Wednesday, January 12, 2011

QMJHL Thoughts Explosion

Image from Rogers Sportsnet

Tons of things have gone down in the last week, so I’ll try to knock down some of the key topics all at once.

First off, Wednesday night kicks off a run of four games in five days for the Drummondville Voltiguers in the Maritimes, meaning Sean Couturier is in town. My only chance to see him live was at the Subway Super Series in Saint John in November, so I’m excited to be catching him in four games. The Volts visit the Screaming Eagles on Wednesday night, followed by an exciting back-to-back against the Saint John Sea Dogs on Friday and Saturday nights, and a matinee in Moncton Sunday. Just call it “Cou-Tour-ier 2011”.

Not entirely shocked that Couturier is ranked second among North American skaters by Central Scouting. His numbers are still great, but he hasn’t dominated the Q maybe as much as expected. Part of that can be attributed to a bout with mono that deprived him of training camp. He really turned it on late last season to take the league scoring title; he’s on pace to finish 3 points below last year in 10 fewer games played. His World Junior performance was average, certainly nothing to solidify him as the top prospect, obviously. He was a solid presence throughout the tournament, making strong defensive plays and creating some offense. Nothing spectacular, but he hardly had a terrible tournament.

Talk about the benefits of playing for a stacked & heavily scouted team. Nine Sea Dogs made the cut, plus Guillaume Cloutier who was traded last week. The scouts came for the Big Four: Jonathan Huberdeau, Nathan Beaulieu, Tomas Jurco and Zack Phillips, and the secondary players enjoyed the benefits. Ryan Tesink, Scott Oke, Aidan Kelly, Gabriel Bourret and Jason Cameron are all role players on the Sea Dogs, but manage to be ranked (and ranked generously in some cases) due to plenty of scouts in attendance at each game. I’d venture a guess that MAYBE half of those players would be ranked if they played in Baie-Comeau or Rouyn-Noranda, and certainly not as high.

Great to see Jonathan Huberdeau ranked 4th among North American skaters with the beat down he’s been laying on the Q this season. While I’d be a little surprised to see him actually go in the top-10, I think somewhere in the middle of the first round is likely. Early in the season I thought he’d have been somewhere in the mid-20s. Interesting to note that Zack Phillips, who was ranked ridiculously low in the domestic rankings in the fall (11th in the Q) was at 12th among all North American skaters. Higher than I expected; same goes for Nathan Beaulieu. He’s been hot and cold in the games I’ve seen this year. He can make some excellent plays, particularly offensively, but his decision making needs serious improvement if he’s to earn his keep as the 2nd best North American defenseman in the draft. Logan Shaw was ranked much higher than I expected at 52. He might be a solid late-round project type of guy, but I’d be shocked if he went any earlier than the 5th or 6th round. Also wondering where Olivier Archambault may end up being taken; I haven’t seen much of him, but from what I have, the kid has a lot of skill.

I really like the moves made by Saint John at the deadline. The addition of Mathieu Corbeil could end up being a brilliant one. He’s had a terrible year in Halifax and seems to have little confidence, but I’ve seen a number of games where he stands on his head and still loses because the Mooseheads are terrible. He’ll split time with Jacob De Serres for the rest of the regular season, likely take a seat for the playoffs, and if his confidence returns for next season, the Sea Dogs might be as good as unstoppable.

I’m a little surprised Montreal didn’t go all in for another superstar player to make a run this year. Louis Leblanc is gone next season, so it’s now or never. Even without that superstar, the addition of Viktor Hertzberg gives them a great top-6 forward group, to go with a few standout defensemen and a solid kicker in JF Berube. You have to like that team as a favourite heading into the playoffs.

Gatineau’s deal for Philip-Michael Devos came as a bit of a surprise to me. Gatineau’s been hot lately but didn’t really seem like a team that was going to be gunning for it, at least not this hard. They gave up a massive part of their future to get the league’s scoring leader, so they’d better hope they make a deep playoff run.

I’m more than a little concerned with the direction the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles are heading in. This isn’t to say they did poorly at the trade deadline; they actually got great returns on Viktor Hertzberg and Pier-Antoine Dion. My worries revolve around the comments from the man steering the ship. Mario Durocher had said he wanted to have a team that would make the playoffs this year and contend next year, and of course, they’re also bidding on next year’s Memorial Cup. Obviously those deals don’t help them for this year, and those comments combined with the rumours floating around make it seem likely that some of those high draft picks are going back to their respective teams for 19- and 20-year olds at the draft. By that time the Memorial Cup will have already been awarded (hint: not to Cape Breton), the Eagles still won’t have a team that can win next year, and to achieve all that, they’ll have let some great building blocks slip through their fingers. If this team was going to have any shot at the Memorial Cup, it should have been selling off assets last year to build toward next year. Instead it looks like they’re going to be in a buyer’s mindset for three seasons longer than they should have been.

I’ll likely report back on Cou-Tour-ier 2011 sometime next week. That phrase is trademarked now, by the way.

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