If the pre-draft hype is to be believed, 2013 will be a banner year for draft-eligible players coming out of the QMJHL. Not only is the league celebrating their third consecutive Memorial Cup championship, this time led by a pair of draft-eligible Halifax Mooseheads in Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, but as many as eight or nine QMJHL players could be selected in the first round of this year's draft.
Furthermore, if the rumblings are true, MacKinnon could be the first QMJHL player selected first overall since Sidney Crosby went to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005.
According to Kim Houston from the NHL's Central Scouting, teams should be very excited if they walk away with either MacKinnon or Drouin. Calling the duo from Halifax two of the top talents in the draft, Houston admits that deciding between the two isn't easy.
"I think MacKinnon is a little more NHL-ready as somebody who might be able to step in next year. For me, Drouin has that state of mind, where he can process things under pressure and select the option that's best for where the puck needs to be. He's a lot more creative with the puck, a little wiser. Where MacKinnon is very strong on the puck, Drouin's very agile with the puck, the stops and starts. He gives defensemen fits trying to contain him. I just think MacKinnon's physical aspect to the game will really help him next year."
Here's a look at the top QMJHL players eligible for this year's draft.
1. Nathan MacKinnon, C – Halifax Mooseheads
"Nate the Great" and "Stop winnin' for MacKinnon." These two catchphrases have followed Nathan MacKinnon all season long and while he hasn't always been considered the de facto top prospect for this year's draft, the eyes and ears of the entire hockey community closely watched this young man from Cole Harbour. By and large, the 17-year-old rose to the challenge when it mattered most.
Struggling in a minor role for Team Canada at the World Juniors and unable to make an impact at the Top Prospects Game, MacKinnon fell behind fellow top prospect Seth Jones in most draft projections and faced a strong challenge from linemate Jonathan Drouin to fall even further. After missing some time in the second half, MacKinnon finished the year with 32 goals and 75 points in 44 games and then brought his game to a whole new level in the post-season. In 17 playoff matches, he scored 11 goals and had 33 points to help lead the team to a berth at the Memorial Cup. At the CHL championship, his seven goals and 13 points in four tournament games paced the Mooseheads to their first Memorial Cup win and has vaulted MacKinnon back into strong consideration to be drafted first overall this year.
Mooseheads Assistant Coach Jim Midgley's take: "He's a top prospect and I'm sure he's got a lot of pressure on him, but he doesn't say it or show it. He's a guy who is in the spotlight and I think he's handled himself real well, on the ice and off the ice. He's got tremendous skill and tremendous upside and he's just going to continue to grow and mature as he gets older and continues on in his career."
2. Jonathan Drouin, LW – Halifax Mooseheads
As impressive as MacKinnon was this season, his linemate Jonathan Drouin was actually more productive in this, his first full season in the QMJHL. In just 49 games, Drouin potted 41 goals and finished with 105 points, narrowly missing the QMJHL scoring lead despite missing 19 games. Furthermore, as a member of Team Canada, Drouin worked his way up the lineup, eventually filling a top six role as a 17-year-old and contributing two goals and four points in six games.
Just like his partner in crime MacKinnon, Drouin found another gear in the playoffs. He led the QMJHL in post season scoring with 12 goals and 35 points in 17 games. In Memorial Cup play, he added another goal and nine points in four games to his tally.
NHL Central Scouting Bureau's Kim Houston's take: "He's got incredible puck skills and he's got an incredible sense of where everybody's at. He's a special player in terms of his puck skills and he plays so well with his feet too, foot-to-stick, and he just knows to leverage, with a low center of gravity and uses the energy from the opponent to spin and jive and to come out of the corners. He's just so difficult to stop."
3. Valentin Zykov, RW – Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Zykov may not be as flashy as the dynamic duo from Halifax, but he was a crucial part of the Drakkar attack that eventually faced the Mooseheads in the QMJHL finals. Coming to North America from Russia amid little fanfare, Zykov adapted quickly and soon was potting rebounds and scoring goals with regularity. He ended the season with 40 goals to go along with 75 points in 67 games. In the playoffs, he averaged a point-per-game with ten goals and 19 points in 19 games.
4. Frederik Gauthier, C – Rimouski Oceanic
Like Zykov, this season was Frederik Gauthier's first in the QMJHL, but their backgrounds could not be any more different. Gauthier initially was considering the NCAA route before changing his mind and joining the Oceanic.
Much was expected from both Gauthier and Rimouski but after a strong season that saw the big pivot put up 22 goals and 60 points in 62 games, the team flared out in the playoffs and were eliminated in the first round. Gauthier found himself limited to just two assists in the six game series. He was able to redeem himself during the World Under-18 Junior Championship, however. As a member of Team Canada, Gauthier had a goal and four points in seven games as the Canadians came home with the gold medal.
Oceanic General Manager Philippe Boucher's take: "He brings a little bit of everything. His size and strength up the middle. He can play in all situations, that's one thing that's rare for a player his age. A lot of kids come in with high offensive abilities, but the defensive side of the game is a little harder to understand. He came in the other way. We knew from the get go that he was going to be very responsible defensively and he could play against top lines and against top players. And then his offensive side really picked up. He plays a lot of minutes and he's a player that we don't see too often in the Quebec League, to be honest. A center, with size and strength and feet. He's a good skater. He could benefit from being a bit more physical, but he takes up so much space on the ice. He just brings a bit of everything."
5. Anthony Mantha, RW – Val-d'Or Foreurs
Thanks to his late 1994 birthday, Anthony Mantha was only a few hours away from being considered as part of last year's draft class. In any case, in 2013, Mantha made the most of his extra experience as he potted 50 goals in 67 games for the Val-d'Or Foreurs. Finishing with 89 points, Mantha continued to fire pucks by opposing goaltenders in the playoffs, where he added another five goals and 13 points in nine games before the Foreurs were retired in the second round.
6. Samuel Morin, D – Rimouski Oceanic
A lengthy playoff run in 2012 set the bar high for the Rimouski Oceanic this season and Samuel Morin was part of the young core tasked with taking the next step in their development. While Morin blew away career offensive totals with four goals and 16 points in 46 games, a knee injury in the second half hampered his play and caused him to miss significant time. Returning for the post-season, he showed increased puck moving vision with a goal and seven points in six games to his credit. Although Rimouski bowed out in the first round, Morin then joined Team Canada at the Under-18 World Junior Championship. He helped the team win the gold with two assists over the course of seven games.
Oceanic General Manager Philippe Boucher's take: "He's truly a hard worker that puts a lot of time in. He spends a lot of time in the gym, does a lot of the extra work. I think he's rounded out his game pretty well. He was always known as a big, tall kid that could be physical but I believe he has an upside offensively. He was on the power-play; he learned to use his shot quicker. He's become a very imposing figure on defense, but also a guy that can bring some offense."
7. Zachary Fucale, G – Halifax Mooseheads
Although he only recently turned 18-years-old, Zachary Fucale has to be one of the most experienced goaltenders eligible for this year's draft and is likely pretty high up on that list among overall goaltenders in the QMJHL.
Among the league leaders in minutes played over his previous two seasons, Fucale was able to lower his goals-against average in his sophomore season down to 2.35, while raising his save percentage up to .909 and carrying a sterling 45-5-2-1-2 record into the post season. Shutting things down even more tightly in the playoffs, he lost only once in 17 games and had a 2.02 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. Faced with goals aplenty in the Memorial Cup, his 3.52 goals-against and .902 save percentage was enough to backstop the Mooseheads to victory.
NHL Central Scouting Bureau's Kim Houston's take: "He's one of the best positional goalies that I've ever seen. You always hear the old saying, do more by doing less. Well, he seems to understand that quite well. He always knows exactly where to be and he plays exceptionally well when the puck is down low, below the goal line. He has great awareness of where to be and he's very quick post-to-post and squaring up. He has a real good feel for the game and he does a pretty good job of controlling his rebounds and if there is a rebound, he knows where it's at and he'll get squared up for the second shot. He always makes the save at the critical point in the game. He always keeps you in the game. He's probably the best goalie that I've seen since maybe [Roberto] Luongo when he was with Bathurst."
8. Adam Erne, RW – Quebec Remparts
Like the Rimouski Oceanic, plenty was expected from the draft-eligible talents of the Quebec Remparts, and Adam Erne led that charge. Improving on his rookie season totals by 17 points, Erne finished the year with 28 goals and 72 points in 68 games. Unfortunately for Quebec, they found themselves eliminated in the second round of the playoffs and Erne posted five goals and 10 points in 11 games.
Remparts Associate Coach Martin Laperriere's take: "A power forward like that, you just can't pass up. He's a goal scorer, tough to play against in the corners. The style of play that he has, not too many teams have guys like that, so I'm glad he's playing for us."
9. William Carrier, LW – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
It was what can only be described as a disappointing year for William Carrier and the Screaming Eagles. Not only did the Eagles finish last in the league, winning just 14 games, but Carrier was forced to miss the second half of the season with an injury, a dreadful blow to his draft stock. In the 34 games that he did play, Carrier posted 16 goals and 42 points, building off his previous season which saw him tally 70 points in 66 games. Born in late 1994, Carrier does have an extra year of experience under his belt which should help his case.
Screaming Eagles Head Coach and General Manager Marc-Andre Dumont's take: "He's a terrific player. He's a power forward, he can hit, he can shoot, and he can pass. He's got tremendous stick handling and he's a very intense player. He's got a fantastic toolbox. He's a leader on the ice, no doubt. He leads our offense; he leads the energy level in all situations. When the game is on the line, he's the type of player that's going to make the key play for the game to turn to your side. That's the kind of impact that he has on the team and he's been a very important player for us."
10. Laurent Dauphin, C – Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Like a handful of other players on this list, this season was Laurent Dauphin's first year in the QMJHL and he made the most of the opportunity. Not only did he put up 25 goals and 57 points in 62 games as well as another two goals and four points in 6 playoff matches, but Dauphin came out of nowhere to be the marquee story of the CHL Top Prospects Game. Named as an injury replacement, Dauphin was the player of the game, scoring a goal and an assist to pace Team Orr to a 3-0 win over Team Cherry. Not a bad way to get his name on the radar of the assembled masses of scouts and NHL team officials. He further strengthened his case at the Under-18's where he scored four goals and had six points in seven games to help Canada win the gold.
Philippe Desrosiers, G – Rimouski Oceanic
Jonathan-Ismael Diaby, D – Victoriaville Tigres
Anthony Duclair, LW – Quebec Remparts
Jan Kostalek, D – Rimouski Oceanic
Yan Pavel Laplante, C – PEI Rocket/Charlottetown Islanders
Gabriel Paquin-Boudreau, LW – Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Emile Poirier, LW – Gatineau Olympiques
Marc-Olivier Roy, C – Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Nick Sorensen, RW – Quebec Remparts
Mackenzie Weegar, D – Halifax Mooseheads