2008 prospects: Cormier, Cornet & Neron

By Kevin Forbes

Sometime prior to the 2007-08 season, a bus carrying the Rimouski Oceanic must have crossed paths with a black cat, while going under a ladder and breaking a mirror — repeated that feat 13 times. How else can one explain a season that saw injuries ravage through the team like an uncontrollable wildfire? As Rimouski’s coach Clem Jodoin explained, "We had a roster of 25 players and we had to recall players, so that tells you how bad it was. At times we were missing 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 players."

Still the team persevered through the troubles and finished seventh in their division, setting up a first-round matchup against the No. 2 ranked Baie-Comeau Drakkar. Finally healthy, the Oceanic played up to their potential and dispatched the Drakkar quite handily in five games. Unfortunately, they were just as easily eliminated in the second round by the No. 1 ranked Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.

With two or maybe three years of misfortune all dispatched over the course of the 2007-08 season, the Rimouski Oceanic have to be in for a streak of good luck. Fortunately for them, they are hosting the 2009 Memorial Cup and therefore are guaranteed a berth. With a young talented team, almost all of the players from the past season should be returning to the squad. In fact, three of those players are hoping to hear their named called at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Philippe Cornet, Patrice Cormier and Alexandre Neron were all selected in the first round of the 2006 QMJHL Draft by Rimouski, picked 2nd, 5th and 6th respectively. After all three played in a limited role for the team as 16-year-olds, each player faced a challenging 2007-08 season and now are hoping to rebound, starting with being selected at the NHL Entry Draft.

Patrice Cormier, C
Height: 6’1; Weight: 199 lbs.

When Coach Jodoin describes Cormier’s 2007-08 season as "a tough year", he doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the hardships that the New Brunswick native found himself enduring. It’s likely that all these injuries can be traced back to a burst appendix suffered prior to the U-18 Ivan Hlinka tournament. The appendix required surgery and derailed his offseason training regimen, putting him in a state where he was constantly playing catch up all season long. Soon enough, Cormier was over-exerting himself and being put at a higher risk for continued injury. The continued injury did happen, first with a concussion and then with a pair of shoulder injuries as first one, then the other knocked him out of the lineup.

When healthy, Cormier is a strong center, mixing size and scoring ability into a package that can dominant the ice on so many levels. He played in all situations for the Oceanic, seeing time both on the powerplay and on the penalty-kill. As his coach explained, "he has to improve on his skating, strong kid, strong one-on-one, good hockey sense, just a question of mileage. This year was not a good year for him because of the injuries, but he’s going to get there."

In the 51 games that Cormier did play in, he scored 18 goals and had 41 points, a 20-point improvement over the previous season after playing in a similar amount of games. During the playoffs, Cormier was a big reason why the team beat Baie-Comeau, with four goals and nine points in nine playoff games.

Much is expected from Cormier in the 2008-09 season, especially to see how he rebounds from such a disappointing draft year. Indeed, entering the draft weekend, Cormier’s likely draft position is a big question mark; with some considering the big center either a sleeper or a gamble. Central Scouting’s Kim Houston explained the situation, "you can’t draft somebody you haven’t seen. Your GMs and Head Scouts’ jobs are on the line and they’re not going to draft someone that they haven’t seen or don’t know about. Without having seen him, that’s what will happen. He’s a good player and he’s got solid skills. But if you’re not seen, it makes it tough, when there’s other guys on the list that a team might be more familiar with. I know that he’s going to be a pretty good player, he’s going to pan out."

Philippe Cornet, C
Height: 6’0; Weight: 180 lbs.

A very different player from his teammate (and early season linemate) Cormier, Philippe Cornet had his own injury bug strike with a foot injury keeping him off his skates for a few weeks during the season. Despite the setback, Cornet was able to play in 61 games, scoring 23 goals and ending with 49 points, placing him fourth on the team in scoring. Healthy for the playoff run, Cornet had three goals and six points in the nine playoff games, placing him tied for third on the team in post-season scoring.

More of a dynamic player, Cornet makes a name for himself as a scoring forward. Coach Jodoin describes him as "a natural touch. He’s got the skills. He still needs to get stronger physically but he’s got a good head. He’s got good vision; he sees the ice and can score." Though Cornet did not normally see regular power-play time, the injury situation led to him seeing some extra shifts with the man advantage and as a result, he scored three goals on the power play.

Cornet often finds himself battling with players who are bigger and stronger than he is. Unfortunately, at this stage in his game, he often was on the losing end of those battles, which could be why his coach identifies both strength and skating as the two things that he needs to improve on. With an extra step of quickness and the ability to fight through opposing checkers, Cornet could become a force in the league.

Alexandre Neron, D
Height: 6’0; Weight: 180 lbs.

A perfect example of the disconnect between scouting and statistics is Alexander Neron. Despite his calling as an offensive-minded defender, Neron posted just six points in his first 22 games of the season. Although he improved to finish the year with ten goals and 44 points in 69 games, it isn’t his game today that teams are interested in, but rather where his game is going to be in the future.

Coach Jodoin praises Neron’s commitment to making himself a better player, noting that he’s always in the gym and that he recognized the fact that he needs to get faster and stronger to make up for his average size for the defenseman. He describes Neron as a player with "a really good head. He’s got a good shot, he just has to keep competing harder one-on-one, meaner one-on-one and the rest of his game will get there."