When Montreal Juniors defenseman Xavier Ouellet
wants to relax and get away from the rigors of top-level junior hockey, he flips on his DVD player and pops in a selection from one of his favorite film series -- the "Rocky" movies.
Where would a teenage French-Canadian hockey player find common ground with the famed fictional Philadelphia fighter?
"Nobody believes in him," Ouellet told NHL.com. "He's just working, working, working -- and always winning in the end."
With the way Ouellet has been playing this season, he's only half right in his Rocky comparison -- all his work has scouts absolutely believing in him.
In 59 games, Ouellet has 7 goals and 33 assists. His 40 points are tied for eighth among QMJHL defensemen, and he's sixth in assists. His plus-22 rating is tied for third on his team.
NHL Central Scouting placed him at No. 39 in their mid-term ranking of North American skaters for the 2011 Entry Draft. He's seventh among QMJHL skaters and second among the league's defensemen.
"I think his best assets are skating and consistency," Central Scouting's Chris Bordeleau told NHL.com. "He's such a fluid skater, with excellent all-round mobility. He's not a physical player by any means because he's not that big (5-foot-11 1/12, 182 pounds), something he'll definitely have to work at, which is my only concern. For the rest, he's an excellent passer, reads the play very well and has an accurate shot that he uses so teammates can deflect in front of the net."
Scouts aren't the only ones who like what they see in Ouellet. Montreal coach Pascal Vincent learned pretty quickly what kind of player he had when Ouellet made his QMJHL debut last season.
"Last year he came in as a 16-year-old, and we knew he was talented -- he was our first pick (in the QMJHL draft)," Vincent told NHL.com. "We had some expectations for him to be a good defenseman as a 16-year-old, maybe take more responsibility as a 17-(year-old) and next year be our top guy."
Ouellet put those plans into fast-forward.
"He came here … he didn't feel like a rookie, wasn't impressed by anyone," Vincent said. "He knew, 'I can play in this league, and I can have an impact right away.' Early in the season we were giving him ice time and playing him more and more and more, and then we looked at ourselves, and he's playing 5-on-5 against the top lines, he's playing power play, he's playing penalty kill and he only wants more.
"He started the season as just one of the defenseman playing for us and he ended the season as our No. 1."
Vincent said the one thing that really stands out to him is Ouellet's self-confidence.
"He's very confident," the coach said. "We can't be mistaking that quality for being cocky because he's not cocky -- everything but. He's very confident in himself. If he makes a mistake, we'll tell him and the next shift he'll be as confident as ever. He's got that passion, the confidence."
He also has hockey smarts, some of which come from his father. Robert Ouellet spent 11 seasons as a center playing in France and Germany, and he represented France at three World Championships. Xavier was born in Bayonne, a town in southwestern France on the Bay of Biscay, near the border with Spain. The family now lives outside Montreal.
"He talks to me about the mental game," Xavier said of his relationship with his father, "how to prepare myself and how to think. There are a lot of scouts and he helps me keep my focus."
Whatever Robert is telling his son, it certainly has been working. Vincent said he always makes sure to keep an eye on his Entry Draft-eligible players to make sure they're focused on the game, not on who might be watching them. But with Ouellet, it was something he really didn't have to do.
"We spoke to him but it was just to make us feel as coaches we did our job," Vincent said. "I don't feel we needed to because we had to do it to share our experience, but honestly, I don't think we had to do it. The kid loves to play the game, he wants to play the game, and he's smart enough to understand that if he's ranked among the top 40 in the world for the next draft, it's because he's doing something right. He understands if it's not broken, why fix it?"
Ouellet said he knows the scouts are there, but it's not worth worrying about them.
"I have no control about what they're thinking about me," he said. "I just concentrate on the game, on what's coming and I want to help my team as much as I can."
He's certainly helping the Juniors, who have the second-most points in the QMJHL. And Vincent believes Ouellet certainly will help whatever team drafts him in June.
"Maybe next year he'll come back because as a defenseman it's harder to make it," Vincent said. "But as a 19-year-old, I think he'll be ready to make the jump (to the NHL)."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK