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 recently kicked off their new seasons. With that in mind, we will start our division previews today and make our way around the country. Today, we bring you our 2019-20 QMJHL Central Division Preview.
You can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
QMJHL Central Division
Top Two Teams (In Predicted Order of Finish)
The Phoenix have a very deep hockey club this year and really should run away with this division. Pittsburgh Penguins first-round pick Samuel Poulin is the biggest name in the lineup. The talented winger will lead an exceptionally deep offensive attack that also features Benjamin Tardif, Alex-Olivier Voyer, Taro Jentzsch, Patrick Guay, Bailey Peach, and Felix Robert. Yann-Felix Lapointe returns for an overage season to lead the defence. The group also features Jaxon Bellamy, Olivier Crete-Belzile, and Jeremy Jacques. Goaltending is the team’s biggest question mark, and it would not be a surprise to see them acquire a top goalie before the QMJHL trade deadline.
The forward group should be led by Valentin Nussbaumer. Forward Mavrik Bourque will be looked to for a breakout season in his draft-eligible year. Vasily Ponomarev is also in his draft season and was highly hyped coming out of the import draft. Leon Denny had 41 points last season, he provides offensive production from the blueline. Marc-Antoine Pepin was impressive after arriving mid-season. The Cataractes hope he can continue that in a bigger sample size. Goaltenders Antoine Coulombe and Justin Blanchette got plenty of playing time last year.
Players to Watch
Dawson Mercer, Right Wing, Drummondville Voltigeurs
The eighth overall pick of the 2017 QMJHL Draft, Mercer put up 30 goals and 64 points in 68 games last season. Mercer is a very good skater, who always keeps his feet moving and this helps him play a 200-foot game. He is quick on the forecheck, pressuring opposing defenders and creating turnovers. He is also able to get back and support the defence down low. Mercer has very good hands and can beat defenders in one-on-one situations. He can score goals with an excellent wrist shot.
Valentin Nussbaumer, Centre/Right Wing, Shawinigan Cataractes
Nussbaumer is a Swiss player who has shone on the international stage but struggled to find consistency in his first QMJHL season. He put up 38 points in 58 games last season. Nussbaumer shows excellent stickhandling ability and a good wrist shot. While Nussbaumer is not an elite speedster, he is still a very good skater with above-average speed and acceleration. However, it is his edgework and agility that really makes him dangerous. Nussbaumer can get around defenders and create chances. He is another smart player with a strong two-way game for his age but really needs to add muscle to his frame.
Samuel Poulin, Left Wing, Sherbrooke Phoenix
Already coming in at 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, Poulin plays with power. He is willing to drive the net with the puck, and forecheck hard without it. Poulin also shows skill, with soft hands which he marries with his skating, size, and power. He also has a powerful and accurate wrist shot. His shot features a quick and deceptive release, which allows him to fool goaltenders from outside the face-off circle. Poulin also has an outstanding one-timer. He has a real knack for getting open without the puck and making himself available to get off that shot. Poulin can also score with a strong snapshot as well as a very good backhand.
Playing on the wing, he also has the vision and passing skills to be a playmaker. Poulin has good hockey IQ, anticipating the movements of his teammates and getting them the puck in good spaces. He cycles well and is particularly effective on the give-and-go type plays. Strong on his skates, he protects the puck well. This gives his linemates the opportunity to get open, and once they do he can make tape-to-tape passes through tight areas. He also works well to win battles along the boards and for loose pucks.
Mikhail Abramov, Centre, Victoriaville Tigres
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, Abramov was the 97th overall pick in the CHL Import Draft. He was impressive at the 2018 Ivan Hlinka with seven points in five games. Abramov followed that up with 16 goals and 54 points in 62 games. He is another undersized but talented playmaker. Abramov creates space with his quick changes of speed and direction. He takes advantage of being an outstanding skater and having quick hands to create passing lanes with subtle changes of direction or changes in angles. Abramov protects the puck well and can wait for a teammate to get open before setting him up for a scoring chance.
Egor Serdyuk, Right Wing, Victoriaville Tigres
The 37th overall pick of 2017 CHL Import Draft, Serdyuk put up 25 goals and 65 points in 63 games last year. It was enough to get the attention of the Philadelphia Flyers, who drafted him in the 6th round of the NHL Draft. A pure sniper, Serdyuk has a very good arsenal of shots. He has a strong one-timer, along with a good wrist shot and snapshot. His release is quick, and his shots are accurate. He also has the soft hands to pounce on rebounds and make quick moves in tight to the net. Serdyuk is a decent skater but could use a bit more work on his speed.
2020 NHL Draft Prospects To Watch
Mavrik Bourque, Centre, Shawinigan Cataractes
The third overall pick in the 2018 QMJHL Draft, Bourque is an undersized forward who plays an excellent puck protection game. He scored 25 goals and 54 points in 64 games as a QMJHL rookie. He controls the puck down low with shifty skating ability and good puckhandling skills. Bourque can avoid defenders and open up passing and shooting lanes to create scoring opportunities. He shows high hockey IQ for his age and makes smart plays with the puck. His game is extremely well-developed for a 16-year-old, including his play in his own end of the rink.
Vasily Ponomarev, Centre/Left Wing, Shawinigan Cataractes
With six points in five games, Ponomarev helped Russia to the 2019 Hlinka-Gretzky gold medal. This followed up on eight points in six games in helping the Russians to U17 gold one year ago. Ponomarev is a natural sniper with an excellent wrist shot and a deceptively quick release. He has quick hands and can create openings to get a shot off as well as create passing lanes to set up teammates. While he is best known for his goal scoring, his passing skill and vision are underrated at this point.
Patrick Guay, Left Wing/Centre, Sherbrooke Phoenix
Guay is an undersized forward at just 5-foot-9 but does not let his size get in the way of playing a gritty game. He is quick to get in on the forecheck and willing to drive the net. Guay is also extremely talented. He is a very good stick-handler and can fool defenders with quick moves. He also has an excellent wrist shot and quick release. Guay can also play the role of a playmaker. He sees the ice very well and can find open teammates with a quick pass.
QMJHL Central Division Main Photo:
QUEBEC CITY, QC – OCTOBER 29: Samuel Poulin #29 of the Sherbrooke Phoenix skates prior to his game against the Quebec Remparts at the Centre Videotron on October 29, 2017 in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images)