|Chicoutimi forward Nicolas Deschamps predicted he and Jacob Lagace would play together for the Sagueneens.|
"At the draft, for fun, I told him you're coming to Chicoutimi, too," Deschamps told NHL.com. In the third round, with the 54th overall pick, Chicoutimi picked Lagace.
The two friends made their major-junior hockey debuts together, compiling two outstanding rookie seasons, which earned them high rankings by NHL Central Scouting.
"I think it's been a great experience for both of us," said Lagace, a left wing rated No. 55. "We know each other for a long time. When we were young, it was like a dream before. Now, you see you're ranked and you're with the best in the world."
It wasn't quite where they were supposed to be. They're both 17, a year older than the majority of the league's rookies, because they were undrafted in their first season of eligibility in the QMJHL draft. Both played another year of midget hockey, and then made the jump to the Q.
"I was not thinking at the beginning of the year that things would go this well," Deschamps said. "My objective was to score 30 points and to make the third line."
Deschamps did much more. He, Lagace and Francis Pare – ironically, also in his first year with Chicoutimi, though he's 20 – formed the Sagueneens' first line. Deschamps, a left wing, led all QMJHL rookies with 67 points, and he was second to Pare on the team in goals (24), assists (43) and points. Lagace was fourth among first-year players in Q scoring, and was third on the Sagueneens with 23 goals, 39 assists and 62 points. Lagace finished the campaign with a rookie-best plus-22.
Their success was surprising to scouts – especially Deschamps, who earned Central Scouting's No. 21 ranking among North American skaters and the highest rating of any QMJHL player in the draft.
"He came out of nowhere to be the top-ranked player in the QMJHL," said Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau. "He is a very good skater who thinks the game well and has soft hands. He works hard and the upside to his skills makes us think he is going to be a pretty good all-around player. He was one of those players that kept improving to surprise a lot of people because the expectations for him were low at the beginning of the season."
Expectations were equally low for Lagace.
"Jacob is a good skater and another player who came out of nowhere this season after I saw him quite a bit as an underage player last season," said Bordeleau. "He has good hands. He's not a big player (5-foot-10, 190 pounds), but he could surprise people if he continues to work hard and improve his game."
Some of that improvement came with Team Canada at the Under-18 World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in April. Deschamps finished tied for third on the team with three goals, and finished a plus-4, while Lagace had three points in the seven games and also was a plus-4.
"During the season I had an offensive role, first line, power play, penalty kill," Lagace said. "I had a lot of ice time. Now scouts have seen that I can play a defensive role on the fourth line, bring some energy with my hits, blocked shots, play well defensively. I think it's a great thing for me as a hockey player that I can play both styles of play."
Deschamps (6-foot, 173 pounds) still needs to bulk up, but that shouldn't be hard. At age 15, he was just 5-9 and 145 pounds, and his father tips the scales at 290 pounds.
But there is a lot to like about Deschamps' game without the added bulk.
"This is a well-rounded kid," one scout told McKeen's Hockey. "Last time I saw him … his first shift he was dominant. He went in and initiated contact, got the puck, made a couple of nice plays and scored a goal. He's got a lot of character, sees the ice well and makes smart plays."
Lagace says he needs to get stronger be more physical.
"I think (scouts) like my speed on the ice, I'm strong on the boards," he said. "I have a good shot, good offensive skills. I've got to take confidence in my shot and use it more because sometimes I waste good scoring chances with an extra move. I also want to improve my physical play."
It's hard to envision a repeat of their first draft experience when the 2008 NHL Entry Draft takes place June 20-21 in Ottawa.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.