2008 prospects: Kelsey Tessier & Mikhail Stefanovich

By Kevin Forbes

It’s hard to dismiss the effect that Patrick Roy has had on the Quebec Remparts. In each of the three seasons since he stepped behind the bench for the team, the Remparts have posted a winning record and they also won the 2006 Memorial Cup. Due to a combination of slick drafting and shrewd trades, Roy, who also owns the club and serves as its general manager, has been able to keep the team consistently competitive, a rarity in the world of junior hockey.

Though the Remparts claim they are still going through a rebuilding process from the Memorial Cup win, Quebec assistant coach Martin Laperriere admits that "we’re planning to get a crack at the Memorial Cup, maybe even next year or in two years." He also points out that "we’re the second youngest team in the league according to league stats, so our future is looking very good, because of a young core."

Two of the players in that young core are Kelsey Tessier and Mikhail Stefanovich and both players are expected to be selected in the top half of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Kelsey Tessier, C
Height: 5’9; Weight: 172 lbs.

For most of Kelsey Tessier‘s hockey playing career, he has been told he was too small to succeed. Luckily for the Quebec Remparts, he chose not to listen. Over the course of his two seasons in the QMJHL, Tessier has become a legitimate scoring threat every time he steps on the ice.

Dropping all the way to the fifth round in the QMJHL draft, Tessier made the Remparts out of camp and scored 23 goals and 50 points in the 63 games he played in his rookie season. In the five playoff games that followed, Tessier provided a taste of what was to come, finishing with six points.

He broke out offensively in 2007-08, scoring 36 times and finishing with 81 points in 68 games to lead the Remparts in scoring, outscoring even 2007 first rounder Angelo Esposito. He continued his torrid pace with eight goals and 15 points in 11 playoff games. Remparts’ assistant coach Martin Laperriere calls him an integral part of the Quebec offense noting that "he has the ability to create offense on the rush, plays the half-wall on the power play. He’s the guy you want to get the puck to set up the play in the offensive zone. He has a decent shot, a quick release, especially his wrist shot and he sees the play well. He can play in every aspect of the game, obviously plays first-string power play, plays PK, able to read the puck, so with guys like that, they’re good with the puck, but he’s also very good without the puck, so that’s a bit of an asset that he has."

Maybe even more importantly than his on-ice skills is his off-ice temperament, as Laperriere explains, "One of the things that I admire a lot about him is his leadership style. Even at 16, last year, he didn’t talk much, but you always saw that he had a presence in the room and this year already he imposes himself and the guys already look up to him as a leader and it’s almost a sure thing that he’s going to be our captain next year." Laperriere continued, "We didn’t put any pressure on him in regards to stats but he’s a guy that challenges himself every game. You have to admire a guy that if you have a gym session, you don’t have a mandatory gym, you leave it open and he still shows up. On and off the ice, he’s very serious about his hockey career. He’s a class act. He knows both languages which is a good thing to have here in Quebec. He’s really well liked in the community also."

A all-around center, Tessier survives against larger players by a mixture of wits and determination. He would benefit from increased mobility as the physical grind of the season seemed to wear at him at times, especially later on in the year, although Laperriere is quick to note that "he’s a guy that rarely takes a night off and he’s really consistent. If he has a bad game then you know you’re all set for the next couple of weeks, because usually he pulls it together and improves."

Although his size, or lack thereof, is a limitation that he will have to continue to work around for the remainder of his hockey career, Tessier possesses a head for the game that allows him the extra time he would not normally receive on the ice. However, as Laperriere explains, there are still some difficulties. "Obviously if you put a boy in the ring with a 6’4 guy, he’s going to have to use his speed to try and get out of there to take the puck and he does that very well," he said. "As far as beating a tall center, it was not his asset this year, but he does find a way somehow. He might lose a faceoff to a bigger guy but he’s got to find a way to come back and get the puck back from him."

Mikhail Stefanovich, RW
Height: 6’2; Weight: 202 lbs.

If Kelsey Tessier is a small man playing as if he’s much bigger, then it must be the exact opposite for his teammate Mikhail Stefanovich. Although the Belarussian forward is blessed with a 6’2, 202-pound frame, the frequent knock is his failure to consistently use his physical tools to his advantage. One of the top-ranked selections in the CHL Import Draft, Stefanovich was enticed to join the Remparts. As Quebec’s assistant coach Martin Laperriere explains, “When Patrick Roy calls the agent or calls the player or the dad and says I would like for your son to play over here and if he wants to play in the NHL, I can help him out, I can make him a better player. Usually the people listen."

A high-scoring offensive forward, Stefanovich is described by Laperriere as a natural goal scorer. "He has a very heavy wrist shot and he does hit the target that he was aiming for a lot. He’s a big boy that, I think, he’s learning the North American game very well; at first he used to try to deke the players one-on-one and wouldn’t really protect the puck. But he learned that North American style where you need to turn put your back to the guy, use your body to protect the puck. He’s become much stronger, protecting the puck and trying to take it to the hole over the last few months, which was a big plus for us offensively. He’s been playing the point on our power play because of his shot and he’s a guy that can execute plays. He’ll see one pass ahead, so if the puck is coming, he knows he can send it across for the one-touch pass and it will go tape to tape. He sees plays develop one step in advance and that’s a big quality of his."

Placing second among QMJHL rookies in scoring with 66 points in 62 games, while leading all first-year players with 32 goals, one of the knocks on Stefanovich’s game was his consistency and his unwillingness to use his frame to make room for himself on the ice. Laperriere rationalizes that as a part of Stefanovich’s adjustment to a different style of play in North America, saying "he’s never been taught to hit, open-ice or off the boards, so we’re working with him on that, so it’s improving."

Stefanovich saw mainly second line time with the Remparts, as well as playing the point on the power play, sometimes for the full two minutes, to make the best use of his shot. "We started him earlier in the season off wing, on the left wing, because he’s a righty, to try and take advantage of his shot but we ended up moving him back to right wing, because we found it was easier for him to get the puck out of our zone at that point, " explained Laperriere.

Acclimatizing himself to the North American game and culture is a bit of a godsend for the Remparts, as Laperriere admits not all their previous European selections bought into the Quebec system as easily as Stefanovich has. But he’s also quick to note that Stefanovich’s adjustment to the new culture wasn’t easy for the first few months. "We tried to give him all the tools necessary,. We have a translator available, he gets English classes everyday, he understands english very well now. He does speak it, but he’s very shy, so he’s going to have to get past that shyness. He doesn’t like to speak it in front of everybody, but on a one-on-one he understands, whether it’s me or the coach."