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QMJHL defenseman one suave costumer

by Aaron Bell

Yann Sauvé is the top-rated defenseman in the QMJHL and has helped his third-year team earn respect throughout the league.
Yann Sauvé finally feels like he’s back in the groove.

After what he describes as a slow start to the season, the Saint John Sea Dogs’ defenseman has turned his game around, and the scouts have certainly noticed.

Sauvé, a 6-foot-2, 208-pound native of Rigaud, Quebec, was rated 21st among North American prospects by NHL Central Scouting in the mid-term rankings for this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. He is the top-rated defenseman in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and has helped his third-year team earn respect throughout the league.

After starting his sophomore season with four points in his first six games, Sauvé’s offensive production dropped. He managed just three assists in 21 games through October and November before finding his touch again in December, scoring two goals and four points in 11 games.

“I think I started a little bit slowly but I feel like I’ve stepped up my game a little bit,” said Sauvé, the first-overall pick in the QMJHL draft in 2006. “The team’s playing well and that’s helping.”

Sauvé has three goals and 13 points to go along with 64 penalty minutes and a plus-4 rating in 47 games this season.

“I’m playing a lot,” Sauvé said. “I just keep trying to work hard and then I’ll see what happens.”

The Sea Dogs finished second to last in their expansion season in 2005-06 and won the QMJHL draft lottery, giving them a shot at drafting the talented youngster to anchor their blue line.

“Some people are just born with a natural ability, and that's what Sauvé has,” Sea Dogs head scout Normand Gosselin told the Montreal City Guide during Sauvé’s Midget year. “He may be only 15, but he's the best defenseman in the league. Players like him don't come around that often.”

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After playing in the Canada-Russia Series the past two years and for Canada’s Under-18 Team this past summer, Sauvé was selected by a poll of NHL general managers to play in the Home Hardware Top Prospects Game on Jan. 23 in Edmonton.

He said that it was a good opportunity to compare his skills with all of the other highly rated defensemen eligible for this year’s draft.

“It was amazing,” said Sauvé, who picked up an assist in the game, helping Team White to an 8-4 win against Team Red in the annual showcase of the top CHL prospects for the NHL Entry Draft. “It was so fun to see all the guys that played on Team Canada and a lot of other guys that I met for the first time. I loved it – it was great.”

Sauvé draws comparisons to Los Angeles Kings star Rob Blake -- a sure-fire Hall of Famer when he decides to hang up his skates. Scouts like Sauvé’s combination of size and mobility and feel his skills will transcend nicely into the NHL in the not so distant future.

“I think I’m a guy who can skate with the puck,” said Sauvé, who scored two goals and 15 points as a QMJHL rookie last season after scoring 14 goals and 29 points in 42 games with the Chateauguay, Quebec Midgets. “I’m a pretty mobile defenseman for my size. I like to play physical and hit.”

Sauvé patterns his game after All-Star defensemen like Blake and Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames, who played in the Top Prospects Game in 2003.

“I like how Phaneuf can play rough and skate with the puck and how he shoots the puck,” Sauvé said. “Blake has a good shot from the blue line. I just want to play like those guys. I don’t want to compare myself to those guys but I like to play the game just like them.”

Sauvé is part of a deep class of defensemen that is eligible for the draft this year. Drew Doughty from the Guelph Storm, Zach Bogosian of the Peterborough Petes and Alex Pietrangelo of the Niagara IceDogs are all rated in the top five in the mid-term rankings. Sauvé is one of 12 defensemen rated among the top 21 prospects.

Despite that deep cast of characters, Sauvé said that he plans to just continue to pay attention to his own game and let the draft rankings sort themselves out.

“There are some pretty good defensemen this year,” Sauvé said. “I just want to bring my game like I can play to my potential. I don’t worry right now about the ranking because anything can happen. I just like to focus on my game and not put pressure on myself.”

With the NHL Entry Draft in the back of his mind, Sauvé understands that he has some work to do before he is NHL-ready.

Sauvé said that it’s been a treat playing in Saint John and loves the way the New Brunswick fans have taken to the team in just two years.

“It’s a great city,” Sauvé said. “We have a good team and a great coaching staff. The town is great. We had two slow years and now we have a big year in front of us. We just want to win and go far in the playoffs.”

The Sea Dogs are 31-13-1-3 and one point ahead of the Halifax Mooseheads for first place in the QMJHL’s Eastern Division.

A big part of the team’s success so far this season has been the influence of head coach Jacques Beaulieu, who was hired to guide the expansion club after helping the London Knights complete their historic run to the Memorial Cup championship in 2005.

“I like playing for him,” Sauvé said. “It was a little tough the last couple of years because we were an expansion team, but things are going great right now. He has a lot of confidence in me and I have a lot of confidence in him. I think I know where he’s trying to go. He’s a great coach.”

With the NHL Entry Draft in the back of his mind, Sauvé understands that he has some work to do before he is NHL-ready. He already has pro skills, but needs to continue to develop habits that will help him become a more-rounded player.

“I want to work on my consistency,” Sauvé said. “I just want to play up high, but not go too low. I want to meet my potential and keep working on the things that I have to improve. I just want to keep working hard and get ready for the playoffs.”


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