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Shaping up to be banner draft year for QMJHL

Tuesday, 01.15.2013 / 10:00 AM / Prospects

By Adam Kimelman - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

The majority of talent picked by teams at the annual NHL Draft comes from the Canadian Hockey League.

Of the three leagues that make up the CHL, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League usually lags behind the Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League as far as developing first-round picks.

At the 2012 draft, only one player from the QMJHL was taken in the first round, and from 2008-2012, of the 150 first-round picks, 11 were QMJHL alums. By contrast, 49 OHL players and 32 WHL players were taken in that timeframe.

CSS 2013 MIDTERM RANKINGS

And since 1980, only once, in 1988, has the QMJHL produced the most first-round picks. That year they had six, the same as the WHL and one more than the OHL.

That could change at the 2013 NHL Draft. One look at the Central Scouting midterm rankings shows two of the top three players, four of the top eight and seven of the top 14 playing in the QMJHL. That's more than the WHL (five) and OHL (two).

In addition, the top-ranked North American goalie plays in the QMJHL.

"This is my 20th year, and this is the best draft ever for me," Chris Bordeleau, Central Scouting's top Quebec scout, told NHL.com.

And it's not just top-end talent from the league, either. There are 17 players ranked as first- and second-round picks, and 22 players ranked in the top 100.

"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," Central Scouting director Dan Marr told NHL.com. "This is a very strong year in the Q."

Leading that charge have been the Halifax Mooseheads' dynamic duo of Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, on Central Scouting's list.

MacKinnon, a 6-foot, 182-pound center, could challenge Portland Winterhawks defenseman Seth Jones to go No. 1. Despite missing a month to play for Canada at the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championship (he had one assist in six games), he's still 10th in the league with 52 points in 30 games, leads his team in assists (30) and points, and is second in plus/minus (plus-28).

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"He's got that dimension," Bordeleau said. "He's a great skater, got that change of speed. When you play hockey and when you can skate, the sky's the limit. You can do so many things when you can skate. And for him, he's a little bit like [Steven] Stamkos. He's got that speed and he's got an edge to his game. I'm not staying he's going to fight people, but he's got an edge to his game."

Drouin, who missed two weeks in October with an upper-body injury, has 19 goals and 48 points in 24 games. The wing also was a breakout star for Canada at the WJC, totaling two goals and two assists in six games and earning major minutes on the team's top line, alongside NHL first-round draft picks Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Mark Scheifele.

Bordeleau said Drouin was a natural talent he compared to Masters golf champion Bubba Watson.

"This guy's got unbelievably quick hands," Bordeleau said. "Great hockey instincts. That's something you can't teach. You're born with that. Just like … with baseball players and golfers. Some guys like Bubba, he never took a lesson in his life. It's just a natural talent and that's what Drouin is all about. He's unbelievable."

Their teammate, Zachary Fucale, is No. 1 on the goaltender list. The 6-1.25, 184-pound netminder leads the league with 26 wins and is second with a 2.50 goals-against average.

"He's a very calm, relaxed and confident goalie," Central Scouting's Al Jensen told NHL.com. "He's got exceptional net coverage, he plays big in all situations even when in his butterfly. He's got an excellent butterfly style and is very tough to beat down low. He is very quick and well-balanced when moving laterally to stop any pass-across one-time attempts. He's smart at reading plays and he has very good rebound control. … He seems to always give himself a chance to stop the puck, getting his body in the proper position. He's had a great first half of the season; he's been very consistent and dependable at this point."

At No. 7 on the skater list is 6-5, 210-pound Rimouski Oceanic center Frederik Gauthier. In his first season in the QMJHL, he's second among first-year players and fourth on his team with 41 points in 36 games. But to Bordeleau, what's really stood out is Gauthier's defensive awareness, exemplified by his plus-19 rating.

"He's unbelievable for a young guy like that," Bordeleau said. "He can play defense. He's a big kid like that, the first player back, gets the puck, turns the play around and goes the other way. Hockey sense, he can shoot the puck, read the ice. He's a natural talent also."

Bordeleau said one game by Gauthier in particular stood out. Gauthier lost 15 pounds and two weeks of action recovering from a broken jaw, but not long after he returned, in a game against the Victoriaville Tigres, he left an indelible impression.

"When you play hockey and when you can skate, the sky's the limit. You can do so many things when you can skate. And for him, he's a little bit like [Steven] Stamkos. He's got that speed and he's got an edge to his game. I'm not staying he's going to fight people, but he's got an edge to his game." -- CSS' Chris Bordeleau on Nathan MacKinnon

"That game, he came back in his own end five times," Bordeleau said. "He was the first guy back and turned the play around. I've never seen that in 20 years. … He's got everything. A kid that can play defense like that at his age, that kind of maturity, it's not often found. I was really impressed."

He also has been impressed by Valentin Zykov, a 6-foot, 210-pound left wing with the Baie-Comeau Drakkar who was No. 8 in Central Scouting's rankings. The Russian-born forward leads all first-year QMJHL forwards with 26 goals and 45 points.

"Great skater, strong kid," Bordeleau said. "Really a solid kid. He goes into the corner and comes out with the puck. He has great hands, can shoot the puck, passes the puck, does everything well.

"I saw him one time in Gatineau, which is a tough place to play, he was battling with four guys and came out with the puck and scored a beautiful goal, right in the corner. He did all the work by himself, came out with the puck and scored a beautiful goal."

Rounding out the top 10 is right wing Anthony Mantha of the Val-d'Or Foreurs, who is ranked 10th. The 6-4, 190-pound player is third in the league with 31 goals and sixth with 58 points.

"He's got all the tools," Bordeleau said. "He can shoot and score -- does everything. … Skill-wise, he's a top-of-the-line player."

Also ranked as first-round players were forwards Adam Erne of the Quebec Remparts (No. 13), William Carrier of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (No. 14), and Nick Sorensen of Quebec (No. 27).

Bordeleau said watching this season's crop of QMJHL draft talent has been a highlight of his scouting career, and he's looking forward to what the rest of season has in store.

"It's never happened that we've got so many guys, big kids and good players, that talented," he said.

---

It means a lot to us, we're very excited. We're looking to continue to build on [our] top core talent of young players. It's just a great opportunity for us to really build high.

— Panthers vice president of hockey operations Travis Viola after Florida won the No. 1 pick in the NHL Draft Lottery