With the NHL stuck in an owner’s lockout, hockey fans have had to direct their attention to other leagues in order to scratch the itch for competitive games. The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) has drawn a lot of the fan attention that the NHL would normally consume. Here are some of the studs and duds to watch for in the CHL’s eastern league, the QMJHL.
Topping my list of studs is none other than Cole Harbor Nova Scotia native, Nathan MacKinnon. The Halifax Mooseheads center is projected to be the first overall pick at this June’s NHL Entry Draft and his skills promise not to disappoint. MacKinnon currently sits 3rd in QMJHL scoring with 22 goals and 47 points in 27 games. It isn’t the fact that he is 3rd in scoring that pushes him ahead of the class. It isn’t even that he shows superior hockey sense and skill compared to his peers. It is that he is doing it at the ripe old age of 17. As a 16 year old in his rookie year, he recorded 31 goals and 78 points in 58 games. With over half the season remaining, he is trending to eclipse the 100 point mark in his sophomore season. At the time of writing, MacKinnon is enjoying a 13 game point streak where he has tallied 14 goals and 24 points. Simply put, Nathan MacKinnon is the most complete, well rounded, draft eligible player the QMJHL has to offer.
MacKinnon’s play has also benefitted the second ‘Stud’ on my list. Line-mate Jonathan Drouin saw a 5 game streak in October allot him 8 goals and 14 points while flanking the slick #22. Drouin currently sits 11th in league scoring with 15 goals and 42 points. This production saw Drouin jump to #4 on many scouts mid-season rankings for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. At the start of the season the 17 year old sophomore was projected to be drafted in the 13 spot after a rookie campaign that produced 7 goals and 29 points in 33 games. With 21 games in the books this season Drouin has already dwarfed those numbers. Aside from the P.E.I. Rocket’s 20 year old Josh Currie, Drouin is possibly the most improved player in the Quebec League. If you take into account that he is three years Currie’s junior, Drouin could be regarded as ‘the’ most improved player in the QMJHL.
Rounding out my list of studs is St. Louis Blues prospect and Moncton Wildcats winger, Dmitri Jaskin. The Blues’ 2nd round selection, 41st overall in 2011 is in his first hockey season in North America while currently ranking 5th in QMJHL scoring with 22 goals and 45 points in 28 games. Jaskin is also coming off a 15 game point streak where he deposited 12 goals to the back of the opponents net while racking up 32 points. In the final game of the streak the 19 year old Russian import dazzled with 2 goals and 2 assists in a November 30th Cats victory. Jaskin’s 15 game streak currently stands as the league’s second longest this season and his 32 points during the tear is tops by any player in the Q. Jaskin was named the QMJHL first star of the month in November after putting together 9 goals and 25 points in 10 games.
My ‘duds’ list may be a bit surprising to some as it is headed by a pretty high profile name. Calling Jonathan Huberdeau a dud may be a bit of a stretch but after seeing a huge improvement from his sophomore year to last season Huberdeau may have taken a bit of a step back. Yes it could be contributed to the deflation of returning to junior after the NHL locked its doors in September skirting any chance of a start with the Florida Panthers. It could even be the fact that the Sea Dogs are not the contending team this season that they were previously. Huberdeau is the Dogs’ best point producer with 15 goals and 43 points in 28 games but after producing 30 goals and 72 points in only 37 games last season the 19 year old former 3rd overall pick may be hard pressed to reach 100 points this time around. A number expected of a top prospect who would have easily reached 120-130 points in his draft year had he played a full season. Perhaps the young prospect needs to be challenged. Something he will certainly experience when he inevitably pulls on a Panthers Jersey.
I am going to hold my ‘duds’ list to 2 players choosing to try instead to stick to positives. The hockey world has already had to endure an abundance of negatives in what is still a young season. Being an eternal optimist I am going to say pinning a ‘dud’ tag to my next prospect may be harsh and perhaps premature but Rimouski rookie center Frederik Gauthier started the year ranked 15th for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. At mid-season he has seen his stock drop 5 spots to 20th as his play has tailed off a bit over the last month. Gauthier was drafted in the 3rd round by the Oceanic in 2011 and failed to crack the lineup the same year. He began the 2012 schedule with solid play turning in 10 goals and 20 points in his first 17 games. Since the beginning of November Gauthier has 5 points in 7 games and was held off the score-sheet in 4 of the 7 contests. Time will tell if the small November sample is simply a blip in a long season, or if the Rimouski center will continue to fall in the draft rankings. With the Oceanic holding down 4th in the QMJHL it is a bit of an enigma how they only have 4 players gracing the top 60 in points, thus far Gauthier is 59th. Positives are that only 2 rookies have more points than the youngster and a balanced scoring approach by the Oceanic could stunt point production slightly. No doubt there are other factors to consider when deciding if Gauthier is a stud, a dud or somewhere in-between. The defensive side of the game for one needs not be overlooked, #23 is a respectable +23 to this point. That ties him for 1st on the team in that category. Is Gauthier really a dud, we shall see, but for now, his stock is on the decline.
Quick Hits –
The Halifax Mooseheads are leading the entire CHL in the overall standings. The Moose have a very respectable 23-3-0 record that includes a 14 game winning streak (the longest in the league by far) and are the top dog picked to come out of the QMJHL. Along with the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, Halifax has to be considered as a Memorial Cup favorite.
The Halifax Mooseheads lead the league with 8 players in the top 60 in scoring including top prospect Nathan MacKinnon.
Patrick Roy’s Quebec Ramparts sit in 3rd overall in the QMJHL with a promising record of 20-7-0 despite having only 2 players in the top 60 scorers, including Sabres draft pick Mikhail Grigorenko who is 4th behind Phenom Nate MacKinnon.
The Baie-Comeau Drakkar’s Raphael Bussieres had 10 goals and 23 points in November and was named the months 2nd star. Goaltender Etienne Marcoux of the second place Blainville-Boisbriand Armada took 3rd star with a 6-1 record while posting a 1.89 GAA. As previously stated, Moncton’s Dmitri Jaskin had the 1st star with 25 points including 9 goals.
Jonathan Drouin of the Halifax Mooseheads jumped 9 spots from 13th to 4th in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft ranking after strong play alongside line-mate Nathan MacKinnon.
P.E.I. Rocket center Josh Currie was named player of the week for the week of Nov 26-Dec 2 after scoring 5 goals and adding 8 assists in four games. 20 year old Currie leads the QMJHL in scoring with 26 goals and 51 points and is currently undrafted by an NHL team. Rimouski goaltender Phillipe Desrosiers was 2nd star with a 1.67 GAA and 3 wins. Defenseman Kevin Gagne of the Sea Dogs took 3rd star posting 8 points in three games.