The Ottawa Senators have a spotty history drafting from the QMJHL, but the team’s recent looks at the league have been rewarding—both for the current team, and for future iterations.
From 1992 until the turn of the century, the Senators drafted sixteen players from the Q—more than any other developmental league. Of them, just Antoine Vermette and Patrick Traverse would ever receive any love from the team’s fans. Some were derided, like colossal bust Alexandre Daigle. More never played well enough to justify a call-up, most notably goaltender Mathieu Chouinard, whom the team originally thought enough of to draft twice (Chouinard re-entered after failing to sign).
After nine years of disappointment, nobody was surprised when the team took a five-year hiatus from drafting Quebec-based prospects (2001-2005).
Things have improved since then. In 2009, the Senators took a chance on an undersized speedster with a wicked shot—Mike Hoffman from the Drummondville Voltigeurs. He has gone on to become an NHL star, and currently leads Ottawa in goals (15). In 2011, the team selected Gatineau Olympique Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who has grown into a game-breaking role player with offensive upside. Meanwhile, Francis Perron has doubled in value since he was drafted in 2014.
If the Senators were ever reluctant to draft from the QMJHL, that stigma was gone by the time the team sat down at the 2015 NHL Draft. GM Bryan Murray selected three players from the league in the first two rounds. Along with Perron and an American goaltender (also taken in 2015), those youngsters make up the entirety of Ottawa’s junior-level prospect pool.
Thomas Chabot, D, St. John Sea Dogs
Acquired: 1st round (18th overall), 2015
Every year, the U18 World Junior Championships are held just a couple of months before the NHL Draft, so it’s never a surprise to see its top performers called up to the stage early. The slick-skating Thomas Chabot was one of the tourney’s best offensive defencemen, so the Senators were pleased to find him still available at 18th overall. He later justified the selection with a terrific showing at the team’s training camp in September.
Since his inevitable return to the Sea Dogs, he has dominated—racking up 20 points in 22 games. He also shown a drastic improvement in his own end, an assignment the Senators tagged him with when he returned to junior hockey. Chabot was rewarded by Hockey Canada when it named him to the U20 team’s Selection Camp, where he has survived the first round of cuts.
Gabriel Gagne, RW, Victoriaville Tigres
Acquired: 2nd round (36th overall), 2015
Gabriel Gagne has all of the tools to become a big, rangy goal scorer, but this season has not gone well for him. Although he was one of the best players at Ottawa’s Development Camp over the summer, he suffered a charley horse during the annual rookie tournament. He was originally expected to return quickly, but he ended up missing a 26-game chunk of the QMJHL season. At this point, he has only dressed for six games—though he has played well, scoring four goals and three assists.
Filip Chlapik, C, Charlottetown Islanders
Acquired: 2nd round (48th overall), 2015
Filip Chlapik was likely unsurprised when Daniel Sprong made the Pittsburgh Penguins in camp. The bad news is that Chlapik is now the only NHL prospect playing for the Islanders (goaltender aside). As a result, Chlapik and his linemates are frequently playing on different wavelengths, and the frustration is mounting as he struggles to reproduce the offence that he and Sprong conjured on a nightly basis.
The good news is that he will likely join the Czech Republic at the World Junior Championships, should he survive the selection process. There, he could line up alongside talented wingers like Vaclav Karabacek (BUF) and Pavel Zacha (NJD). Perhaps by the time he returns from the tournament, Pittsburgh will have decided to return Sprong to the QMJHL—where he probably still belongs.
Francis Perron, LW, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Acquired: 7th round (190th overall), 2014
When the Senators drafted Perron in 2014, he was a fast, creative winger with the ability to generate offense on a nightly basis. Now, Perron is one of the most underrated prospects in the CHL; another big-time score for Ottawa’s scouting staff. He has contributed at least an assist in every game this season—totalling 24 goals and 32 assist over the course of a 29-game point streak.
The knock on Perron has always been his weight. Though he stands at a reasonable six-feet-tall, he has been pushed around in the past due to his lack of bulk. However, his ability to out-think his opponents has bloomed over the last few seasons. If he gets stronger in the future, he could become one of the team’s most interesting young wingers.
Joey Daccord, G, Muskegon Lumberjacks (USHL)
7th round (199th overall), 2015
Joey Daccord is the only junior-age Senators prospect not playing in the QMJHL. He got shelled a few times in his first few games with the USHL’s Lumberjacks, but the former high school standout has calmed down since then. He has a respectable 8-7-1 record, 2.59 goals-against average, and .907 save percentage. Daccord is a gamble, but he has as much long-term potential as any other goaltender in the system.
Top Performing Non-Junior Prospects
The Senators had several players graduate to the AHL this fall, but none of them have made the jump with grace. Although Nick Paul and Tobias Lindberg started well, Ryan Dzingel is the only player in Binghamton who has played well enough to highlight. He has 21 points (6 goals, 15 assists) in 23 games.
Christian Wolanin has played well during his freshman season with the University of North Dakota, scoring 8 points in 16 games and helping the team to a 9-1 record—tops in the NCHC.
Although Filip Ahl didn’t manage to produce in his 14-game test run with the SHL’s HV71, he has been a game-breaker for the SuperElit squad. In 18 games, the big winger has been too much for defenders to handle—scoring 18 goals and 13 assists. That’s good enough for second in total scoring and tops in points-per-game (1.72).
Prospect of the Month: Colin White
Ottawa’s most valuable prospect over the past month has been Boston College’s Colin White. Although most would likely put Perron here, White gets the nod from me for being one of the most dominant players in what is essentially a men’s league—despite his relatively young age of 18. By comparison, Perron is in his final year of play in a league composed of teenagers.
As a freshman, White has led BC to a 13-2-1 start, scoring 23 points (8 goals, 15 assists) along the way—placing him 3rd in Hockey East scoring, and 7th in the entire NCAA. His efforts have landed him a ticket to Team USA’s Selection Camp, where he should win a roster spot at the World Junior Championships. Although Senators fans will be cheering for Canada as usual, many will also find reason to tune in when the Americans play—so as to support their future difference-making centre.
Follow Kristopher Bras on Twitter via @KristopherBras