Welcome back to Top Shelf Prospects. It’s that time again, major junior hockey is back and we’re here to preview the new season for you. All three leagues are kicking off this week. With that in mind we will start our division previews today and make our way around the country.
You can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
2018-19 QMJHL Maritime Division
Top Three Contenders (In Order of Projected Finish)
The Mooseheads are hosting the Memorial Cup, and a strong team is already loading up on talent to try and win it all. While its doubtful that Filip Zadina will be back, and the status of Otto Sompi is also up in the air, the team has added offensive firepower with Anaheim Ducks prospect Antoine Morand, and Jordan Maher. Both players won the Memorial Cup with Acadie-Bathurst last season. Benoit-Olivier Groulx, Arnauld Darendault, and Raphael Lavoie are also key offensive players. The blue line is led by Detroit Red Wings draftee Jared McIsaac. New Jersey Devils prospect Jocktan Chainey and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Jake Ryczek join him to form a formidable group. 16-year-old Justin Barron is about to take a huge leap forward. Fellow Hawks prospect Alexis Gravel provides solid goaltending.
Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
The strength of the Screaming Eagles starts in goal, where Kevin Mandolese takes over as the team’s top netminder. The Ottawa Senators draftee will be a reliable backbone for the team. The Eagles have a deep and experienced defensive group, especially with the additions of Antoine Crête-Belzile and Wilson Forest in off-season moves. Combine with Mandolese, they should be one of the best defensive teams in the league. Mitchell Balmas also arrives in a trade, fresh off a Memorial Cup win with Acadie-Bathurst. He joins Mathias Laferriere and Egor Sokolov as the club’s expected offensive leaders.
Jakob Pelletier and Alexander Khovanov had strong seasons as QMJHL rookies last year. With an additional year under their belts, they should take the next step and become a dynamic offensive duo for the Wildcats. The team also hopes that Anderson MacDonald gets back to his rookie form. Mika Cyr and Jeremy McKenna add depth. Overall this team has three strong lines and will score plenty of goals. Overager Gabriel Sylvestre leads a defensive group that includes Jonathon Aspirot and Swiss import Simon Le Coutre. The hope is that rookie Jordan Spence can also play a top-four role. The biggest question is in goal. The team acquired Francis Leclerc in the off-season. Last year’s starter, Mark Grametbauer, is recovering from hip surgery.
Players to Watch
Ethan Crossman, Left Wing, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Crossman scored 21 goals for the Titan during the regular season and added 10 more for the club during the playoffs, and three more at the Memorial Cup tournament. He was relied upon to bring secondary offence to the team a year ago but will play a bigger role on this year’s club. An undersized player, Crossman has offensive skills. He is an above average skater and can make plays with the puck while moving at top speed. He also has a nice arsenal of shots with a quick release.
Noah Dobson, Right Defence, Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Dobson was drafted 12th overall by the New York Islanders in the 2018 NHL Draft. He helped the team to the Memorial Cup last spring. The cycle of junior hockey has begun and the Titan are in the midst of a rebuild. If things don’t go well early in the year, expect Dobson to be on the move before the QMJHL trade deadline, as he will fetch a huge return.
Dobson plays a strong defensive game. His strong skating allows him to keep attackers in front of him and force them to the outside. He keeps himself between the puck and the net and uses a long and active stick to cut down passing lanes. Dobson battles hard along the boards. He is also very good at clearing the front of the net. Dobson also has the passing and skating skills to move the puck up the ice and provide offence from the backend. He is a good playmaker, who can create off the rush, and play a quarterback role on the powerplay. He has the vision and smarts to find the open man. Dobson has a bomb of a slapshot and one-timer and he lets both fly from the blue line.
Kevin Mandolese, Goaltender, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
A tall goaltender coming in at 6-foot-4, Mandolese has the ideal size that NHL teams are looking for in goaltending prospects. He gets out of his net well to cut down angles and take advantage of that frame. He gives the shooter very little net to look at. Mandolese plays a solid butterfly style with quick legs to take away the bottom of the net. He also has a good glove hand. Mandolese is very athletic, as he can recover quickly from making one save and quickly get back into position to stop another. However, he can stand to work on his rebound control.
Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Left Defence, Charlottetown Islanders
Drafted in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Arizona Coyotes, Joseph is a smart player, who can quarterback the play from the point. He has very good vision, and the passing skills to be a playmaker. Joseph can make a good pass, both to start the transition game, or to set things up at the blue line. He is poised with the puck on his stick, taking the time to survey the ice and make the right play. Joseph has the patience wait for a play to develop. He has also become more adept at joining the rush, as well as pinching in from the blue line this season. Joseph keeps his shot low and gets it on the net. This gives his teammates the opportunity at rebounds and tip-ins. However, he really needs to work on the power here.
Joseph’s mobility makes him very difficult to beat one-on-one, and his active stick allows him to play a strong defensive game. He cuts down passing and shooting lanes well. He also creates turnovers with his ability to read the play and his anticipation. Once those are created, he transitions quickly from defence to offence.
Antoine Morand, Centre, Halifax Mooseheads
Antoine Morand combines strong skating ability with the soft hands to control the puck and make plays in tight spaces. He is absolutely deadly in one-on-one situations. Morand is especially effective in close to the net. He can make a quick deke on a goaltender, fire the puck to the top of the net, or make a quick pass to a teammate. He has accurate wrist and snapshots, as well as a quick release. Morand scores most of his goals inside the hash-marks. Morand is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer though. He has outstanding vision and the passing skill to put the puck through the tightest of openings. He also uses his skating and lateral agility to open up passing lanes and find a way to get the puck to his linemates.
Jared McIsaac, Left Defence, Halifax Mooseheads
McIsaac can carry the puck out of his own zone and lead the rush. He combines excellent puck handling skill with his good skating and can carry the puck end-to-end to create a scoring chance. He also has the vision and skill to make a strong first pass and start the transition game that way. His good passing skills transition to his play at the point. He has the poise to handle the puck and the patience to make plays. His agility allows McIsaac to walk the line and open up passing and shooting lanes. McIsaac has the passing skill and vision to set up scoring opportunities for his teammates.
McIsaac’s strong skating ability helps him to be an excellent two-way defender. He is very difficult to beat one-on-one. McIsaac can also play a physical game in the corners and in front of the net. However, in order to continue to play this type of game at the next level, McIsaac must get stronger. He is also a smart player, with a strong positional game and good anticipation. McIsaac cuts down passing lanes with an active stick. When a turnover is created, he transitions quickly to offence.
Alexander Khovanov, Centre, Moncton Wildcats
Drafted by the Minnesota Wild, Khovanov is an outstanding playmaker. He has the vision and the passing skills to put pucks through tight areas and on the tape of his linemates. He reads the play really well, slowing things down when necessary to give a teammate the opportunity to get open. Khovanov has soft hands and is a very good stick handler. He combines this with his skating ability to be a nightmare for defenders in one-on-one situations. He can either beat his man and cut to the net, or create a passing lane, or use his defender as a screen and take a shot on net. Overall he is a very smart offensive player.
Khovanov has a powerful and accurate wrist shot. However, his wind-up is a bit long at this point, and this takes away a bit of the element of surprise. It is not that bad, it just is a step below some of the other shooters in this class. He also has a strong snapshot and a very good backhand. Khovanov is a pass first player though. He could stand to shoot more often, which would also help to make him less predictable.
Alex D’Orio, Goaltender, Saint John Sea Dogs
Playing behind the rebuilding Sea Dogs squad, D’Orio will likely face a lot of rubber. The Pittsburgh Penguins prospect is 6-foot-2 and takes advantage of his frame by playing well out of his crease and challenging shooters. He is a good skater who gets back quickly on dekes and moves well side to side. Strong legs also help him take away the bottom of the net with a quick butterfly style. D’Orio could be an intriguing trade option for a contender at the QMJHL Trade Deadline.
2019 NHL Draft Prospects to Watch
Brooklyn Kalmikov, Left Wing, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
The 15th overall pick of the 2017 QMJHL Draft, Kalmikov put up 18 goals and 36 points in 58 games as a rookie. Kalmikov was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland and grew up in Terrebonne, Quebec. His father was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs but was mostly an AHL and IHL journeyman. The younger Kalmikov has decent height, at 6-foot, but is very skinny right now. He has offensive skills including solid stickhandling ability, and good vision and passing skill. Kalmikov’s best skill might be his quick release on his wrist and snapshots.
Egor Sokolov, LW/RW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Undrafted in the 2018 NHL Draft, Sokolov is hoping that a big year will see him get taken as a draft re-entry in 2019. He put up 21 goals and 42 points in 64 games last year. Sokolov is a big forward who uses his body to protect the puck extremely well down low. He extends plays and keeps possession for his team. He can make a quick pass to a teammate, or drive to the net himself. Big and strong, Sokolov can bury goals in tight to the net. He also has an excellent wrist shot and release.
Nikita Alexandrov, Centre/Left Wing, Charlottetown Islanders
The German-born prospect put up 31 points in 66 games as a QMJHL rookie. He has very good instincts and seems to find himself in the right place to take a pass and create an offensive chance. He also understands where his teammates and opponents are and is able to use that information to create offence. Alexandrov has a strong wrist shot, with good accuracy as well. He needs to work on his skating this year.
Brett Budgell, Centre, Charlottetown Islanders
After starting the year with the USHL’s Chicago Steel, Budgell opted to join Charlottetown in the QMJHL. He had a strong year in limited time with the Islanders, putting up 22 points in 32 games as a rookie. He also put up 12 points in 18 playoff games. Budgell is an excellent playmaker. He sees the ice extremely well and can feather a pass through tight areas. He also has the soft hands to make quick moves and open up a passing lane. Budgell has the coordination and quickness to get tip-ins and pounce on rebounds in front of the net. His defensive game was good for a 16-year-old. His skating will need some work.
Raphael Lavoie, Centre/Right Wing, Halifax Mooseheads
Lavoie had a strong second season in the QMJHL, putting up 30 goals and 63 points in 68 games with the Halifax Mooseheads. He was also impressive at the under-18 with five goals in five games for Team Canada. Lavoie has the size to be a power winger. Lavoie is a natural sniper. He has an excellent shot and quick release. Lavoie is also good at getting to the front of the net where he has the soft hands and good hand-eye coordination to finish in close to the net with rebounds and tip-ins. He has good stickhandling ability and protects the puck well.
Lavoie is a strong skater for his size. He has a good first step and acceleration, as well as the top end speed to pull away from defenders and create breakaways and odd-man rushes. He also has very good agility and edgework. Lavoie is tough to knock off the puck. His stride is powerful and he can fight through checks and get to the net. The main criticism of Lavoie at this point is his defensive game. He will need to work on improving that going forward.
Xavier Parent, Centre, Halifax Mooseheads
Parent was the 4th overall pick in the 2017 QMJHL Draft. He is an excellent skater, with great acceleration. His ability to quickly change gears makes him a major threat on the rush. Parent also has excellent vision and passing ability. His speed allows him to create passing lanes, and his playmaking skill allows him to take advantage of them. Parent has a quick release on his wrist shot but could use more power.
Jakub Pelletier, Centre, Moncton Wildcats
The third overall pick in the 2017 QMJHL Draft, Pelletier is another undersized playmaker with outstanding speed. His speed allows him to take a defender wide and cut to the net. Once he gets a step on his man, he can drop his shoulder and cut to the net. Pelletier has the hands to finish in tight. However, he is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. Pelletier has excellent hockey IQ. He knows where his teammates are and is able to thread passes through tight areas. He has the patience to wait for a linemate to get open and in a good scoring position. Pelletier put up 61 points in 60 games as a QMJHL rookie.
Maxim Cajkovic, Left/Right Wing, Saint John Sea Dogs
The first overall pick in the CHL Import Draft, Cajkovic put up 11 points in just five games for Slovakia at last year’s IIHF Under-18 World Championship. Cajkovic has dynamic offensive skills. He is an excellent stickhandler, who can use his moves to beat defenders one-on-one. His creativity creates space and opens up passing and shooting lanes. Cajkovic finds open teammates with a quick pass and has the vision to see scoring opportunities as they develop. He also has the ability to score goals. He is not afraid to get to the front of the net and has the hand-eye coordination to finish when he gets there. Cajkovic also has a nice arsenal of shots with a good wrist shot, snapshot, backhand and one-timer.
2020 NHL Draft Prospects
Lukas Cormier, Left Defence, Charlottetown Islanders
The fourth overall pick in this year’s QMJHL draft, the 16-year old is undersized at just 5-foot-9. He has shown slick skating and puck-moving skills though. Cormier retrieves pucks on dump-ins and quickly starts the transition game, whether it be by skating the puck out of danger or with a quick first pass. He sees the ice well, and the vision and passing ability should translate into power play offence as well.
Justin Barron, Right Defence, Halifax Mooseheads
A late 2001 birthday, Barron put up two goals and 21 points in 51 games as a QMJHL rookie and added three assists in nine playoff games. He is coming off a strong performance at the Ivan Hlinka tournament, with five points in five games and helping Canada to a gold medal. He is an outstanding skater, and this helps him to play a two-way game. Barron can make a smart first pass to start the transition or he can use his strong skating and stickhandling to lead the rush himself. He sees the ice well and makes good decisions with the puck. Barron plays a disciplined defensive game and his skating helps him defend one-on-one situations.
Jérémie Poirier, Left Defence, Saint John Sea Dogs
The eighth overall pick in this year’s QMJHL draft, Poirier has good size, as he is already 6-foot, as a 16-year-old. Poirier has two-way skills. He has shown strong positioning and instincts in his own zone. He is also a good passer. Poirier is willing to join the rush and has a decent shot. He will need to improve his skating over the next couple of years.
William Villeneuve, Right Defence, Saint John Sea Dogs
The second overall pick in the QMJHL draft, Villeneuve is already 6-foot-1 but the 16-year-old is very skinny at just 154 pounds. He has a heavy shot, with a booming slapper and excellent wrist shot. His release is quick. Villeneuve is also a good passer. He can start the transition game with a good first pass as well as quarterback things from the point on the power play. His defensive positioning and instincts are good and he is not afraid of the physical game but must get stronger. Villeneuve is a strong skater in both directions and has good agility and edgework. This helps him to play a two-way game.
Main Photo: BOISBRIAND, QC – OCTOBER 20: Jared McIsaac #14 of the Halifax Mooseheads skates against the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada during the QMJHL game at Centre d’Excellence Sports Rousseau on October 20, 2017, in Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada. The Halifax Mooseheads defeated the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada 4-2. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)