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French Connection: Quebec-born talent highlights QMJHL’s top draft eligibles

 

When it comes to QMJHL graduates, recent NHL drafts have been headlined by import talents.

In 2018, Halifax Mooseheads forward Filip Zadina, a Czech Republic native, was the first name called from the QMJHL when he went sixth overall to the Detroit Red Wings. The year prior, another Mooseheads alumnus in Nico Hischier, who hails from Switzerland, was taken with the first pick by the New Jersey Devils.

But not this year. Rather, this season, five Quebec-born players are among a leading group of up-and-comers from the QMJHL who are expected to hear their names called by NHL clubs when the 2019 NHL Draft opens Friday in Vancouver.

Naturally, leading the way is another Mooseheads skater in Raphael Lavoie, a hulking forward who ranks 20th among North American skaters per NHL Central Scouting. After a solid regular season in which he posted 32 goals and 73 points in 62 games, the Chambly, Que., native found another gear in the postseason as he led the entire QMJHL with 20 goals in just 23 playoff appearances to help guide the Mooseheads to the President’s Cup Final.

“There really isn’t anything he can’t do,” notes Sportsnet draft expert Sam Cosentino. “He plays with a chip on his shoulder, doesn’t care what anyone thinks about him, and is amongst the best pure snipers in this draft class.”

A late birthday who missed last year’s draft cut-off date by 10 days, Lavoie used the extra time to his advantage as he continued to refine his game this season. The lanky forward likens his style to Anaheim Ducks captain and Calgary Hitmen graduate Ryan Getzlaf, and it’s an easy comparison to understand once you witness Lavoie’s ability to protect the puck and power through defenders. For NHL clubs looking to add size and skill, Lavoie is brimming with both.

Meanwhile, finishing just one slot behind Lavoie in Central Scouting’s Final Rankings at No. 21 is Sherbrooke Phoenix right-wing Samuel Poulin, the son of longtime NHLer Patrick Poulin who appeared in more than 600 career games with four different clubs.

As for the younger Poulin, who calls Blainville, Que., his hometown, he brings an intriguing mix as both a goal scorer and playmaker who has continued to hone his power forward style. This season saw Poulin finish with 29 goals and 47 assists for 76 points as he led the Phoenix in all three categories.

It’s that sort of playing style that leads to his comparison to fellow Quebec native and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada graduate Pierre-Luc Dubois. Overall, Poulin brings an exciting package of talent that can fit seamlessly into a team’s top-nine forward group.

“Good size, projects to play up and down the lineup,” notes Cosentino. “(Poulin) could use some polish in terms of finishing ability.”

Next up as the 27th ranked North American skater is Moncton Wildcats left-wing Jakob Pelletier, who finished second in team scoring following an impressive 89-point season. That marked a 28-point climb from the previous year when, as a freshman, Pelletier tallied 23 goals and 38 assists to earn a spot on the QMJHL All-Rookie Team.

Despite lining up at left-wing, the product of Quebec City compares his style to Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, given that both exude leadership and an exceptional two-way game. This season, Pelletier put those attributes on display for Team Canada as he laced up on two occasions, counting last summer’s Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he captured the gold medal, as well as an appearance at the 2019 IIHF U18 World Championship.

Most attractive about Pelletier, however, may be his ability to avoid the perimeter and drive the play, something talent evaluators and their NHL clubs always like to place an emphasis on.

As Cosentino summarized, “Smaller players have to exhibit a dynamic element with off the charts compete. Both boxes are checked for Pelletier.”

Coming in at 42nd among North American skaters is Laval, Que., native and Armada blue-liner Samuel Bolduc, a hulking defenceman who brings both tremendous size and an ability to move the puck, as evidenced by his 37-point finish with Blainville-Boisbriand this season.

Despite sporting jersey No. 58 after Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman and Val-d’Or Foreurs graduate Kris Letang, it is in fact another front-line blue-liner in Tampa Bay Lightning rearguard Victor Hedman after whom Bolduc models his game. Like Hedman, Bolduc owns an ability to put points on the board and make a clean outlet pass. In all, his exceptional second half with the Armada saw him climb 45 spots from his midterm ranking.

“He has an old school, defensive defenceman mentality,” Cosentino writes. “He passes like a pro, uses his size to defend the cycle well, has good body position, and a good stick.”

Lastly, rounding out the list of leading Quebecers is Baie-Comeau Drakkar left-wing Nathan Legare, who clocks in at 54th overall among North American skaters. The Montreal-born forward brings a tantalizing combination of size and skill, and most importantly, an ability to frequently find the back of the net.

With the Drakkar this season, Legare finished second in team scoring with 87 points, while also leading the way with 45 goals, a mark outpaced by a lone QMJHL skater in 2018-19. The success continued on the international stage as Legare notched four goals in seven games with Team Canada at the 2019 IIHF U18 World Championship, where he also served as an alternate captain.

It wasn’t the only time this season that Legare impressed on the big stage either. At the 2019 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game – a best-on-best format – Legare continuously demonstrated his ability to use his size to his advantage, winning puck battles and outmuscling the opponent.

“Legare used his tireless work ethic to hound pucks and create turnovers all night. He played the power-forward role to perfection,” noted Cosentino.

After a season of evaluation counting on-ice play, interviews, and combine testing, the next step will finally be realized Friday in Vancouver.

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