The QMJHL produces NHL Draft talent in cycles. The 2014 NHL Draft saw just five players from the league get selected in the first two rounds, while last year’s draft saw five taken in the first round alone and 12 taken in the first two rounds. The 2016 NHL Draft might be another down year for the QMJHL in terms of quantity, but the quality is undeniable.
There is Julien Gauthier, the big-bodied 18-year-old who played for the Canadian World Junior team in December, and Pierre-Luc Dubois, the high-scoring winger with Cape Breton. And then there is everyone else. Barring any late-season surge, it is likely that Gauthier and Dubois are the only two QMJHL players to be taken in the first round of this year’s NHL Draft. Yet, both players could very well be top 10 picks.
1. Julien Gauthier, RW, Val d’Or Foreurs
Midterm CSS Rank: 4
The Val d’Or Foreurs have been a powerhouse in the QMJHL this season. They have three 30-goal scorers and Gauthier, who has 49 points in 43 games, is just sixth on the team in scoring. But the 6’4”, 224-pound winger has been a goal-scoring machine and currently leads the Foreurs in scoring with 39 goals. From the beginning of November to the end of January, Gauthier failed to score in just three of 18 games, not counting the games he played at the 2016 World Juniors. He recorded just two points in five games at the World Juniors, but was used sparingly in a bottom-six role; he did, however, show his versatility there and was an effective checker. His size also stood out at the tournament, as he was easily one of the bigger players.
Gauthier has a late-97 birthday so he is playing in his third season of junior hockey, though his numbers are impressive nonetheless. And he has a track record. Last year, as a 17-year-old, Gauthier finished fifth on the Foreurs in scoring with 73 points in 68 games. He is a similar player to Lawson Crouse (FLA), who was selected 11th overall in last year’s draft, but has a better scoring touch around the net.
2. Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Midterm CSS Rank: 7
It should be no surprise that Pierre-Luc Dubois is sixth in QMJHL scoring. The 6’3”, 203-pound winger was taken fifth overall in the 2014 QMJHL Entry Draft by Cape Breton and has excelled from the moment he first pulled on the team’s jersey. He finished last season with 45 points in 54 games as a 16 year old and, with increased ice time this season, has simply dominated. Dubois has 35 goals and 47 assists in 55 games, including an incredible 17.5 shooting percentage, up from 9.4 percent in his first season. Dubois had a spotty month of October in which he failed to record a point in six of the team’s 12 games but has been a consistent offensive threat ever since; in fact, since the start of November he has been held pointless just eight times in 34 games.
Like Gauthier above him, Dubois has some serious talent on his line, both at even strength and on the power play. He often plays with Evgeny Svechnikov (DET), Maxim Lazarev or Michael Joly, the latter two of whom are undrafted free agents who are point-per-game players. But he has shown the ability to play well regardless of who his linemates are; at the 2016 BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, Dubois scored once and added two assists for Team Orr, while playing alongside fellow QMJHL prospect Pascal Laberge and Jack Kopack of the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.
3. Pascal Laberge, C, Victoriaville Tigres
Midterm CSS Rank: 31
Former QMJHL 2014 second overall pick Pascal Laberge missed time due to injury in December and January this season but he used the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game to improve his draft stock; along with Dubois above him, the highly-talented pivot recorded three points, factoring in on all three Team Orr goals in the team’s 3-2 win (Laberge scored twice). His injuries, however, have been minor and Laberge has more often than not been the Tigres best player in the games he has played this season as, through 46 games, he has a team-leading 58 points.
The Tigres picked up the 6’1”, 173-pound center in a midseason trade with Gatineau last season and he has been the perfect complement to play alongside Maxime Comtois, whom the team selected in the 2015 draft. Combined, the two players have 112 points and are already leading the young Tigres team despite having at least two more years of potentially playing together. Laberge’s most impressive skill is his ability to find the open man, but as shown during the Top Prospects Game he can also bury the puck. In February, Laberge put together a four-game streak in which he totaled 11 assists.
4. Evan Fitzpatrick, G, Sherbrooke Phoenix
Midterm CSS Rank: 2 (NA goalies)
Evan Fitzpatrick may play for the lowly Sherbrooke Phoenix and his numbers might not be overly impressive, but the Mount Pearl, NL native is the type of goaltender that scouts love – he has size (6’4”, 206 lbs.) and a sound technique between the pipes with limited movement.
Fitzpatrick is 14-27 this season with a 3.41 goals-against average and a .896 save percentage. His shining moment came during the CHL Top Prospects Game, when he shut out Team Cherry during his 30+ minutes in the crease.
5. Luke Green, D, Saint John Sea Dogs
Midterm CSS Rank: 37
A small and undersized defender when drafted by the Saint John Sea Dogs in the 2014 QMJHL Entry Draft, Luke Green is now listed at 6’1” and 186 pounds and plays an improved two-way game after being heralded primarily as an offensive defensemen. He was the first overall pick by the Sea Dogs in that draft, so to say he has met expectations thus far might not be accurate, but he has become a first-unit power play quarterback for Saint John – three of his nine goals this season have been with the man advantage – and has consistently logged top-four ice time since the second half of last season.
Green is second among Sea Dogs defensemen in points per game with 30 in 50 games, behind only Thomas Chabot (OTT), who has 31 in 36. Oddly enough, he plays some of his best hockey away from home; he has 20 points in 24 road games as opposed to 10 points in 26 home contests. He is also a +15 on the road and a +4 at home.
6. Frederic Allard, D, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Midterm CSS Rank: 36
Like Gauthier who tops the list, Frederic Allard is a late-97 birthday so he is in his third year of junior hockey. The mobile defenseman surprised many by leading the Sagueneens defenders in scoring in his rookie season with a modest 23 points in 61 games, but he failed to show significant improvement last season; he scored just two goals, down from four in his rookie season and finished the year with 30 points in 62 games. He still led the team’s defensemen in scoring, but it was not the jump in production expected for a talented rearguard with a year of experience under his belt.
But this season the Quebec City native has blossomed into one of the league’s top offensive defensemen, as he is third in league scoring among defensemen with 49 points in 55 games and has a league-leading 10 power play goals. Allard was named the CHL Player of the Week for the week ending Jan. 31st, a week in which he played just two games but recorded six points.
7. Samuel Girard, D, Shawinigan Cataractes
Midterm CSS Rank: 40
Undersized but highly skilled defenseman Samuel Girard could very well be a wild card entering the 2016 NHL Draft. The Roberval, QC native has logged first-pairing minutes since he joined Shawinigan as a rookie last season and has produced at a high level. Last year he was 12th in scoring by a defenseman with 43 points in 64 games (he was named the league’s Defensive Rookie of the Year), and he currently leads all defensemen this season with 58 points. He has seven goals, five of which have come with the man advantage.
Of course, the biggest issue with Girard in terms of his draft stock is his size and strength. He is listed at 5’9” and 165 pounds but he has said he is 5’10”. Yet, skating and speed can often trump size in terms of NHL success, particularly in recent years, and Girard’s skating is easily his greatest asset. He scored once and earned a +4 rating for the Canadian team at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament last summer.
8. Vitalii Abramov, RW, Gatineau Olympiques
Midterm CSS Rank: 56
It has not taken long for Vitalii Abramov to adjust to junior hockey in North America. The Russian was selected 13th overall in the 2015 CHL Import Draft and began this season on an eight-game point streak, recording 15 points in that stretch. Abramov does not turn 18 until May, but is currently third in league scoring with 87 points in 57 games, behind only Conor Garland (ARI) and Francis Perron (OTT).
The 5’9”, 170-pound winger does not posses elite skating ability nor will he get by on his size, but his vision and creativity are on par with the best in junior hockey and, if given enough space, he can find the back of the net with ease, as evidenced by his 36 goals. Abramov is a strong candidate to climb higher on draft lists leading up to June, particularly if he can take Gatineau deep into the playoffs; in January alone, he scored 11 goals and added 12 assists, including hat tricks in games against Halifax and Chicoutimi.
9. Vladimir Kutznetsov, RW, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Midterm CSS Rank: 44
The first overall pick in the 2015 CHL Import Draft has not exactly taken the league by storm as anticipated, but he has injected some offensive skill into a lowly Acadie-Bathurst team and is currently third on team scoring with 50 points in 55 games. At 6’2” and 214 pounds, the Russian winger already has NHL size but is still learning to use it effectively at the junior level – he was just 189 pounds prior to being drafted by Acadie-Bathurst.
Kuznetsov took some time to get acclimated to the North American game. He had just three points in his first eight games, but later posted a six-game point streak toward the end of October. His point production has been steady since then, save for the start of February.
10. Otto Somppi, C, Halifax Mooseheads
Midterm CSS Rank: 47
In another rebuilding year for the Halifax Mooseheads, Otto Somppi has been one of the team’s bright spots. The 6’1”, 182-pound center plays a responsible defensive game, but that is not to say he is void of offensive skill. He has 38 points in 47 games this season and is seventh in rookie scoring; on a better team the production might be near a point-per-game, at least, but Somppi’s Mooseheads have the third-fewest goals in the league and six of their forwards are first-year players.
He began the season with 20 points in 20 games, but has hit rough patches since as he adjusts to the longer schedule after playing just 38 games for Jokerit’s U20 team last season. Since the end of October, Somppi has had two four-game pointless streaks and one six-game streak and has only scored in six games (he scored multiple goals in three of those six games, however).
Jacob Neveu might be getting more attention if he wasn’t buried on a deep Rouyn-Noranda Huskies blue line. A native of Rouyn-Noranda, Neveu has 14 points in 45 games, but is behind high-scoring defensemen Jeremy Lauzon (BOS), Philippe Myers and Nikolas Brouillard. Gabriel Sylvestre is another defenseman who might garner interest as the draft approaches; he plays a similar game to Neveu and like Neveu is buried deep on a contending team, the Shawinigan Cataractes. Up front, one of the more interesting draft-eligible players is Nathan Noel of the Saint John Sea Dogs. Noel was passed over last season and watched seven of his teammates get selected in the NHL Draft, despite leading the team in scoring. He had a slow start to this season but now has 54 points in 50 games; in fact, he had a 20-game point streak dating back to Dec. 18th that ended on Feb. 17th.
Follow Chris Roberts on Twitter via @ChrisRoberts_7