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 East Division Preview.
You can check out all of this year’s Top Shelf Prospects articles here.
QMJHL East Division
Top Two Teams (In Predicted Order of Finish)
The Sagueneens loaded up for a run at the QMJHL title with an off-season trade for Rafael Harvey-Pinard. He joins Samuel Houde, and Vladislav Kotkov giving the team three NHL affiliated prospects upfront. Centre Hendrix Lapierre was the first overall pick in the QMJHL Draft in 2018 and is a possible lottery pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Fellow draft-eligible forwards Theo Rochette and William Dufour should take big steps forward this season. The defence is led by San Jose Sharks draftee Artemi Kniazev. It is a veteran group with three 2000-born defenders and two 2001s in addition to Kniazev. Alexis Shank provides quality goaltending.
Featuring reigning CHL Player of the Year, and the favourite to go first overall in the 2020 Draft, Alexis Lafreniere, the Oceanic can score. Calgary Flames draftee Dmitri Zavgorodny can also put the puck in the net. Cedric Pare, Adam Raska, and Jeffrey Durocher provide offensive support. Goaltender Colten Ellis will be one of the better goalies in the league. He plays behind Anthony D’Amours and Vincent Martineau, who are solid veteran defenders.
Players to Watch
Gabriel Fortier, Centre, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Fortier is an outstanding skater. He has excellent top-end speed and he reaches his top speed in just a few strides. He also has outstanding edge work and agility. If Fortier gets a step on his man, he can accelerate past him and cut to the net. He also has a good wrist shot that he can use if defenders back off too much to respect his speed. It could be even better going forward. Fortier improved his assist totals this season by getting in quickly on the forecheck, creating turnovers and working hard to control the puck in the cycle game. His hard work extended plays and created opportunities. Fortier also works hard in his own end and is an excellent penalty killer.
Nathan Legare, Right Wing, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Legare is a natural sniper. He has an outstanding array of shots. His wrist shot is close to NHL ready. It is strong as well as accurate. It also features a very quick release. He also has a very good snapshot. Legare finds a way to get open inside the faceoff dots and converts teammate’s passes when they get him the puck. Legare is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice and has the quick hands to finish in close. He is willing to play a physical game. Legare also forechecks effectively, forcing turnovers and creating offensive opportunities. Legare can also play the role of a playmaker. He controls the puck well down low, protecting it in the cycle game and creating opportunities for teammates.
Artemi Kniazev, Defence, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Kniazev is a strong puck mover, combining strong skating ability with excellent puck handling. He can skate the puck past forecheckers as well as carry it through the neutral zone. Kniazev generates effective zone entries. He also has very good vision and makes a smart first pass. This is true if he is starting the breakout with a short pass to a forward or hitting a streaking winger with a long breakaway pass. Kniazev has the poise to handle the puck at the blue line. He can quarterback the power play. Kniazev likes to sneak in from the blue line and let his wrist shot go from the top of the circles. He also likes to shoot the puck off the rush. His wrist shot is extremely accurate and features a very quick release.
Felix Bibeau, Centre, Quebec Remparts
A New York Islanders draftee, Bibeau had 69 points in 63 games for the Memorial Cup Champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies last season. He is now expected to lead the Remparts offence. Bibeau creates through hard work. He gets in quickly on the forecheck, creating turnovers. He goes to the front of the net both with and without the puck, getting to the dirty areas of the ice and creating havoc for goalies and defenders. Bibeau brings that work ethic in all three zones and plays a strong defensive game as well.
Colten Ellis, Goaltender, Rimouski Oceanic
Drafted by the St. Louis Blues, Ellis had a 2.47 goals-against-average and .910 save percentage last season. At six-foot-one, Ellis is a little undersized for what NHL teams are drafting today but makes up for it with quick reflexes, and excellent athleticism. He gets in and out of the butterfly extremely quickly. He also tracks the puck well and moves side-to-side quickly. Ellis likes to come out of his net and challenges shooters, cutting down angles. He could use some work on his rebound control, though this is a common issue with many young goalies.
2020 Draft Prospects to Watch
Hendrix Lapierre, Centre, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Lapierre is an excellent skater. He has outstanding top-end speed and very good acceleration. His ability to make quick cuts and changes in direction helps him to avoid defenders and create space. Lapierre is very difficult to defend as he can handle the puck while moving at top speed. He has very good hockey IQ and sees the ice extremely well. Lapierre is a creative playmaker who creates scoring chances for his linemates. He can pass the puck through tight openings and hits teammates on the tape. Lapierre’s ability to speed up the play or to slow it down allows him to control the pace of the game. He sets up on the half boards on the power play, acting as a quarterback.
Theo Rochette, Centre, Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Born in Quebec, Rochette also holds Swiss citizenship and spent five seasons playing overseas. The 7th overall pick in the 2018 QMJHL Draft, Rochette made a strong return to Canada, putting up 14 goals and 43 points in 59 games as a rookie. He is a very good skater who can lead the rush. With good agility and the ability to stickhandle while moving at high speed, he is very good at gaining the zone with possession. He has good vision and passing skills, setting up teammates for scoring chances.
Yu Sato, Left Wing, Quebec Remparts
Drafted 24th overall in the CHL Import Draft, Sato is a Japanese hockey player who is looking to make waves in North America and become the third Japanese player drafted into the NHL (fourth if we count the fictional Taro Tsujimoto). He spent last season in Finland. Sato has excellent speed and a good release on his wrist shot. It will be intriguing to see how he adjusts to playing in the QMJHL after dominating the second-tier of Finnish Junior hockey last year with 62 pts in 24 games. The step-up in the competition is significant though.
Alexis Lafreniere, Left Wing, Rimouski Oceanic
A prodigious talent, Lafreniere put up 37 goals and 105 points in 61 games last season. He was even better in the playoffs with nine goals and 23 points in 13 games. His performance earned him the QMJHL MVP and CHL Player Of the Year Awards. Lafreniere was also a huge part of the 2018 Hlinka-Gretzky gold medal win for Team Canada with five goals and 11 points in six games. He even made the World Junior team, although in a depth role.
Lafreniere is an outstanding skater. He is extremely fast, and pairs that with a stride that provides excellent acceleration and power. He also has great hands, allowing him to make plays at top speed. Lafreniere can be a playmaker with his great vision and passing skills. He anticipates plays extremely well and makes his linemates better.
Lafreniere is also a natural goal scorer. He can put the puck in the net in a variety of ways. He drives hard to the net and uses quick hands to beat goalies. His wrist shot is strong and accurate and he can score from further out. He can also play the power game, getting to rebounds and creating havoc out front. Lafreniere is a prodigious talent with everything NHL teams are looking for. He’s been the leading prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft for some time now. However, there are a number of prospects breathing down his neck.
QMJHL East Division Main Photo:
QUEBEC CITY, QC – OCTOBER 25: Alexis Lafreniere #11 of the Rimouski Oceanic skates prior to his game against the Quebec Remparts at the Centre Videotron on October 25, 2017, in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Mathieu Belanger/Getty Images)