NASHVILLE (The Draft Analyst) — It’s been years since the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League provided present-day NHL draft classes with as many top-tier prospects as their sister development leagues in Western Canada and Ontario. But that doesn’t mean their pool suffers from a complete lack of talent. In fact, the number of QMJHL’ers drafted by NHL teams jumped from 18 in 2019 to 19 in 2020, and increased to 24 selections in last July’s draft. Granted, the NHL expanded from 217 to 224 total picks, but the point stands — the QMJHL remains a major player when it comes to producing draft prospects for NHL organizations, and their Class of ’21 will feature several notables worthy of a first-round selection.
The Halifax Mooseheads boast a trio of intriguing forwards who saw ample playing time last year — centers Markus Vidicek and James Swan, and right wing Jordan Dumais. All three forwards moved around the lineup but contributed in all phases of the game.
Markus Vidicek (5’10, 152 | Shoots Left) is an excellent two-way center with a strong grasp of the position. He played in all game situations: power play, penalty kill and late/close scenarios. Vidicek is smart, competes hard, and he stood up to all the challenges faced despite being one of the younger players in the league. A Kirkland, QC native who went 14th overall in the 2020 QMJHL Draft, Vidicek tallied 10 goals and 21 assists for an impressive 31 points in 43 games thanks to a deceptive shot and creative playmaking skills.
Although listed as a center, James Swan (5’8, 180 | Shoots Left) played all three forward positions for the Mooseheads last year. Selected in the second round (28th overall) in the 2020 QMJHL Draft, Swan is a smaller player but one with a thick frame. He is swift on his feet and hard to knock off pucks. Last season, the Ville St-Laurent, QC native registered 11 goals and nine assists in 37 games, but 17 of his 20 points came at even strength. Swan plays a meat-and-potatoes style, mucking it up in the corners and going hard to the net. He has a no-frills, dog-on-a-bone attitude and plays hard every shift.
Jordan Dumais (5’9, 165 | Shoots Right) also was a high QMJHL draft pick in 2020, as the Mooseheads took him with the 18th pick. A natural wing with a small frame, Dumais is a quick and sleek possession wizard who handles the puck well. His 29 points (10 goals, 19 assists) in 40 games last season placed him sixth in team scoring and he was used extensively on the power play. Dumais can be classified as the flashiest of Halifax’s first-year draft eligibles, but he is a skilled forward who also competes hard and uses his speed to apply pressure either on or off the puck.
Justin Cote (5’6, 163 | Shoots Left) is a diminutive fireplug full of skill and energy. Although small in stature, Cote is a consistent threat with high-volume scoring potential thanks to a lethal shot and release. Cote also is dangerous on the power play, where he potted seven of his 17 goals during the man advantage. More of a shoot-first center than a pure playmaker, Cote needs to add diversity to his skill set. But that shouldn’t detract from how dangerous a player he can be from high-danger shooting areas.
Luke Woodworth (5’9, 154 | Shoots Right) is listed as a smaller player but appears larger on the screen. He is stronger on the puck than his measurements indicate and he does not shy away from contact. Woodworth, who was the 11th pick in the 2020 QMJHL Draft, is a smart playmaking forward who reads plays well while using his quick wits and soft hands to maintain possession while orchestrating the possession inside the offensive end. Woodworth also is a power-play specialist, as his nine helpers during the man advantage tied for the team lead, and his 16 total assists in 34 games ranked third.
Defenseman Maveric Lamoureux (6’5, 193 | Shoots Right) is a big-bodied rearguard who is reliable in his own end and delivers a good first pass. Although his straight-line speed and lateral mobility are average for a defender his size, Lamoureux, who was the 12th overall pick in the 2020 QMJHL Draft, uses his smarts and instincts to either join the rush or stay closer to his line. He can be guilty of overhandling the puck once he ventures beyond center ice, but Lamoureux is quick to cut his losses and focus on neutralizing the counterattack. He certainly uses his size and reach to his advantage and he put up a respectable 7 points in 24 games. His size, however, is not the only reason he sticks out when watching a game, as his play on or near the puck does most of the talking.
The Gatineau Olympiques have four potential draftees from last season’s roster — left wingers Samuel Savoie and Antonin Verreault and defensemen Tristian Luneau and Noah Warren.
Samuel Savoie (5’10, 186 | Shoots Left) may have produced only nine points in 27 games a season ago, but he was far more effective than those numbers may indicate. A left wing who wears many hats, Savoie is a coachable player loaded with intangibles. He plays physical, is strong on his skates and also combines skill with an agitating style of play. He was visible on almost every shift; be it a hit, a slick play, or nuanced activity that is unnoticed on the stat sheet. Savoie is a throwback player who blends puck skill with tenacity, thus increasing his chances at being drafted regardless what his numbers look like at season’s end.
Antonin Verreault (5’8, 163 | Shoots Left) is a highly-touted scoring machine who was the second overall pick in the 2020 QMJHL Draft. A left wing who is a blur on the ice and consistently catches defensemen flat footed, Verrault moves at a feverish pace but does so in a controlled manner. He is both quick and relentless on or off the puck, and Verreault’s ability to either slice through traffic or apply pressure on the forecheck helps make him useful in any situation. Blessed with a high hockey IQ and acute on-ice awareness, Verreault can make it look obvious that he is two or three steps ahead of everyone else on the ice. His vision and passing skills are top notch, and although he is not a large player, Verreault does not shy away from the greasy areas. He seems to revel in getting his nose dirty and is a fearless inside player.
Tristan Luneau (6’2, 174 | Shoots Right) is one of the top prospects for the 2022 NHL draft and should be considered a potential top-10 pick. A right-handed rearguard who went first overall in the 2020 QMJHL Draft and an alternate captain for Team Canada’s under-16 team at the 2020 Youth Olympics, Luneau is a swift-skating, offensively-skilled rearguard. He is a smart player; one with fantastic vision and anticipation. His 18 points last season (4 goals, 14 assists) led all 2004-born defenders and was second only to the older Evan Nause in QMJHL rookie defense scoring. Luneau is one of the best on-ice generals among teenage defenders, and he consistently gets his shot through. His mobility is impressive in any direction, as he uses his feet to breakdown a forecheck or create an open passing lanes. Luneau needs to fill out more and increase the number of times he uses his large frame to his advantage. Luneau definitely improved defensively as the season progressed, a trend that should continue in 2022. His skating and skill set pops off the screen, and Luneau is only a tweak or two away from being the QMJHL’s premier defenseman.
Noah Warren (6’5, 215 | Shoots Right) is a strong two-way defenseman with impressive length and an effective reach. Taken eighth overall in the 2020 QMJHL draft, Warren was summoned by Hockey Canada to represent his country at the 2020 Youth Olympics. He is a strong skater who can be deployed to either the left or right side, and he plays with an edge without committing penalties. Warren has good vision and soft hands, but his mobility and quickness for a defender his size is what separates him from most draft prospects. Although his footwork, timing, and decision making all could improve, Warren is a hard hitter and is strong defensively, as he uses his body to provide a clear path for his goalie to see incoming shots. Warren maintains a decent gap and is rarely caught out of position. His overall draft profile is loaded with promising attributes, which is why keeping his game simple and limiting unforced errors should increase the likelihood that he is drafted in one of the first two rounds.
Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Cape Breton had a difficult 2020-21 campaign, but defenseman Jérémy Langlois (6’1, 181 | Shoots Left) stood out as an effective player. A late birthdate who was taken 17th overall in the 2019 QMJHL Draft, Langlois is an offensive-minded defender who can be either a playmaking or shooting threat whenever he is on the ice. But he is far from a one-trick pony, as Langlois is a calculated risk taker who is quick to recover to a tenable defensive position and blanket the neutral zone with stingy, engaged coverage. He is an excellent skater with tremendous vision, and these two traits combined with his deft puck skills allow him to escape and breakdown a forecheck relatively easily. Langlois is competent in one-on-one defense and maintains decent gap control in the neutral zone, using his legs and angles to thwart a rush. Entering his third QMJHL season, Langlois should figure prominently in Cape Breton’s attack no matter the strength on the ice.
The Shawinigan Cataractes have a pair of defensemen who should garner plenty of draft-year attention — Angus Booth and Isaac Menard.
A Montreal native, Angus Booth (6’1, 174 | Shoots Left) primarily played right defense last season although he shoots left handed. Taken in the fourth round of the 2020 QMJHL draft, Booth is a smooth skater with a high IQ that allows him to make precision plays while on the move. He rarely makes a poor decision, as he processes the play quickly, has plus puck skills, and plays an effective game without needing to be flashy. Booth was eased into action last year as a third-pairing defenseman and earned more responsibility as the season progressed. He played on both special teams and in various situations, and Shawinigan’s trade of Anaheim Ducks ‘draftee Tyson Hinds created more ice time for the younger Cataractes rearguards. Booth took advantage of the expanded role, which should increase in his upcoming draft year, as he’s a defenseman whose effective play should not be measured in points. He makes plays that do not appear in the stat sheet but help the team win.
Isaac Menard (5’9, 158 | Shoots Left) is an undersized puck mover who was used in a depth role a season ago. Taken 49th overall in the 2020 QMJHL Draft, Menard can fill a variety of role despite having limitations in size and strength. But Menard isn’t a pushover when on the puck, and rushing up ice at top speed makes him a harder target to check. Much like Booth, Menard did not disappoint when he was given more ice time. He is a smart, calculated puck handler who delivers quick first passes but can also take the puck for a skate the length of the ice. He should be expected to see time on the power play and get favorable zone starts in the offensive end.
Nathan Gaucher (6’3, 207 | Shoots Left) arguably is the top forward prospect from the QMJHL for this year’s draft. A left-handed center with a late birthdate who was chosen eighth overall in the 2019 QMJHL draft, Gaucher led the Remparts in scoring with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 34 games. He is an excellent all-around pivot, one who uses his size, smarts, compete level and puck skill to create a nightmare of a matchup for opponents. Although Gaucher is not the fastest skater, his sharp awareness and anticipation of puck travel places him in advantageous positions. It appears on the surface that Gaucher, beyond his size, lacks one particular skill or trait that makes him stand out. But he is an absolute beast in front of the net while using an elite set of hands to make plays from in tight. He plays a fairly simple game while revealing a throwback attitude, specifically in that he understands what is asked of him and knows when to do it. Perhaps his consistency is another attribute, and Gaucher is counted on in all situations.
The Moncton Wildcats have two promising forwards who should garner draft day attention — Right wing Maxim Barbashev and Yoan Loshing should hear their names called in the 2022 Draft.
Maxim Barbashev (6’0, 167 | Shoots Left) is another late-2003 birth date, thereby making him one of the older QMJHL prospects for the NHL draft. Selected 50th overall in the 2020 CHL Import Draft out of Russia’s Atlanty junior program, Maxim is the younger brother of current St. Louis Blues winger Ivan Barbashev. Maxim is an intriguing prospect because he has a solid base as far as skill set but has appeared in only 64 games since 2018. Barbashev was able to squeeze in 10 games for Moncton a season ago, posting 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists) and an impressive 23.1 shooting percentage. Barbashev, who can play either wing, is a no-nonsense flanker who plays an honest yet in-your-face game in addition to the impressive puck skills he provides on a shift-to-shift basis. Barbashev appears to be an average skater and is more of a north-south, chip-and-chase kind of a forward, but his Swiss-Army-Knife versatility should serve Moncton well as the Wildcats look to continue their dominance of the league.
Yoan Loshing (5’9, 162 | Shoots Left) is a powerful-skating left winger who is difficult to knock off the puck. He appeared in only 19 games for one of the QMJHL’s best teams, putting up 8 points (4 goals, 4 assists). Taken 13th overall in the 2020 QMJHL Draft, Loshing is a low-maintenance playmaker who has the skills to produce consistently. He is at his best when he keeps the game simple, but Loshing has the hands, vision, and smarts to make tough plays under pressure. Loshing was injured most of last season but appeared in five preseason games and looks ready for Moncton’s season opener against Acadie-Bathhurst on Oct. 1
The Rimouski Oceanic lost several key players to graduation and will have to rely on a core made up of mostly 2003-born prospects.
Center Jacob Mathieu (5’11, 179 | Shoots Left) is their most heralded prospect, as he stood out a season ago with 14 points (9 goals, 5 assists) in 23 games while playing in a depth role. Drafted 39th overall in the 2020 QMJHL Draft, Mathieu is willing to battle and does not shy away from contact, especially in the dirty areas. Mathieu is a quick skater who uses his speed and vision to exploit open ice, so it’s reasonable to assume he will see a greater role and potentially rank among Rimouski’s scoring leaders.
Alexander Lefebrve (5’11, 183 | Shoots Left) is a left wing who did not produce many points a season ago but should be considered a key player for Rimouski this season. He had a fairly impressive preseason (3 goals in 6 games), and he showed off his skill that makes him a candidate to take off. A late birthdate who the Oceanic drafted 90th overall in 2020, Lefebrve is strong on his skates, has above-average vision, keen smarts, and impressive skating ability. Rimouski will be a young squad this year, which should increase Lefebvre’s ice time and present him with better opportunities to score.
Cam Thompson (5’11, 194 | Shoots Right) an undrafted QMJHL prospect who was Rimouski’s top preseason scorer with 9 points (3 goals, 6 assists) in 7 games and was a key figure on their power play. Thomson, a late-2003 birthdate who played for Fredericton Red Wings in the MJAHL, is a dual-threat pivot capable of making highlight-reel plays, albeit mostly from inside the offensive end due to limitations in explosiveness.
Leighton Carruthers (5’11, 210 | Shoots Left) is a prominent left wing who stood out in spurts as a rookie for the Saint John Sea Dogs last year. Selected third overall in the 2020 QMJHL Draft, Carruthers was traded to Rouyn-Noranda for a sizable draft-pick haul, so he should be expected to fill a prominent role for a Huskies squad which has had back-to-back losing seasons since winning the last Memorial Cup in 2019. A left-shot winger who can impact shifts with either his speed or his stickhandling, Carruthers was eased into action as a rookie but seemed to make a difference every time he hit the ice. He plays and looks larger than his listed height, and Leighton skates well, plays smart, and competes hard on and off the puck. Carruthers has all the tools to excel and bring his game to the next level.
Zachary Lessard (5’9, 165 | Shoots Right) is the most notable draft prospect on a veteran Phoenix squad and he’s also one of the younger 2022 draft eligibles thanks to his Sept. 6, 2004 birthdate. Selected 37th overall in the 2021 QMJHL Draft, Lessard appeared in 22 games last season, posting six assists and firing 20 shots. Skating is far and away Lessard’s strongest attribute, as he glides from zone to zone and uses his quick feet to gap up on oncoming puck carriers. He’s listed as an undersized puck mover, but Lessard packs a punch and will let the opposition feel his presence either in front of the net or in the corners. He didn’t see much time on the power play last season but that wasn’t the case in the preseason, where he notched four assists in five games and quarterbacked his power-play unit.
Colin Ratt (6’2, 180 | Shoots Left) is a big-bodied winger who went undrafted in the QMJHL but appeared in 22 games for the Phoenix last season, recording one assist. A left shot who plays right wing, Ratt has an agitating style but he also skates well and has some skill. There’s certainly a rawness to his overall game but he’s shown impressive puck skill in spurts. Ratt will need to continue to improve his footwork and hand-eye coordination, but he has the will and determination to make his presence felt.