48th overall. Fournier was tasked with playing a big role for a weak team last season and performed admirably, especially when you consider he was playing injured for part of the season. An excellent skater, Fournier still needs time to develop, but is part of a young core in Rouyn-Noranda which is expected to pay off in two years time, when the blue-liner is a 19-year-old. Provided the Blackhawks are patient with his development, he could eventually become a respectable two-way defender in the NHL.
Selected with the next pick in the draft, Martin Frk of the Halifax Mooseheads might have been a surprise to fall to the Detroit Red Wings at 49th overall when one considers that at this point last year, he was thought to be a lock to be selected in the first round. Frk's main issue in his draft year was also injuries, with a concussion robbing him of the first half of the season and leading to him trying to play catch-up with both his on-ice play and conditioning upon his return. While no one doubts the Czech's scoring abilities (some scouts have already referred to his shot as 'NHL-quality'), Frk is very much a project at this point. Following last season's selections of Tomas Jurco and Xavier Ouellet, the Red Wings are quietly developing a talented stable of QMJHL talent.
At 20-years-old, Alexandre Mallet could be excused if he thought the NHL wouldn't come knocking. Considered a 19-year-old by junior hockey standards, Mallet blew away his career totals in his third full season in the QMJHL and drew a lot of attention along the way. That led to the Vancouver Canucks making him their second pick of the draft at 57th overall. Mallet went from scoring 10 goals in the previous season to a whopping 34 this year, while his points jumped from 19 up to 81. In fact, the suddenly offensively proficient forward also surpassed his previous regular season career highs over the course of this season's playoffs with 10 goals and 25 points in 21 games. While it might have been his ability to put the puck in the net that first started some buzz, Mallet's game fits many different roles. A hard worker on the ice who benefited from a larger role this season, Mallet doesn't back down from any challenge and that's an attribute that will serve him well as he continues to chase the NHL dream. He's now eligible to either return to the QMJHL as an overager or begin his pro career immediately.
As mentioned, Mallet wasn't the only QMJHL player drafted who was passed over in previous years. In the fourth round, the Tampa Bay Lightning selected Cedric Paquette, a gritty forward who, at 18-years-old, was playing in his first full season in the QMJHL with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Also in the fourth round, the Anaheim Ducks selected Andrew O'Brien from the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. A rugged blue-liner in his second season in the QMJHL, O'Brien plays with a combination of two-way ability and physical play.
In the sixth round, a pair of European Import players also found themselves drafted after being snubbed in their draft year. Tomas Hyka made headlines last fall after he was invited to the Philadelphia Flyers training camp. He performed so well that Philadelphia tried to sign him to a contract, only to find out that eligibility rules prevented them from doing so. Instead, Hyka began his life in North America with the Gatineau Olympiques. This year, the Flyers had the opportunity to draft the speedy Czech forward, but instead he fell to the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.
Anton Zlobin also made headlines leading into this year's draft. The Russian sniper enjoyed a career season in his second year with the Shawinigan Cataractes and his name was on everyone's lips after he scored the game-winning goal that secured the Cataractes their first Memorial Cup title. Though one goal, regardless of how important, doesn't guarantee a future in pro hockey, the Pittsburgh Penguins saw enough from the 19-year-old Russian to select him in the sixth round.
Some other notable players drafted from the QMJHL included a trio of goaltenders. Francois Tremblay saw plenty of time between the pipes for the Val d'Or Foreurs this season and the St. Louis Blues saw enough of Tremblay to make him their fifth round selection. The Blues have a bit of a history with QMJHL goaltenders, having former Montreal Juniors goalie Jake Allen in their system and former Lewiston MAINEiac Jaroslav Halak on their NHL squad.
Francois Brassard of the Quebec Remparts was selected in the sixth round by the Ottawa Senators. After sharing duties with Phoenix Coyotes prospect Louis Domingue all season long, Brassard is expected to take over the starting reins full-time next season. A native of Gatineau, Quebec, his selection by the "home-town" Senators was surely positive news for his family.
Brandon Whitney is also expected to be a full-time starter next season, in his case, with the Victoriaville Tigres. Whitney shared time with Vancouver prospect David Honzik this year, but an off-season trade has sent Honzik to Cape Breton. The 6-5 Whitney was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the seventh round. Despite being such a late round selection, it is hard to ignore a goaltender of his size and athleticism.
Although this year's draft class may be viewed as a step back for the QMJHL, there are high hopes for the 2013 class. As mentioned, the Quebec Remparts are expected to have a strong young team. Leading the charge are forwards Adam Erne and Anthony Duclair, who both could be first round talents. Another team worth noting is the Halifax Mooseheads, led by Nathan MacKinnon, who could challenge to be the first overall selection next summer. MacKinnon is joined on the Mooseheads by forward Jonathan Drouin and goaltender Zach Fucale, both talents in their own right who could also hear their name called in the first round.
The QMJHL at the NHL Draft (by the numbers):
QMJHL Players drafted (with HF Top 10 rankings)
12- Mikhail Grigorenko (Quebec Remparts) – Buffalo Sabres (HF QMJHL Rank #1, HF Mock Draft #3)
46- Raphael Bussieres (Baie-Comeau Drakkar) – Minnesota Wild (HF QMJHL Rank #8)
48- Dillon Fournier (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies) – Chicago Blackhawks (HF QMJHL Rank #6)
49- Martin Frk (Halifax Mooseheads) – Detroit Red Wings (HF QMJHL Rank #2)
57- Alexandre Mallet (Rimouski Oceanic) – Vancouver Canucks
88- James Melindy (Moncton Wildcats) – Phoenix Coyotes (HF QMJHL Rank #9)
101- Cedric Paquette (Blainville-Boisbriand Armada) – Tampa Bay Lightning
103- Loic Leduc (Cape Breton Screaming Eagles) – New York Islanders
108- Andrew O'Brien (Chicoutimi Sagueneens) – Anaheim Ducks
109- Christophe Lalancette (Acadie-Bathurst Titan) – San Jose Sharks
122- Charles Hudon (Chicoutimi Sagueneens) – Montreal Canadiens (HF QMJHL Rank #5)
124- Ryan Culkin (Quebec Remparts) – Calgary Flames (HF QMJHL Rank #10)
146- Francois Tremblay (Val d'Or Foreurs) – St. Louis Blues
166- Francois Brassard (Quebec Remparts) – Ottawa Senators
171- Tomas Hyka (Gatineau Olympiques) – Los Angeles Kings (HF QMJHL Rank #3)
173- Anton Zlobin (Shawinigan Cataractes) – Pittsburgh Penguins
174- Francis Beauvillier (Rimouski Oceanic) – Florida Panthers (HF QMJHL Rank #7)
191- Brandon Whitney (Victoriaville Tigres) – Chicago Blackhawks (HF QMJHL Rank #4)
208- Justin Hache (Shawinigan Cataractes) – Phoenix Coyotes
Notable QMJHL players not drafted:
Matej Beran, C – PEI Rocket
Christopher Clapperton, LW – Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Denis Kamaev, RW – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Etienne Marcoux, G – Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Andrew Ryan, LW – Halifax Mooseheads
Vladislav Shalimov, RW – Val d'Or Foreurs
Roman Will, G – Moncton Wildcats
Players selected (QMJHL Team)
3 – Quebec
2 – Chicoutimi, Rimouski, Shawinigan
1 – Acadie-Bathurst, Baie-Comeau, Blainville-Boisbriand, Cape Breton, Gatineau, Halifax, Moncton, Rouyn-Noranda, Val d’Or, Victoriaville
0 – Drummondville, PEI, Saint John
Players selected (NHL Team)
2 – Chicago, Phoenix
1 – Anaheim, Buffalo, Calgary, Detroit, Florida, Los Angeles, Minnesota, Montreal, NY Islanders, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Vancouver
0 – Boston, Carolina, Colorado, Columbus, Dallas, Edmonton, Nashville, New Jersey, NY Rangers, Philadelphia, Toronto, Washington, Winnipeg
Players selected (Position)
6 – Defenseman
4 – Right Wing
3 – Center
3 – Left Wing
3 – Goaltender