NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) —The 2021 NHL Draft is heavy on defensemen and the QMJHL sports several under-the-radar rearguards — Evan Nause, William Trudeau, Oscar Plandowski, Conor Shortall, and Tyson Hinds — who are beginning to make noise in draft circles. Each one has gone through extensive rounds of analysis during this abbreviated QMJHL schedule, and there is a strong chance most will be drafted by NHL teams. Not included in this edition of the QMJHL Spotlight is Gatineau’s Isaac Belliveau and Halifax defender Cameron Whynot, who were already profiled in previous editions.
Evan Nause, LHD (Quebec Remparts)
May 15, 2003 | 6’2, 186 | Shoots Left | 16gp-2g-9a-11pts
Nause is a White, Rock, BC native who played last season for Sioux Falls in the USHL and is a two-time QMJHL first round pick. He was chosen sixth overall in the 2019 draft by Val-d’or and fifth overall by his current team, the Quebec Remparts.
Nause’s game is not defined by points and flash but more via awareness, decision making and general hockey sense. He understands the game, the position, and all game situations. The sum of all his parts is what makes Nause an effective player. He is a smooth skater who moves effortlessly throughout all zones. This combined with a high IQ allows him to move around without being caught out of position or flat footed. His movements are subtle and effective. Nause has the knack to know when to slide back to support his partner or move to an open area to provide an outlet for a teammate.
These types of plays allow him time and space to execute his next play, be it a pass or rush up the ice. Defensively, Evan is no slouch. He uses his solid frame and size to prevent opponents from gaining a positional edge in front of the net. He uses a quick stick to swat pucks off blades or to harmlessly deflect them aside. He battles for pucks along the boards and corners. Nause does not look to blow up his opponent. Rather, he will lean on him, find the puck, possess it, and make a play to a teammate or skate it out of harm’s way.
Nause does not seem to panic when under pressure and is confident in using a deke, reverse or a quick outlet pass to a streaking forward. Nause is also effective in the neutral zone. His skating and smarts permit him to have tremendous gap control. This allows him to be a dual threat. One, he can keep pucks in the offensive zone. Second, he can thwart an opponent rush prior to it starting. Nause is definitely a plug-and-play defender. He can and does play in all situations and is effective on the PK and PP. He generally stays within himself and avoids trying to act like Cale Makar in terms of end-to-end rushes, nor is a Shea Weber type with a booming shot. Nause simply is player with a complete understanding of how to play the position of defense and should be considered a potential asset to any organization.
William Trudeau, LHD (Charlottetown)
Oct. 11, 2002 | 6’0, 189 | Shoots Left | 19gp-6g-9a-15pts
Trudeau is a perfect example of hard work and perseverance paying dividends. The Varennes, QC rearguard was selected by Drummondville in the 11th round of the 2018 QMJHL Draft, yet he never suited up for Drummondville. In December of 2018, Trudeau was part of the package sent to Charlottetown in exchange for Arizona Coyotes first-rounder Pierre-Olivier Joseph.
Trudeau was thrust into the Islanders’ lineup last season, playing 58 games and recording a modest 15 points. This season has bore more results, however, as Trudeau through Sunday was 10th in league scoring among defensemen with 15 points in 19 games. He is steady, smooth, and has a tremendous grasp of playing the position, and it’s quite obvious that he and partner Oscar Plandowski compliment each other perfectly. Trudeau plays in all situations — penalty kill, power play, and in late-close scenarios. Cerebral and calculated, Trudeau uses his smarts to take advantage of opposing miscues and strikes at opportune moments. Trudeau usually avoids taking unnecessary risks such as pinching or activating excessively. Rather, he reads the play and pinches when warranted while adhering to his defensive responsibilities as well.
Trudeau’s reads and step-ups often lead to opposing turnovers or bogging down an opponent’s rush. He remains calm when the play does breaks down or when facing a hard forecheck. In-game moments during critical times do not seem to overwhelm him and he uses his plethora of skills to make positive plays from nothing. He is not overly physical but will throw a check on occasion and use his frame to protect the front of the net. Trudeau may have been a late-round QMJHl draft pick but he has all the making of becoming an asset to any NHL franchise.
Oscar Plandowski, RHD (Charlottetown)
May 18, 2003 | 6’0, 190 | Shoots Right | 19gp-1g-8a-9pts
Plandowski, unlike his teammate Trudeau, is a more dynamic offensive threat but has yet to marry his skill set with point production and shot generation (25 shots in first 19 games). A Halifax, NS native who was selected 8th overall in the 2019 QMJHL Draft, Plandowski is on Charlottetown’s middle pairing, with 2021 NHL draftee Lukas Cormier serving as the Eagles’ No. 1.
Plandowski consistently presses the accelerator, moving forward, creating havoc for his opponents and in go-go mode. He had a modest 12 points in 2019-20 but is on a better pace this season with nine (one goal, assists) in his first 19 matches. Although the point totals are quite not there yet, Plandowski finds a way to stay involved in more than just simple breakout opportunities.
Plandowski offers strong skating in all directions, keen vision, shot strength and on-ice awareness. Still, his most noticeable asset is his skating. He moves around the ice quite well and is quick to gain an advantage on his opponent, setting them back on their heels. Once in the offensive zone, his cannon of a shot is his main weapon, as he can rip a one-timer with accuracy and velocity. Having those abilities helps opens space for his forwards, and Plandowski on occasion has shown the ability to deliver well-timed and accurate passes either off the cycle or from the point while static.
A testament to Plandowski’s reliability and key role is how he is consistently deployed alongside Cormier on Charlottetown’s first power-play unit; often using his skating for a clean entry by weaving and then delaying into the offensive zone while looking for open space before setting up to rip a one-timer. Although Plandowski is an offensive-minded defender, he is not allergic to defending in his own zone. He is more than adequate defensively and is quite opportunistic and active in the neutral zone. He will use his anticipation and skating to thwart a rush before forging his attack. Off the puck,Plandowski’s skating and smarts enable him to keep opponents at bay thanks to a long, active stick and tight gap control, specifically in the grey zone. He uses a quick stick and long reach to deflect passes and shots. Once he controls the puck, he quickly processes his options. He either passes to an open forward, to his partner or breaks the forecheck with his skating. Overall, Plandowski is an exciting multi-dimensional rearguard with an extremely bright future.
Conor Shortall, RHD (Drummondville)
April 29, 2003 | 5’9, 189 | Shoots Right | 18gp-1g-6a-7pts
Shortall is an elusive and deceptive rearguard who was a fifth-round pick of Drummondville’s in the 2019 QMJHL draft. He’s a St. John’s, NL native with a compact build and solid center of gravity that benefits his game. Shortall is effective at escaping a forecheck, but that is just one of several attributes he can pull out of a sizable bag of tricks. He is a smooth skater with slick hands and high IQ when it comes to puck distribution, and although he is small in stature, Shortall finds a way t0 consistently impact the game.
Shortall is poised under pressure while using his strong edgework to escape trouble. He is constantly moving and rarely flatfooted or static, thus enabling him to pounce on loose pucks and snuff out a rush with ease. On the breakout, Shortall comes across as a mobile defenseman who is adept at making quick, accurate outlet passes. He has a strong grasp of the game, processes decisions quickly, and also has a competitiveness about him that seems to make him want to see plays through.
Defenseively, Shortall reveals fantastic gap control and strong one-on-one play. He is a battler with feistiness in the mold of several NHL defenseman such as Torey Krug and Kris Letang — both of whom were underestimated early in their careers for their ability to come away with the puck against bigger opponents. Opponents must be alert when facing Shortall, as he plays physical and is willing to throw his weight around, but does so in a manner which allows him to immediately counterattack if necessary. There are moments, however, when he tends to lose his man in battles along the end boards behind the net, but it is not due to lack of effort and is more a case of being overly aggressive. For a defender his size, leverage and body position are paramount because he does not have a long reach to remedy the situation.
Shortall plays on Drummondville’s power play and appears to have all the makings of a higher-level quarterback despite his Voltiguers converting less than 18 percent of their chances to tie for 13th in the 18-team league. Shortall can look off defenders to create a seam pass and rarely has his shot blocked, and he is involved in all facets of the possession. He moves around well and is fantastic at keeping the puck in the zone. There is certainly work to be done to improve his game before the draft rolls around, but Shortall is smart, skates well, has good hands, competes hard, and plays a highly sought-after position — a two-way, right shot defenseman.
Tyson Hinds, LHD (Rimouski)
March 12, 2003 | 6’3, 178 | Shoots Left | 18gp-3g-6a-9pts
Hinds is a Gatineau, QC native who began this season with Shawinigan before he was dealt to the Rimouski Oceanic. Although he was a second-round selection by the Cataractes in the 2019 QMJHL Draft, Hinds was more obscure in draft circles than he is today. He tallied only 11 points in 54 games for Shawinigan last season, but this year, Hinds has become more production on his new team with eight of his 11 points (three goals, five assists) coming in eight matches with Rimouski. But scoring is just part of what Hinds can offer — usage, playing time, and role within the team structure are important facets to consider when breaking down Hinds’ game.
Hinds began the season primarily as a third-pairing defenseman, rotating between the right and left sides. He currently has a lanky build but should fill out. At first glance, he seemed to play a safe, low-risk game but he has developed a more aggressive style since being traded. Several factors play into this, such as Rimouski’s up-tempo system versus the conservative style Shawinigan expects from most of their defensemen in a forward-centric attack. Nonetheless, Hinds portrays an impressive style and is fun to watch. He skates well with a strong burst, effortless stride, and free hip movement. Hinds uses these attributes in attacking the play with gusto in all three zones. He has been caught up ice a couple of times, however, leading to several odd-man rushes. Still, the good usually outweighs the bad because more often than not, Hinds’ decisions to be aggressive result in a plus play for Rimouski.
Part of Tyson’s aggressiveness carries over into his physical play. He will not only lean on opponents but also use his frame to send a physical message. Thus far in the defensive zone he has not taken himself out of position to make a huge hit. He remains under control, stays composed, and reads the play prior to announcing his presence. Hinds uses his large frame to provide his goaltender a clear view of the play. He uses his strength, reach, and nastiness to prevent opponents from establishing a net-front presence.
Hinds uses his long reach and stick to defend. Smacking pucks off sticks and deflecting or intercepting passes. Once he possesses the puck, he quickly transitions to offense. He reviews his options and quickly makes his decision. If need be, Hinds is comfortable using his legs to break down a forecheck, provide time and space, and create passing lanes. He will wheel out of a scrum with ease to commence a Rimouski breakout. If no passing lanes, he will skate it out of harm’s way starting the attack. Hinds is a multifaceted defenseman who appears to be scratching the surface. He uses his legs, head, and hands to beat an opponent and has grown more confident in his attempts to dictate pace and play. His aggressive play appears to benefit Rimouski in all three zones.