The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League was undoubtedly the big winner at the 2013 NHL Draft, when a modern draft-record 31 players from the league were chosen over seven rounds.
The prospect pool for the 2014 draft at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia might not be as deep as it was nine months ago, when two of the six QMJHL players picked in the first round were among the top three choices -- No. 1 Nathan MacKinnon and No. 3 Jonathan Drouin. Still, there are some game-breakers having very productive seasons.
This week, Prospector Files continues its First Team draft-eligible pick six series at each position from the four major junior hockey leagues and one All European Team. The Ontario Hockey League (www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=707810) was featured last week and the QMJHL gains the spotlight today.
The United States Hockey League, Western Hockey League and international standouts will follow.
Just two of the top 30 North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list are from the QMJHL and seven of the 40 players invited to the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Calgary on Jan. 15 were also from the league.
Here are the top players at each position from the QMJHL eligible for the 2014 draft:
Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax Mooseheads
Drouin, a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, is undoubtedly the top draw for the Halifax Mooseheads this season, but rookie left wing Nikolaj Ehlers is the player on the "must see" list of every NHL scout making their rounds in the QMJHL this season.
Born in Aalborg, Denmark, the 5-foot-11.5, 162-pound left-handed shot perfected his game in Switzerland for Biel the past six seasons before joining Halifax this season. During the NHL work stoppage last season, Ehlers even had a chance to play with two ultra-talented NHL snipers in Patrick Kane and Tyler Seguin in Biel.
"They taught me a lot on and off the ice," Ehlers said. "When NHL players go to Europe during the lockout, some people might think they're cocky or that they are just there to have some vacation. These two guys were not cocky. They played as if they were just our teammates. They supported me too. They helped talk me into coming to Canada. They were a big part of that decision."
Ehlers was chosen by the Mooseheads in the first round (No. 6) of the 2013 CHL import draft and has been nothing short of outstanding in his first season in North America.
Ehlers is No. 22 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the top draft-eligible skaters in North America and ranks third in the league with 100 points and fifth with 47 goals. His plus-63 rating leads the league. He is currently on an 11-game point streak, notching 17 goals, including three straight hat tricks, 29 points and a plus-25 rating over that stretch.
Ivan Barbashev, C, Moncton Wildcats
The native of Moscow, chosen No. 1 by the Moncton Wildcats at the 2012 CHL import draft, is having much success in his second season in the QMJHL. The 6-1, 185-pound left-handed shot is No. 12 on Central Scouting's midterm list of skaters for North America. He leads the team with 43 assists and 68 points, and is third with nine power-play goals in 48 games.
The alternate captain for the Wildcats is a proven leader for his team for his contributions on the ice.
"He's not shy and is a strong skater with good drive to the net," NHL director of Central Scouting Dan Marr said. "He's got very good hands and puck control, and is able to set up nice plays going at top speed. He's got a good shot with a quick accurate release, has a good work ethic and leads by example."
Vaclav Karabacek, RW, Gatineau Olympiques
The 5-11.75, 182-pound right wing is a standout from the Czech Republic who is making his presence felt in North America as a rookie. In his first season for the Olympiques, Karabacek has 20 goals (six power-play goals) and 46 points in 63 games.
Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau, who specializes in evaluating players from the QMJHL, has been pleasantly pleased with Karabacek's ability. He's No. 35 on Central Scouting's midterm list of the top players in North America.
"He can skate, shoot and make plays and he's really strong on his skates; I really like this kid," Bordeleau told NHL.com. "Every time I see him he gets a ton of chances, and that's a credit to his desire to want to be the best."
Alexis Vanier, D, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Ranked No. 82 on Central Scouting's midterm report, the 6-5, 225-pound defenseman has 15 goals (nine power-play goals), 36 points and a plus-10 rating in 60 games this season. In a 7-4 win against the Quebec Remparts on Sept. 20, Vanier became the third defenseman in franchise history to record five points in a game (two goals, three assists).
Matthew Murphy, D, Halifax Mooseheads
Murphy, No. 105 on Central Scouting's midterm list, is a steady defender with good skating ability on the transition.
The 6-2, 202-pound left-hander has 34 points and a plus-51 rating in his first full season in Halifax, including 10 goals in 62 games. Murphy went undrafted in 2013 when he was No. 114 on Central's final list of the top draft-eligible skaters and is a good bet to be selected in the later rounds this June.
Mason McDonald, G, Charlottetown Islanders
McDonald is in his second season in the league and first with the Islanders. He was acquired from Acadie-Bathurst in December 2013 in exchange for a 2014 first-round pick and two 2014 fourth-round picks.
Central Scouting's Al Jensen, who specializes in goalies, believes the 6-4, 177-pound right-handed catching goalie is an "excellent prospect."
"He has a very quick and athletic style and his play reminds me a lot of the way Steve Mason (Philadelphia Flyers) plays," Jensen said. "He has impressed me with his steady improvement over the season. He squares himself to shots and he plays at the top of the paint on initial shots. He has excellent recovery ability back to his feet and to retreat back to his post."
McDonald, who juggles before every game as part of a superstitious pregame ritual, is 7-15-3 with a 3.50 goals-against average and .898 save percentage in 28 games.
The Beantown Spring Classic at the New England Sports Center in Massachusetts is one of the top scouting events on the agenda this week.
The Classic, which began Wednesday and concludes Friday, showcases the best players from the East Coast in a small-event setting for the purpose of providing NHL scouts and college recruiters the best forum to evaluate the top talent from the past season in one setting.
The highest-rated skater among the four draft division participating teams is left wing Beau Starrett of the South Shore Kings in the U.S. Premier Hockey League.
The 6-4.75, 195-pound left-handed shot, who has 11 goals, 47 points and 94 penalty minutes in 48 games, is committed to Cornell University beginning in 2015-16. He is No. 83 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the top draft eligible skaters in North America.
Defenseman Miles Gendron of Rivers Academy High School in Massachusetts is No. 85 on Central Scouting's midterm list. Committed to the University of Connecticut in 2015-16, the 6-1.5, 173-pound left-handed shot has six goals and 19 points in 22 games this season. His Canadian Hockey League rights belong to the Moncton Wildcats of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
The top-ranked goalie in the tournament is Sean Cleary of Lake Forest Academy in Illinois. The 6-2.25, 185-pound left-handed catching goalie is No. 19 on Central Scouting's midterm list of the top draft-eligible goaltenders in North America.
"Cleary has good overall net coverage; he spreads out his body very well on initial shots and he moves around his crease well," Jensen said. "He has a strong and well-balanced stance, is good on his skates and moves his feet well."
PROSPECTS BENNETT, HAWRYLUK SUSPENDED
Two blue-chip prospects and team scoring leaders eligible for the 2014 draft were assessed suspensions this week for infractions that occurred within their respective leagues earlier this month.
Brandon Wheat Kings center Jayce Hawryluk, No. 42 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the top draft-eligible skaters in North America, was given a four-game suspension by the WHL on Saturday. He has served two of those games already and will miss the team's two remaining regular-season games.
Kingston Frontenacs center Samuel Bennett, No. 1 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list, was given a five-game suspension by the OHL on Tuesday and is eligible to return to the lineup against the Mississauga Steelheads on March 16.
Hawryluk, who leads Brandon with 64 points and a plus-16 rating in 59 games, received his suspension after being called for a charging major and subsequent game misconduct in the second period of a 6-3 loss against the Edmonton Oil Kings on March 7. He was twice named the WHL Player of the Week this season.
The infraction puts Hawryluk's team in a tough spot; the ninth-seeded Wheat Kings trail the Prince Albert Raiders and Red Deer Rebels by two victories for the seventh and eighth playoff spots, respectively, in the WHL's Eastern Conference. If there is a tie for the final playoff spot, the position will be decided by a one-game tiebreaker that Hawryluk would be eligible to play.
Bennett has served three games of his suspension that was retroactive to March 7. He was suspended for getting his stick in the face of defenseman Clarke Seymour 13:38 into the third of a 5-4 loss to the Peterborough Petes on March 6. Bennett was given a double minor for high sticking on the play.
The Frontenacs, who will host a first-round playoff series next week, have 37 wins and 80 points, and are in third place in the Eastern Conference standings with three regular-season games remaining. The 37 wins are their most since the 2005-06 season, when the club finished second in the East Division with 37 wins and 81 points.
Bennett is sixth in the OHL with 91 points (36 goals and 55 assists). In 116 career games spanning two seasons, he has 54 goals, 131 points and 205 penalty minutes. He also leads the team with 10 power-play goals and is tied for second with a plus-34 rating.
PROSPECTS ON THE RISE
1. Sebastian Aho, Skelleftea Jr. (SWE): Director of European Scouting Goran Stubb believes Aho is "one of the most improved 1996-born players in Europe." The skilled and talented two-way defenseman, who admires Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, was No. 9 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings of the top draft-eligible European skaters.
In 21 games for the Skelleftea in the Swedish Hockey League, the 5-9.25, 165-pound left-hander has one goal, five points and a plus-2 rating.
"He compensates for his lack of size with his positional play, hockey sense, mobility and skating," Stubb said. "He plays a tough aggressive style of hockey, plays bigger than he is and with a lot of confidence."
2. Travis Sanheim, Calgary Hitmen (WHL): The 6-3, 181-pound left-handed shooting defender is No. 167 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of the top draft-eligible skaters in North America. Central Scouting's B.J. MacDonald feels Sanheim is much improved since the start of the season. He has five goals, 29 points and a plus-23 rating in 65 games for the Hitmen.
"When he started getting more ice time in November, he started becoming one of their best defenders," MacDonald said. "His one-on-one play and containment gets better every game. He uses his reach with an active stick and is not afraid to stand up and challenge forwards. He could be a nice surprise pick; he has the size and hockey sense for next level."
Sanheim acknowledged his offensive game and puck-moving ability are his strongest assets.
3. Jeff Smith, Powell River Kings (BCHL): Upgraded to a "C Watch" on Central Scouting's March players to watch list, the 6-0.5, 206-pound right-handed catching goalie finished 20-10-1 with a 2.25 goals-against average, three shutouts and a .923 save percentage in 34 regular-season games for the Kings in the British Columbia Hockey League. In five playoff games, the University of Massachusetts Lowell recruit is 4-1-0 with a 2.47 GAA and .917 save percentage.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
SIDEBAR - Alex Tuch: Draft dandy of the week
Forward Alex Tuch of the United States Under-18 National Team Development Program has been a player on a mission.
Following a slow start out the gate, the 6-foot-3.5, 213-pound versatile right-hander has actually rounded out his game to the point of making an impression on coach Danton Cole.
"He's always been a big body and has skated well, but I think he's just starting to realize how big and strong he is," Cole said. "He imposes his will on the game sometimes, and that's a good compliment. If he makes it to the second round, a lot of [NHL] people made a mistake because I feel Alex is a legit first-round candidate."
Tuch is the prototype power-forward, who skates surprisingly well for a big man. He has 28 goals and 54 points in 47 games with the USNTDP, and is tied for the team lead in power-play goals (seven) and game-winning goals (six).
The Boston College recruit had two goals and four points in his team's four-game sweep to the Five Nations Tournament title in February.
"That tournament win in Russia [at Five Nations] shows how far we've come as a team," Tuch said. "Personally, I've matured as a player in all aspects of my game. I've been consistent."
NHL team: Buffalo Sabres
NHL player: "I don't have a favorite player."
Shootout move: "Forehand, off the outside of my right skate, forehand, backhand and shot."
Celebration: "One knee fist pump."
Video game: NHL 14
Actress: "Jennifer Aniston."
Three you would invite to dinner: Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, Jessica Alba
Sport (other than hockey): "Lacrosse."
Breakfast food: "French toast."
-- Mike Morreale
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