2021 NHL Draft

2021 Draft: QMJHL Spotlight (Overagers and UDFA)

Danny McGillicuddy  |  @DannyMackSport1  | 7/14/20210  |  

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Photo: Telegraph-Journal

NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — Scouting prospects in any sport is not an exact science. If it were, every team would be loaded with blue-chip phenoms destined for NHL stardom. Kids fall through the cracks, go undrafted and forge an NHL career. Contrary, there have been top picks who never panned out. Many factors come into play: player development, did the kid work hard, injuries, mature at a later age, and a host of others. Below, we delve into ten such players from the QMJHL who for one reason or another were not drafted the past two years. There are many players who deserve to be listed but we are limiting it to ten, not selecting more than one per team, and trying not to go with the obvious best player on each team. 

Christopher Merisier-Ortiz (2021 Draft Eligible) is a left-handed shooting, left side defenseman for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. He was a first-round selection for Baie-Comeau in 2017, played three plus seasons for the Drakkar until he was dealt to the Armada. The 5-foot-11, 172 pounder was invited to Calgary’s camp in 2019, turned 20 in January, and is a well-rounded defenseman.

Ortiz is dependable, smart, competitive, and versatile. He played right defense for Baie-Comeau, seamlessly handling the duties before returning to his natural left side for the Armada. His excellent skating and instincts place him in advantageous positions. He reads the play well, knowing when to step up to break up a rush or to not take the risk. Ortiz excels at anticipating openings to hit a forward with a pass. Instead of waiting for him to be open, he passes them to be open. He does everything well: great gap control in neutral zone, smart, decisive pinches, and physical in front of his own net. Ortiz excels below the dots in the offensive zone. Often digging in the corners, creating scoring chances. While manning the blue line, his head is up allowing him to exploit seams for deflections. In summarizing Ortiz’ play, it sounds like a tongue twister. He is an offensive minded defensive defenseman.

Another defenseman is right-handed Jérémie Biakabutuka of the Rimouski Oceanic. He played in 15 games for the Val-d’or Foreurs and 23 for the Oceanic. Retired NFL running back, Tim Biakabutuka, is Jérémie’s uncle. Jérémie is 6’4” 200 pounds and uses that size effectively. He is physical but will not run out of position to make a big hit. He uses his large frame to box out opponents, allowing his goaltender a clear view of shots from the point. Space is at a premium with Jérémie patrolling the slot and he makes his foe earn every inch. Jérémie is a calculated, smart player. He surveys the ice, then makes the appropriate play. He makes smart decisive reads, rarely getting caught in no man’s land. Biakabutuka is the type of player one ends up watching instead of the name brand players because he is consistent in his positive plays. Right-handed defensemen are in high demand. Right-handed defensemen with size, mobility and smarts are in more demand. Jérémie can fit on any defensive pair in a lineup at this level and possibly a 3rd pair defender in the bigs.

Noah Laaouan (2021 Draft Eligible) is 20 years old, 6 foot tall and 188 pounds. The righty defenseman, from Halifax, Nova Scotia was selected in the first round by Cape Breton in the 2017 draft and was shipped to the Charlottetown Islanders midway through the 2018-2019 season.
Noah is a throwback defenseman, who has ill will towards his foe. Opponents better keep their heads up when he is on the ice, or they will be left staring at the ceiling lights. He hits hard and clean, with a purpose, protects his goalie and the crease area like a mama bear protecting her cubs. Laaouan’s smarts and skating allow him to maintain great gap control and thwart any attack in the neutral zone.

Laaouan has other assets and skills in his toolbox. He is trusted on the first defense pair and compliments his partner, Vegas draftee, Lukas Cormier. He is mobile, reads plays well, lugs the puck up ice or will use his passing skills to spring a forward on a break. He has a hard, accurate cannon shot. Noah is used in all game situations: left side on the powerplay, killing penalties, late period and game situations. It is shocking he has slipped through the cracks this long and he would be a fantastic addition to any NHL organization. He has the skill set, smarts, and a strong competitive nature to thrive at the pro level.

Pierrick Dubé (2021 Draft Eligible) began the season with the Quebec Remparts, who drafted him in the 1st round in 2017. The 20-year-old right wing from Sept-Îles, QC was dealt to the Chicoutimi Saguenéens during the 2020-2021 season. Dubé is listed at 5’9”, 171 pounds, but plays a gritty skilled game. He is the “muscle” on the Saguenéens first line with 2020 First round picks, Washington’s Hendrix Lapierre and New Jersey’s Dawson Mercer. He is not a product of these highly skilled line mates. He is quick, fast, determined, fantastic in battles, smart and skilled. He is constantly involved in the play, moving to open spaces and does not shy from contact.

Pierrick has fantastic hands and a deadly accurate shot. He scores from anywhere and beats goaltenders with a precise shot or finds the gaps to get it through them. He is rarely stationary and uses his legs to create passing and shooting lanes. Given his size, one would not expect Dubé to thrive in corner puck battles. He is a menace to the other team, seamlessly making play after play while being undersized. He does not give up on any play. Backchecks hard, keeps his head on a swivel and plays a well-rounded game.

Dubé had a tremendous President Cup Playoff, potting 9 goals in 9 games and adding 5 helpers. He kept the Saguenéens in every game and his play enhanced his future probabilities. With a tremendous shot and release, complimented by a strong compete level, Pierrick should be receiving offers from multiple NHL teams.

Xavier Simoneau (2021 Draft Eligible) is a 20-year-old center for the Drummondville Voltigeurs from Saint-André-Avellin, QC. The 5-foot 7-inch, 170-pound left-handed pivot was a first round selection by Drummondville in the 2017 draft. Xavier stepped into the lineup, immediately produced, and increased his output each season. He was invited to the Toronto Mapleleafs camp in 2019.

Simoneau drives the bus for his line and his team. He darts all over the ice, creating havoc for the opposing teams. He is hard on the forecheck, throws his body around, and is engaged in every aspect of the game. Speed and skill are his bets physical attributes that compliment his smarts and compete level. Xavier does not take a shift off, making it a long night for his opponents. Simoneau is heavily relied on in all situations and is deadly on special teams. His one powerplay goal this year is not indicative of his effectiveness. He is in constant motion with and without the puck, creating openings for his teammates. He draws opponents towards him and dishes the puck to an open player. Puck in the corner, no problem, Xavier will go in full force, fighting for possession. He has no fear, going to the tough areas is second nature for Simoneau.

Xavier’s speed and smarts allow him to be an extremely effective penalty killer. He anticipates plays, putting himself in both the passing and shooting lanes. This season, he did not have any shorthanded goals. However, he has shown a propensity for producing on the PK throughout his career. Simoneau is a fireplug with skill, high motor and compete level, who makes those around him better. He warrants more than a 2019 invite from the Leafs and should have more offers this summer.

Nathan Larose (UDFA), the Mirabel, QC native, was selected in the 2nd round of the 2016 Draft by Chicoutimi. The right-handed, 6’2” 194-pound defenseman has been manning the point for the Cape Breton Eagles the last 3 years. He was invited to the St. Louis Blues camp in 2019. Larose is a smooth skating, all around defenseman. The veteran was heavily relied on to provide stability and guidance to a young defensive corps for the Eagles. He does it all for Cape Breton, logging heavy minutes against opposing team’s top lines. Nathan uses his size in a variety of ways: protecting the puck, keeping the crease clean, and banging opponents around.

Nathan has tremendous instincts and offensive ability. He seamlessly escapes trouble with his legs and a quick outlet pass. He controls the play from any area on the ice. Larose reads plays well, knows when to pinch and when to stay back. He has the innate ability to pinch and make a play simultaneously. His defensive play is overshadowed by his fantastic offensive production. He uses his frame to keep the opposition outside. His length is a bonus on the PK allowing him to break up seam passes. The rearguard potted 17 goals in 31 games, 7 on the powerplay. Larose has a howitzer of a shot. It is hard, accurate and his release is quick. His shot is rarely blocked. With this skill in his arsenal, it opens other avenues. If a team presses him, he will dish to an open man or maneuver around him. Larose has the size, mobility, vision, smarts and compete level to extend his playing career at the pro level. He can be a 2nd or 3rd pair defenseman and a powerplay specialist. 

The Moncton Wildcats may have one of the most underrated players in Jacob Hudson (UDFA). Selected in the 4th round of the 2016 Draft, Jacob has done nothing short of produce at a high level. The Antigonish, NS native played his entire career for Moncton. The righty centerman is a solid 5’8” 178 pounds. He has a strong base allowing him to absorb contact without losing balance or the puck.

Hudson has an excellent shot and is an excellent playmaker and offensive wizard. He controls zone entries with guile and pace, allowing linemates to find openings. He understands the landscape and knows when to push the pace and when to slow it down to his liking. Hudson uses his vision, smarts and threat of a shot to back off defenders. He uses this space to exploit a bevy of options that lead to great scoring chances or a goal. Hudson is a smooth skater with a powerful stride. Although he does not pop off the screen with blazing speed, he pulls away from opponents with relative ease. Jacob’s offensive prowess overshadows his defensive attributes. He is an excellent penalty killer and does not neglect his defensive responsibilities at even strength. His commitment to this aspect of the game often leads to positive results on the offensive end. He competes hard in all three zones and is involved on each shift. Hudson is cunning, competes, has skill, and produces. It defies logic he has not been signed nor invited to an NHL camp. He does several things well which will bode well for him in the future.

Andrew Coxhead (UDFA) is a no nonsense, in your face centerman for the Gatineau Olympiques. He split this season between Rimouski and Gatineau. Andrew is a large young man, standing at 6’3” and 201 pounds. Selected in the first round of the 2016 draft by The Quebec Remparts, Andrew spent 3 and a half years there prior to being shipped to Rimouski then dealt to Gatineau this mid-season. The Bedford, NS native plays a physically honest game. He is best when he keeps it simple by playing a north/south style, using his size in puck battles and as a net front presence.

Coxhead is a tough competitor who uses his smarts and size to make things difficult on the enemy. He forces opponents to earn their space while imposing his physicality. Coxhead thrives in the slot when things are chaotic and fighting for loose change. His size alone creates space, but he also fights for it thus wearing down his opponent. Andrew also possesses soft hands in the tight areas, able to lift the puck while the goalie takes away the low part of the net. Coxhead is a bullish player but remains under control. He does not take many penalties while playing a physical game. He can play anywhere in the lineup and in any situation.

Theo Rochette (2021 Draft Eligible) of the Quebec Remparts has the skill set to succeed at the pro level. The Donnaconna, QC center stands at 5’10” and 165 pounds. He was selected in the First round of the 2018 draft by Chicoutimi and dealt to Quebec during the 2019-2020 season. The lefty pivot put up points immediately as a rookie and dipped a bit last year and rebounded nicely this season. Theo is a PPG producer in his 2 brief playoff seasons. Rochette has all the physical skills. He skates like the wind, has deft hands and a quick, hard, accurate shot. Theo can beat defenders one on one with his skill and speed. He understands situations and does not attempt to do it solo on a consistent basis. Rochette is used on the right flank for the power play and the Remparts use his speed to gain zone entries on the man advantage. He is a tremendous skater, always in motion, rarely stationary which allows him to pounce on pucks and eliminate time and space for the opponent.

The defensive side of Rochette’s game is darn good. He sticks himself into his man’s kitchen, forcing him to work for open space. He maintains a solid defensive posture in all three zones rarely finding himself on the wrong side of the puck. Theo has a high motor and does not take any shifts for granted. He is excellent in the dot and wins draws on both forehand and backhand. With the skills Theo possess combined with the intangibles, teams should be lining up to give him a shot.

A Swiss army knife on defense is what the Halifax Mooseheads have in Jason Horvath (UDFA). The Russell, ON native plays a well-rounded game in all three zones. The 6 foot 200 pound lefty veteran is relied upon in all game situations. Jason does not possess any “pop off the screen” skills but the sum of the parts breeds a terrific hockey player.

Horvath is a smooth skater and can skate the puck out of the zone if need be or zip a pass to an open forward to spring a break. He is smart with and without the puck, reading and anticipating plays. Jason processes the play well, knowing when to join the rush or sit back in position. He understands game situations, makes smart reads, and maintains solid gap control. He uses his cerebral offensive mind to find sticks for deflections and tip in goals. Horvath also plays the game with a slight edge. He hits with a purpose and stands up for his teammates. He is smart in his defensive zone coverage and sticks to his man in the slot like white on rice. Horvath is a productive powerplay quarterback and dependable penalty killer. He has the skill set and hockey IQ to forge a solid pro career. He seems to be a coach’s dream as he is relied on in all situations and thrives when the game is on the line. 

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