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Kia CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Cataractes a favourite for talent evaluators

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There will once again be plenty of reason to keep an eye on the Shawinigan Cataractes this season.

Showing positive signs through the early goings of 2020-21, the Cataractes have taken points in seven of 10 contests to live up to their honourable mention status in the preseason edition of the Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings.

Home to budding talents like Mavrik Bourque and Vasily Ponomarev, who were selected by the Dallas Stars and Carolina Hurricanes, respectively, in the 2020 NHL Draft, Shawinigan was a frequent stop on the scouting schedule last season and it promises to be a similar story this year with another three skaters from the Cataractes earmarked for selection in the 2021 class.

Among that trio is 18-year-old right-wing Xavier Bourgault, who as a sophomore skyrocketed offensively to 33 goals and 38 assists, marking an astounding 51-point improvement from the prior campaign to ultimately tie for the team lead in scoring.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time, so I will continue to work hard this season to achieve my goal of being drafted in the first round,” Bourgault told the QMJHL. “It’s a big year for me … I realize it’s a lot of pressure to get drafted. But that pressure helps me to work harder every day in the gym or on the ice, at practice, and in every game.”

Along the way, Bourgault is leaning on teammates like Bourque to fill him in on what to expect during his draft year, while he is also hoping to follow his lead and take on a leadership role with the Cataractes.

“My family, my teammates, and Mavrik (Bourque) continue to help me to handle it,” Bourgault added. “Shawinigan is a very good organization. We have a very talented bunch that is made up of a great group of guys. As one of the leaders on the team, I try to show the younger guys what it takes (to win) every night.”

For Bourque, who returns to Shawinigan for his third season, he does so after becoming just the sixth player in franchise history to be taken on Day 1 of draft day, and the club’s first opening-round selection since the New York Islanders called on Anthony Beauvillier with pick No. 28 in 2015.

Finishing inside the top-20 in league-wide scoring last season, Bourque tied Bourgault for the team lead in scoring, needing only 49 contests to amass 71 points, demonstrating the offensive acumen that attracted the Stars and helped him earn an invite to Canada’s national junior team selection camp. A top scoring threat in Shawinigan, Bourque has had another strong start to the new season, already with six points in just four games.

While Bourque often draws the most attention from the opposition, he is also joined up front by a budding centre in Ponomarev, a second-round selection in the 2020 NHL Draft. Originally chosen ninth overall in the 2019 CHL Import Draft, the Russian-born pivot needed little time to adjust to the North American style last season as he impressed with 18 goals and 31 assists through 57 games. Fans will get their latest look in the coming weeks with Ponomarev slated to represent his native Russia in the upcoming World Junior Championship.

Back in Shawinigan, the Cataractes lineup is also decorated with intriguing talent like 17-year-old right-wing Olivier Nadeau, the fifth-overall selection from the 2019 QMJHL Entry Draft. After notching a modest 23 points as a first-year forward, Nadeau is reaching new heights in his second season, already scoring north of a point-per-game pace in registering three goals and eight assists through his first 10 games of 2020-21.

For the Cataractes, there is also plenty offensive flair from the blue line, headlined by 19-year-old rearguard Marc-Antoine Pepin, who after playing a regular role last season responded offensively with six goals and 30 assists through 60 appearances. The native of Becancour, Que., will be provide invaluable support on a back end that features other players of intrigue like 17-year-old draft-eligible defender Tyson Hinds, who received a ‘C’ grade in Central Scouting’s preliminary assessment, making him and a strong candidate to hear his name called as early as the fourth round in the 2021 NHL Draft.

Rounding out the group, the Cataractes own of the busiest goaltenders in the QMJHL in third-year netminder Antoine Coulombe. Seeing 85 appearances over the past two seasons, the native of Montmagny, Que., has continued to round out his game with the results to show for it through the first portion of 2020-21 as he has come away with four wins through seven appearances.

Soon returning to the ice, the Cataractes will look to keep up their winning ways following an impressive start to the 2020-21 campaign.

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