QMJHL preview for CHL Top Prospects game

By Phil Laugher

Eleven players were originally selected from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to compete in the 2006 CHL Top Prospects Game to be held on Wednesday, January 18, at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. After two players pulled out of the game due to injury, and one QMJHLer was added to fill one of the holes, ten Quebec League players — one goaltender, three defensemen, and six forwards — will be participating.

Historically, selection to participate in this nationally televised game featuring the best draft-eligible prospects from the Canadian Hockey League has virtually guaranteed the player’s selection in the following summer’s NHL Entry Draft. The game has proved to be a launching platform for several former QMJHL players in the past. The past participant list reads like a veritable “who’s who” from the QMJHL in the past ten years, with names like Lecavalier, Tanguay, Ribeiro, Luongo, Bouchard, and Briere proving their wares on the national stage in past Top Prospect Games. Ten young QMJHL players will look to follow in their footsteps at this year’s game.

Goaltenders

Jonathan Bernier – Lewiston Maineiacs (Team Cherry)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 180 lbs., CSR: 1 (Goaltenders)

Bernier is the top ranked goaltender according to Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings, and has played very strongly for a relatively young and inexperienced Lewiston squad. Putting together a near-.500 record, a strong save percentage (.906), and an above average goals against average on a retooling Maineiacs team, Bernier, a butterfly netminder, has shown poise and level-headedness amid facing an increased shot total. Already having represented Canada in international competitions, he should be able to deal easily with the pressure of playing on the national stage. Quick from post to post, and with great awareness and mechanics, Bernier should prove difficult to beat in Ottawa.

Defensemen

Mathieu Carle – Acadie-Bathurst Titan (Team Cherry)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 209 lbs., CSR: 51 (Skaters)

After starting the season off with a torrid offensive start for the Titan, where he at one point early in the season was in the top five in league scoring for all players, Carle has cooled somewhat, reverting back into playing a key, composed role for the top flight Bathurst squad whilst still posting a point-per-game. A top-pairing defenseman on a bad team last season, Carle was prepared for the pressure of playing big minutes on a strong team after having been thrown to the wolves regularly last year. With strong offensive awareness, a willingness to sacrifice his body to make a play (or prevent one), and good size, Carle should be very noticeable on the ice in Ottawa. That increased visibility may also be as a result of his occasionally lax defensive coverage.

Joey Ryan – Quebec Remparts (Team Cherry)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 197 lbs., CSR: 18 (Skaters)

The third-year American-born defenseman for Patrick Roy’s Remparts has been a key component of their blue line this season, as has been the case in past years. He will not post amazing offensive totals, though he does serve as a valuable member of the Remparts power play. Playing with other talented defensemen for Quebec, Ryan’s offensive skills have not been relied upon so heavily. This has allowed him to strengthen his play in his own end. Accompanying this increased defensive awareness is a willingness to throw heavy hits on a regular basis, and drop his gloves to defend his teammates if need be.

Ivan Vishnevskiy – Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (Team Orr)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 178 lbs., CSR: 39 (Skaters)

Vishnevskiy has been one of the more pleasant surprises in the QMJHL this season. Selected in the middle of the second round of the CHL Import Draft to little fanfare by the western Quebec squad, Vishnevskiy has made a seamless transition to the North American game, posting nearly a point a game with his smooth puck-handling ability, and sitting sixth in the league in rookie scoring as a whole. A surprising snub from the Russian World Junior squad, the quick puck-moving power play specialist will likely be seen carrying the puck and setting up shop in the offensive zone.

Forwards

Francois Bouchard – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (Team Cherry)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 176 lbs., CSR: 31 (Skaters)

Bouchard is in his second season in the QMJHL after having played sparingly for the Drakkar last season. Not very big, but very quick with great awareness with the puck, Bouchard leads the Drakkar in points this season with 59 points. Boasting great vision, a quick release and good finishing ability, as well as an eagerness to distribute the puck to his teammates from difficult positions on the ice seemingly at will, Bouchard should be regularly involved in the offensive end for Cherry’s squad.

Derick Brassard – Drummondville Voltiguers (Team Cherry)
Height: 6’0, Weight: 174 lbs., CSR: 6 (Skaters)

Arguably the top prospect coming out of the QMJHL this season, Brassard has developed into a scoring machine. While some may say that it would be difficult not to put up points alongside Guillaume Latendresse, Brassard has not missed a beat even when the big winger is not at his side. Quick, enthusiastic and dynamic with the puck, with a nose for the net and an accurate shot to boot, Brassard seems to be a surefire top-six centerman in the near future. He currently has posted 70 points in only 35 games. Expect him to see plenty of ice time in Ottawa, and do not be surprised if his name is one the scoring summary a couple of times.

Benjamin Breault – Baie-Comeau Drakkar (Team Orr)
Height: 5’10, Weight: 178 lbs., CSR: 56 (Skaters)

Breault was a highly touted early draft selection in 2004, but he has suffered through a bit of an inconsistent season for the Drakkar. A gifted playmaker who brings hard-nosed tenacity and good skating, as well as strength in the face-off circle, Breault’s offensive numbers have been relatively lackluster this year (though he has begun to regain his old form thus far in the new year with a series of strong performances). Still a bit raw in the skill department, and needing a bit of work on his defensive game, he has played in all situations nonetheless, doing whatever is asked of him. A big game in Ottawa would work wonders in righting his on-and-off season.

Claude Giroux – Gatineau Olympiques (Team Orr)
Height: 5’11, Weight: 163 lbs., CSR: 72 (Skaters)

The diminutive Giroux, hailing from Ontario, was a free-agent pick-up for the Olympiques at the start of the season, and has been anything but small in regards to the contributions he has made in his first season in the QMJHL. Posting 60 points in only 45 games (and thus leading Gatineau in scoring), the quick-skating forward has great vision, dynamite offensive instincts, and can play in all situations. Not afraid to muck it up and get his nose dirty, Giroux has been an excellent (and astute) pick-up for Gatineau. Giroux currently sits second in the QMJHL in rookie scoring, behind 16-year-old star Angelo Esposito.

Ryan Hillier – Halifax Mooseheads (Team Cherry)
Height: 6’1, Weight: 188 lbs., CSR: 12 (Skaters)

Hillier has built on a solid first season (in which he displayed great, if raw, skill in limited playing time), playing on the Halifax top line. Hillier is a smooth-skating, strong two-way player who is more suited to be a set-up man rather than a finisher. Unselfish and creative with the puck, Hillier works hard in the corners cycling the puck, doing all he can to find the open man. Hillier played well in the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge series for the QMJHL squad, and will once again look to have a promising game on the national stage in Ottawa. He currently sits third in Halifax scoring, with 44 points in as many games.

James Sheppard – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (Team Orr)
Height: 6’2, Weight: 205 lbs., CSR: 9 (Skaters)

Sheppard entered the season widely believed to be the top prospect in the QMJHL for the 2006 Draft. Thanks in large part to a very slow start, coupled with the emergence of Derick Brassard has an early-first round threat, Sheppard’s standing has fallen ever so slightly. Perhaps the most physical of the QMJHL forwards participating in the game, Sheppard brings a strong work ethic with great puck handling ability as well as a definite nose for the net, Sheppard is a finisher more than a playmaker, through regularly crashing the net, though he does use his teammates well. A big game in Ottawa could help put him back ahead of Brassard in the draft rankings.

Two players were selected for the Top Prospects Game, but will miss it due to injury. Halifax forward Bryce Swan will miss the game after suffering a broken hand in a game last week (the latest in a string of freak injuries that have plagued the power-forward’s season thus far), and Saint John two-way forward Martin Bartos will miss the game after tweaking his knee last week. Giroux was selected to replace Swan.

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.