Halifax Mooseheads forward Nathan MacKinnon isn't the only player eligible for the 2013 NHL Draft garnering attention in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season.
In addition to two other highly regarded players from the Mooseheads -- forward Jonathan Drouin and goalie Zachary Fucale -- the league is loaded with high-end talent. Hockey pundits feel Halifax and the Quebec Remparts will battle for top honors in the league this season, and each has two draft-eligible players among the seven listed from the league as A skaters on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary rankings of players to watch for next year's draft.
"The league is a lot stronger than last year [when 19 players were selected from the QMJHL at the 2012 Draft]," NHL Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau told NHL.com.
It's possible that at least 30 prospects from the QMJHL will be selected at the 2013 draft at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. If that occurs, it would mark the first time since 2003 that at least that many players from the QMJHL were selected.
"There are top-end prospects and a lot more high-end players from the QMJHL in the top 100 this year ... more so than there have been in the past few years for sure," Director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr told NHL.com. "This is a very strong year in the Q."
Here is a look at the top 10 draft-eligible players from the QMJHL, listed alphabetically:
"I saw his potential last year; he reminds me a little bit of Patrice Bergeron in the way he works and the way he never quits. He backchecks hard and doesn't stop until he gets the puck from the other guy. The thing I also like is his hockey sense ... he knows when to stay high in the slot." -- NHL Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau on William Carrier
William Carrier, C, Cape Breton -- The 6-foot-1.5, 198-pound forward burst upon the scene last season, his second with the Eagles, when he totaled 27 goals and 70 points in 66 games.
"I saw his potential last year; he reminds me a little bit of Patrice Bergeron in the way he works and the way he never quits," Bordeleau said. "He backchecks hard and doesn't stop until he gets the puck from the other guy. The thing I also like is his hockey sense ... he knows when to stay high in the slot."
Carrier is tied for the team lead with eight goals and 23 points in 14 games.
Jonathan Drouin, LW, Halifax -- MacKinnon's Halifax linemate was thought to be the most electrifying player at Canada's national junior team development camp in August.
"Jo is one of the most skilled players on the team," MacKinnon said. "He can do great things with the puck."
The 5-10.75, 185-pound forward had seven goals and 22 assists in 33 regular-season games as a rookie last season, but erupted for nine goals, 26 points and a plus-6 rating in 17 playoff games. He has 19 points in eight games this season, but missed time with an upper-body injury. He returned to the lineup Wednesday, when he scored twice and added two assists.
"Personally, I feel Nathan [MacKinnon] benefits from having Jon as a linemate just as much as Jon does having Nathan," Bordeleau said. "Drouin is unbelievable in my eyes. He's smart and can read the play so well. He was the best player at Canada's camp ... he's up there with the top scorers."
Marr said, "If Drouin was not playing with MacKinnon, I feel he'd still be getting the same kind of attention; he's a legitimate first-round candidate. In addition to his skill set, scouts also like to see good players playing so well with other good players."
Anthony Duclair, LW, Quebec -- Duclair, who has been sidelined since mid-October with an ankle sprain, has a very good chance of being drafted in the first round. Prior to his injury, he had three goals, five points and a plus-8 rating in four games.
"He has a tenacity about him in the way he competes and that intensity he plays with," Marr said. "He's got a skill set and he scored over 30 goals last year as a rookie. He doesn't back down and is not intimidated. He finds ways to make things happen, and that's why I compare him to Evander [Kane] because he goes out and makes things happen."
Adam Erne, LW, Quebec -- A solid prospect based on his competitive edge, skating ability and solid skill set. The native of North Brandford, Conn., had 28 goals, 55 points and a plus-6 rating in 64 games as a rookie with Quebec in 2011-12.
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"He's got a good offensive game, can contribute and put up numbers, but he'll battle and play physical when needed and that's what excites the scouts," Marr said.
The 6-1, 195-pound forward has six goals and 12 assists in 13 games this season.
Zachary Fucale G, Halifax -- At this stage, some scouts claim Fucale is the best draft-eligible goaltender.
"I wouldn't say he's a first-rounder yet, but I haven't seen anybody else of his caliber," Bordeleau said. "Some of these kids, especially goalies, you have to wait a bit and have patience."
The 6-1.25, 181-pound netminder is 11-1-0 in 12 games with a 2.57 goals-against average and .893 save percentage. Central Scouting's Al Jensen said Fucale is fundamentally and technically sound and offers excellent net coverage. With excellent patience and poise, Fucale no doubt is a top prospect.
"He presents himself big in the net and spreads out very well," Jensen told NHL.com. "He hardly leaves any holes for shooters and even looks and plays big even when in the butterfly. He keeps his body upright, protecting the upper corners and makes saves look easy."
Frederik Gauthier, C, Rimouski -- With a 6-5, 210-pound frame, Gauthier can skate well and plays with an edge. Playing for the Esther-Blondin Phenix in the Quebec midget AAA league last season, he had 26 goals, 51 points and 28 penalty minutes in 39 games.
He's proving to be quite the force as a rookie in the QMJHL this season, accounting for nine goals, 17 points, 12 penalty minutes and a plus-12 rating in 14 games for Rimouski.
"He goes right through the middle and knocks over players like they were bowling pins," Bordeleau said. "Some say he could go among the top 15 in the draft."Nathan MacKinnon, C, Halifax -- He'll be regarded as the top offensive prospect all season long and for good reason. The 6-foot, 182-pound center offers a dynamic blend of speed and skill that are unrivaled among draft-eligible players, and he plays in every game situation.
MacKinnon, who leads Halifax with 17 goals and 26 points in 14 games, could become the fifth player in QMJHL history to hear his name called first at an NHL Draft.
"I don't think there's a particular area he needs to work on ... just his overall game," Bordeleau said. "With skill like that, you can't just pinpoint one thing and say, 'If you don't do this, you won't make it.'"
As a QMJHL rookie last season, MacKinnon had 31 goals, 78 points and a plus-11 rating in 58 games. His 47 assists led all first-year QMJHL players, and he finished second in scoring to 2012 first-round NHL draft pick Mikhail Grigorenko, as well as in voting for the QMJHL Rookie of the Year award.
Anthony Mantha, LW, Val-d'Or -- The slick 6-foot-4, 190-pound forward ranked fourth on the team in scoring as a rookie with 51 points, including 22 goals, in 63 games for the Foreurs last season. He currently is tied for the league lead in scoring with 28 points, including 15 goals, in 14 games this season.
The 18-year-old Mantha, who missed the cut to be eligible for last summer's NHL Draft by one day, already has connected for three hat tricks in 2012-13. After hitting for one goal and five assists in four games in September, Mantha has erupted for eight goals and 22 assists in 10 games this month. He also boasts a plus-13 rating and leads the team with six power-play goals.
"He scores goal-scorers goals and sees the ice extremely well," Central Scouting director Dan Marr told NHL.com. "He skates well for his size … he's a very appealing prospect and will only get better as the season goes on."
Mantha, born and raised in the Montreal suburb of Longueuil, helped Canada capture a bronze medal at the 2012 World Under-18 Championship.
Nick Sorensen, RW, Quebec -- Sorensen, who has a Danish father and Swedish mother, is making up for lost time after a knee injury in the eighth game of 2011-12, his rookie season in the league.
He was born in Denmark and moved to Sweden at age 2, and might be on the move again from the Remparts. Quebec coach and general manager Patrick Roy is expected to deal Sorensen at some point because his team is currently one import above the league limit -- Grigorenko, the 12th pick of last year's draft, was expected to play for the Buffalo Sabres this season.
With so few games under Sorensen's belt, not much is known of the 6-foot-0.5, 168-pound right wing who earned a B rating in Central Scouting's preliminary rankings, Sorensen has four goals and 14 points in 12 games this season. He also had three goals and four assists in six games with Sweden's Under-17 team last season.
"He's showing no ill effects of that knee injury, which is especially fortunate for him since he plays a skating game," Bordeleau said. "He's skating hard, showing great hands and making great plays ... I've been impressed. He was a great skater last year, but when I saw him at the start of this season, he was even better."
Valentin Zykov, LW, Baie-Comeau -- The Russian forward is lighting it up as a QMJHL rookie this season, with nine goals and 15 points in 13 games. The only reason he was listed as a C skater on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary players to watch list to open the season was because he had limited viewings playing for CSKA Moscow in Russia during the 2011-12 season.
"He's very noticeable in the Q," Bordeleau said. "He's an unbelievable talent; a solid kid. I remember seeing a game where someone went to hit him in the open ice but he bounced off of him like a rubber ball. He can skate, shoot the puck, score the big goals ... he's going to be special."
Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, the 6-foot, 210-pound forward had 105 penalty minutes in 52 games in the MHL -- Russia's top minor league -- last season. He also had five goals and 11 points.
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