While the QMJHL may not always get the same amount of credit for producing NHL talent as its fellow CHL leagues, this year’s crop of draft eligible players feature plenty of talent. Not only does it include two players who were thought to be early challengers for the chance to be the top pick overall, but also an interesting number of defensemen from a league not known for producing blue liner.
1. Jakub Voracek, RW, Halifax Mooseheads
DOB: August 15, 1989; Height: 6’1; Weight: 188 lbs.
All eyes were on Voracek after the Mooseheads traded up to draft him first overall in the 2006 CHL Import Draft. However, it all paid off as the native of Slany, Czech Republic led the team in points with 86 in 59 games, 23 of them goals. These totals were enough to lead all QMJHL rookies and eventually led to Voracek winning the Michel-Bergeron as the top offensive rookie in the QMJHL. Incredibly, he was able to pick up his game even more when the post-season rolled around, scoring at a two-points-per-game pace throughout the Mooseheads surprising playoff run. His seven goals and 25 points placed him second among all QMJHL rookies, despite playing in just two playoff rounds.
Kim Houston of the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau calls him a special player and his own coach, Cam Russell says it is a privilege to work with him. There is little doubt that this Czech playmaker will be the first player selected from the QMJHL at this year’s draft, and he has a good shot at being amongst the top five picks. A talented puck handler with great vision on the ice, Voracek is considered to be closer to playing in the NHL than many of his fellow 2007 eligibles, thanks to his size and maturity on the ice. These factors also contribute to him being thought as a relatively "safe pick".
Although small bumps such as a poor showing at the NHL’s Draft Combine and a relatively invisible campaign at the World Juniors may have knocked him out of being in competition for the top spot in the draft, Voracek remains one of the premier talents this year.
2. Angelo Esposito, C, Quebec Remparts
DOB: February 20, 1989; Height: 6’1; Weight: 180 lbs.
Once considered a surefire threat for the number one spot after a dominant rookie season, Esposito saw his stock fall during his sophomore campaign with the Quebec Remparts. It should be noted that even the most hardened optimist should not have expected him to top or even match, last year’s 98-point Memorial Cup-winning performance. Taking on a greater role with the younger Remparts squad, and playing with far less experienced line mates, Esposito finished his second season with a modest 27 goals and 79 points in 60 games, good enough for third on the team. He also put forth a solid performance for Team Canada in the World under-18 championships, captaining a team that included fellow soon-to-be draftees Kyle Turris and Logan Couture.
As far as his offensive game goes, Esposito’s puck-handling and creative talents are on par with many of the best to have come through the QMJHL in the past several seasons. He is an excellent skater with great drive to the net and excellent hands. While he does run into occasional consistency issues, and could stand to work harder in traffic, the biggest of the rumored concerns – that of his attitude – has been far blown out of proportion.
Esposito possesses perhaps the greatest offensive upside in the entire draft, and provided he remains focused, could make whichever team selects him. The deeper he falls in the draft, the greater the reward could be. Given the intense scrutiny he has played through since being placed under the microscope, Esposito will be no stranger to pressure.
3. David Perron, C, Lewiston MAINEiacs
DOB: May 28, 1988; Height: 5’11; Weight: 183 lbs.
Playing in relative obscurity last year, Perron burst on the scene in 2006-07 as an 18-year-old rookie in the QMJHL. He led the Lewiston MAINEiacs in scoring during the regular season with 83 points, including 39 goals in 70 games. This placed him second amongst all QMJHL rookies. He was also the top scorer for Lewiston during their playoff run to the President Cup, leading all rookies and coming in third overall in the league with 12 goals and 28 points in 17 games.
Having played the previous season in Quebec Junior AAA, Perron definitely opened many eyes throughout the season, as he rose steadily on most draft lists throughout the year. A stick handling wizard, Perron excels when controlling the play down low and is very hard to knock off the puck. Having made considerable improvements to his game over the course of a single season, the sky is the limit for this Sherbrooke, Quebec native.
However, it must be noted that he is a year older than the majority of the draft class, which is a significant difference at such a crucial time during a prospect’s development. Clem Jodoin, the former coach of the MAINEiacs, now with the Rimouski organization, refused to speculate on how he fit in with this year’s draft class, stating he disliked comparisons. While Perron’s age may be an attribute in some areas, it may also work against him in others. He should hear his name called in the second half of the first round or early in the second.
4. Logan MacMillan, C, Halifax Mooseheads
DOB: July 5, 1989; Height: 6’2; Weight: 187 lbs.
MacMillan is one of several QMJHL draft eligibles who come from NHL bloodlines. Both his father, Bob, a veteran of 11 seasons, and his uncle, Bill, a veteran of seven seasons, both played in the NHL. Given the safe, consistent, motivated game that MacMillan brings to the ice, chances are high that at some point in the next several seasons, the MacMillan clan will be able to boast a third NHL regular.
MacMillan was originally drafted by the Halifax Mooseheads in the second round of the 2005 Midget Draft. He made the team out of camp in his first try, playing the bulk of the season on the fourth line, before slowly moving up the depth chart. He finished his rookie season with nine goals and nine assists. MacMillan was paired with Czech import (and top ranked QMJHLer) Jakub Voracek early in the season, and both clicked immediately, serving as one of the more potent offensive duos in the East Division. MacMillan finished the regular season with 55 points, but it was the playoffs where he made his biggest impression. MacMillan and Voracek were dominant in the playoffs, helping Halifax to the second round in a rebuilding season. He finished second on the team with 20 points in only 12 games.
MacMillan is a strong two-way forward who brings a solid effort to every shift. He will likely have to rely on his strong defensive game more so than his modest offensive skills to succeed at the next level. However, one roadblock to his game is that his skating is not great. "I still need to improve my skating, to just get quicker right off the hop," MacMillan said, in an interview with Hockey’s Future this past December. His coach, Cam Russell, agrees, stating that "with the new NHL, […] you have to be quick; you have to be a good skater."
5. T.J. Brennan, D, St. John’s Fog Devils
DOB: April 3, 1989; Height: 6’0; Weight: 189 lbs.
Brennan had a massive rookie season for the St. John’s Fog Devils. Going undrafted in the CHL, Brennan, a Willingbord, New Jersey native, who played local hockey in Philadelphia in 2005-06, was signed as a free agent by the Newfoundland-based squad prior to training camp, and made the team after an impressive pre-season. Immediately jumping into the top defensive pairing for the young squad, Brennan displayed great offensive ability, bringing excellent puck movement from the point, and quarterbacking the developing team’s power play. As a rookie, he finished the season with 16 goals and 41 points, good enough for fifth on the team in scoring (and first among defensemen). Just as impressive was his modest -8 rating, also tops among the team’s blue liners. The league offices did not overlook Brennan’s performance, as he was named the defensive rookie of the year.
Brennan is a bit of a boom or bust prospect, given the relatively raw nature of his game, contrasted against his excellent offensive game. Brennan is a strong skater with good creativity with the puck both in his own end and controlling the play in the offensive zone, and boasts a cannonading slap shot from the point. He also brings respectable defensive coverage and a bit of a physical tinge to the table.
6. Ruslan Bashkirov, RW, Quebec Remparts
DOB: January 25, 1989; Height: 6’0; Weight: 184 lbs.
Drafted alongside his brother by the Remparts at the 2006 CHL Import Draft, Ruslan Bashkirov stood out as the better of the two over the course of the QMJHL season. Although his brother Roman outscored him slightly, by a single point, it should be noted that Ruslan played in six less games. Ruslan finished the year with 30 goals and 67 points in 64 games, which placed him fifth in QMJHL rookie scoring. He was not as productive when the playoffs rolled around, however, with just a goal and four points in five post-season matches.
The larger of the two Bashkirov twins, Ruslan is expected to much higher on draft day, thanks to his NHL style game. Possessing great skills handling the puck, decent speed and a healthy dose of grit, he should hear his name called in the second or third round. Says Central Scouting’s Kim Houston: "He really caught my eye."
7. Kevin Marshall, D, Lewiston MAINEiacs
DOB: March 10, 1989; Height: 6’0; Weight: 193 lbs.
After a solid rookie season with the Lewiston MAINEiacs where he scored one goal and 11 points in 60 games, Marshall stepped into a much larger role in his sophomore year with the club. Not only did his offensive production almost triple, finishing the year with five goals and 32 points in 70 games, but Marshall was also on of the team’s top defensive defensemen. He was counted upon to play quality minutes against some of the league’s top talents and throw them off their game with his gritty play. If his 141 penalty minutes and +34 rating are any indication, it was mission accomplished for the Boucherville, Quebec native. It was more of the same when the playoffs rolled around, with Marshall contributing seven points, all of them assists and 38 penalty minutes in the seventeen games it took Lewiston to win the President Cup.
A real competitor, Marshall revels in making the opposition’s life difficult when they enter the zone. Although he has continued to improve his offensive play, Marshall’s main focus remains on his own zone, where he excels at keeping opponents on their toes. His hard-nosed style is becoming known for throwing players and indeed whole teams off their game, as they are always watching for him before they venture into corners. Not bad for a player in just his second year in the league.
8. David Stich, D, Saint John Sea Dogs
DOB: April 15, 1989; Height: 6’2; Weight: 209 lbs.
Another QMJHL rookie coming from Europe, Stich entered a slightly difficult situation with the Saint John Sea Dogs. Although playing on such a young blue line afforded him a few opportunities he might not have had elsewhere, being on a weak team seemed to take its toll at times in terms of his adjustment with North America. In 56 games with the Sea Dogs, Stich scored four goals, including three on the powerplay and finished with 19 points and 115 penalty minutes.
Coming from the Czech Republic to Saint John, New Brunswick would take a bit of adjustment for most anybody. Although Stich took some time to adapt to the new surroundings, the tools are there for him to be a solid defensive defenseman. "There’s definitely some skill there and he’s a big and strong kid, so I think he’s going to be ok," said Kim Houston.
9. Keven Veilleux, C, Victoriaville Tigres
DOB: June 27, 1989; Height: 6’5; Weight: 200 lbs.
After playing in just 33 games with Victoriaville in his rookie season, Veilleux stuck around for the entire 2006-07 season and was a key contributor to the Tigres attack. He improved his goals total from two to 20, and his points total from 15 to 55. His early success in the season (33 points before the change in the calendar) led to him rocketing up some draft lists and although he cooled off in the second part of the year, he still opened some eyes with his skill.
While size is not as important as it once was in the NHL, it’s hard to ignore what Veilleux brings to the table. Despite boasting an impressive frame, he is not hampered by it as much as large players usually are when they are younger and has very good mobility. His play did tail off dramatically during the second half and he may not always use his physical tools as effectively as he could, but there’s plenty of potential inside that big body. He definitely is a project that might pay off fabulously for a team in a few seasons.
10. Maxime Tanguay, C, Rimouski Oceanic
DOB: November 16, 1988; Height: 5’11; Weight: 172 lbs.
Another QMJHL eligible with NHL bloodlines, Tanguay is an offensive weapon, much like his brother, Calgary Flames forward, Alex Tanguay. Tanguay began his QMJHL career with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. He never really found his groove there, shuffling around lines and lacking consistency. It was not until his trade to Rimouski that he began displaying his offensive talents in earnest. The late-1988 forward finished his third QMJHL season with 60 points in 54 games, posting career highs in all categories. He also proved to be a decent option in the face-off circle, using his low center of gravity to his advantage. Tanguay was selected to play in the Canada-Russia challenge series, but missed it due to injury.
Maxime is a dynamic offensive talent, with great stick handling ability and vision, and has good finish with some decent skating ability. Tanguay’s slight frame, however, is immediately noticeable. He will have to work on his upper-body strength to make up for his small size. Due to being so slight, he plays a bit of a timid game, and will have to work on improving his toughness. He also ran into consistency issues after a quick start to the season. Playing for a potent Rimouski squad next season should help remedy those issues.
11. Antoine Lafleur, G, P.E.I. Rocket
DOB: December 12, 1988; Height: 6’4; Weight: 184 lbs.
Lafleur made headlines in the 2005-06 season by being credited with a goal in his first QMJHL game (something that many all-time offensive greats have not accomplished); "scoring" after an errant back-pass went into the Halifax Mooseheads net on a delayed penalty. But teams will not be drafting Lafleur on the basis of his goal-scoring ability. Boasting great size and flexibility, the hybrid-butterfly net minder from Gatineau, Quebec is the top ranked goaltender from the Q’ this season.
Lafleur played well, albeit sparingly in his rookie season. Expecting to see more of a role in his second season, it was not until veteran teammate Ryan Mior faltered in late-October before Lafleur began making his mark. Winning four of his five starts, Lafleur did not look back, and Mior was eventually traded. Lafleur went 17-10 after the trade deadline, helping lead the Rocket to the playoffs.
Lafleur is a hard worker with a calm demeanor under pressure, but is not without faults. His lateral movement is a bit slow, and his rebound control could still use some work, but his poised, consistent play has helped him get out of many a pressured situation.
12. Maxim Gratchev, LW, Rimouski Oceanic
DOB: September 26, 1988; Height: 5’11; Weight: 198 lbs.
While he is Russian born, Gratchev has spent the last few years playing hockey in North America. Just missing the cut to be eligible to be drafted last year, Gratchev emerged as an offensive talent during his third year in the QMJHL thanks to a increased responsibility with Rimouski. He split his 2005-06 season between Quebec and Rimouski, finishing the year with 11 goals and 27 points in 55 games. A full season with the Oceanic led to an explosive draft year with 35 goals and 77 points in 70 games.
Talented with the puck and an excellent skater, Gratchev plays a solid two-way game and isn’t afraid to get his nose dirty. "He’s a big strong guy and it just seemed that when the chips were down, he picked his game up," notes Kim Houston. While teams have shied away from drafting Russians for the past few years due to the lack of transfer agreement between Russia and the NHL, Gratchev’s decision to play in North America ensures he won’t need to adjust to a different culture.
13. Olivier Fortier, C, Rimouski Oceanic
DOB: May 2, 1989; Height: 5’11; Weight: 168 lbs.
Fortier is a strong two-way centerman with some good offensive upside. After a rookie season spent largely on the fourth line, Fortier took on an increased offensive role with the Rimouski Oceanic this past season, posting 64 points in 69 games. A great skater with a strong work ethic and a willingness to get involved physically in spite of his relatively slight frame, Fortier will be an integral player for Rimouski next season, on what will be a vastly improved team.
While he does bring good offensive skills to the table, it will likely be his defensive game that helps carry Fortier at the next level. He is a hard worker with good neutral zone shutdown ability, and plays both the penalty kill and the power play. Playing on the checking line is nothing new for Fortier, as that was his primary role during the World Under-18 hockey championships this past April. He projects to be a good third line forward with the ability to chip in 15 goals a season.
14. Alex Grant, D, Saint John Sea Dogs
DOB: January 20, 1989; Height: 6’2; Weight: 185 lbs.
A year ago, Grant was viewed as one of the top 2007 eligible defensemen from the QMJHL. As a 16-year-old with a weak expansion team, he was one of the few bright spots, finishing with four goals and 13 points in 47 games, while also impressing many with his poised play. But his stock has fallen slightly after a season rife with struggles and inconsistency. He finished the 2006-07 season with 12 goals and 32 points in 68 games, along with 108 penalty minutes. This is obviously a marked improvement, stats wise, but more was expected from the Nova Scotia native.
At the end of the day, he still has all the tools to be a solid two-way blueliner. He has great mobility, is positionally sound in his own end and possesses some offensive upside that could make a team very happy with their selection in a few years.
15. Chris DiDomenico, C, Saint John Sea Dogs
DOB: February 20, 1989; Height: 5’11; Weight: 165 lbs.
Chris DiDomenico went undrafted in the OHL, and the Saint John Sea Dogs offered the Toronto native an invite to their training camp, following the path of several others, including Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux, to the QMJHL. DiDomenico played very well during training camp and earned a spot out of camp. While he displayed flashes of offensive ability, few expected the output he produced at the start of the season. DiDomenico led the abysmal Sea Dogs in goals (25), assists (50), and points (75), and earned a spot on the QMJHL All-Rookie Team.
DiDomenico displays excellent offensive ability coupled with very solid play on his own side of the red line. He is a great playmaker with great hockey sense. He has a slight frame, however, and not much of a physical dimension. His skating, too, needs some work. Adding muscle and working on his all-around body strength will be a priority for DiDomenico for next season.
16. David Skokan, C, Rimouski Oceanic
DOB: December 6th, 1988; Height: 6’0; Weight: 203 lbs.
Joining the Oceanic two seasons ago, Skokan spent his first season adjusting to the rigors of the QMJHL, scoring six goals and finishing with 21 points in 53 games. In his second year in North America, the Slovakian had a modest improvement on those numbers with 14 goals and 35 points in 52 games.
A talented player with the puck, Skokan is willing to play with a bit of a chip on his shoulder but at times lacks the goal-scorer’s nose to bury the puck in the net or the creativity to make a play. Much more is expected from the forward, as the tools are all there, but the results are not.
17. Jean-Simon Allard, C, St. John’s Fog Devils
DOB: May 24, 1989; Height: 6’2; Weight: 192 lbs.
Allard showed great progression in his second season with the middling St. John’s Fog Devils, picking up 50 points (12 of which were goals), seeing much of time centering the second line. Many nights, he looked as if he could skate through anyone. The primary concern in his game, however, is that he does not bring that determination to the ice every game. If he could improve his consistency and work ethic, Allard could be a force.
Allard is a great, fluid skater and has excellent hands. Despite his size, he does not bring much of a physical game to the table, and could stand to work harder in traffic. He is a versatile player, and played in all situations with the Fog Devils last season. If he can improve his all-around game to match his offensive ability, Allard could be a shrewd mid-round pick.
18. Mario Kempe, RW, St. John’s Fog Devils
DOB: September 19, 1988; Height: 6’0; Weight: 180 lbs.
A product of the MODO program in Sweden, Kempe came across the Atlantic after being selected by St. John’s in the CHL import draft. Kempe brought an up-tempo game to the table for the Fog Devils this season, showcasing great skating ability, strong drive to the net, and a tinge of physicality. He finished fourth on the team in points with 42 and second in goals with 23.
While he is comfortable in the offensive end, driving the net and using his decent size to mix it up along the wall, his defensive play needs some work. Kempe could be intriguing energy line option in the future if he can improve his defensive responsibility to complement his energetic offensive game.
19. Charles-Antoine Messier, C, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
DOB: November 4th, 1988; Height: 5’10; Weight: 176 lbs.
Like most second year players, Messier enjoyed a marked improvement in his sophomore year. After scoring four goals and finishing with 15 points in 57 games for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in 2005-06, Messier stepped his game up a notch for his second season with the Drakkar. In 69 games, he potted 27 goals and finished with 48 points along with 67 penalty minutes.
An offensive forward, Messier was traded in the off-season to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. While his offensive skills are there, he lacks the physical dimension to his game which will help him succeed at the next level. He will need to continue to round out of his play in order to move on.
20. Simon Lacroix, D, Shawinigan Cataractes
DOB: May 29, 1989; Height: 6’2; Weight: 180 lbs.
Lacroix, like his fellow rookie offensive defenseman T.J. Brennan, was undrafted in the QMJHL. Also like Brennan, Lacroix made the QMJHL All-Rookie Team. Lacroix had a great first season, bringing solid two-way play to the table, regularly making the safe, smart play when exiting the zone. He is also a good skater and plays a solid positional game, with a hint of physical play.
Lacroix finished his rookie campaign with 11 goals and 38 points, all tops among Shawinigan’s young defensive corps. While Lacroix does not perform exceedingly well in a single area of play, he brings a very competent all-around game to the table, and should be a safe mid-to-late round pick who can play in a third defensive pairing and see some power play time.
Roman Bashkirov, LW – Quebec Remparts: The downfall to having a twin who also plays hockey at such a high level (and on the same team) is the constant comparisons. While brother Ruslan is thought to be the better prospect, Roman showed he also possesses plenty of talent, outscoring his brother during the regular season as well as during playoffs.
Adam Bourque-Leblanc, D – Shawinigan Cataractes: Bourque-Leblanc is a solid stay-at-home defenseman who does not mind the physical game, in spite of his modest 6’2, 194-pound frame. His offensive game has developed a bit more in the past season. His skating is suspect, and if that is not remedied soon, will hinder any pro aspirations.
Jonathan Carrier, D – Gatineau Olympiques: Carrier, a late-1988, brings good puck-moving ability and a physical tinge to the table with his 6’4, 200-pound frame. He was hampered greatly by injuries in this his third QMJHL season. If he can stay healthy, he could be a great late-round steal.
Raffael D’Orso, G – Val D’Or Foreurs: After pushing Alexandre Vincent for half the season, D’Orso found himself riding the bench once Val D’Or acquired Jeremy Duchesne. A talented goaltender, he may have slipped off the radar of some teams after barely playing in the second half, but he’s due for more minutes next season.
Matt Fillier, C – St. John’s Fog Devils: A lunch-pail and hard hat kind of player, Fillier might never light the league on fire with his offensive exploits, but his hard work and determination cannot be questioned.
Nicola Riopel, G – Moncton Wildcats: Riopel is a 5’11 butterfly net minder from St-Pie-de-Bagot, Quebec. He burst onto the scene with a 50-save performance in his QMJHL debut, but split time for the rest of the season. Riopel faltered when given chances in the playoffs (though so did his crease-mate).
Kevin Forbes and Phil Laugher contributed to this article.
Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.