Quality Talent From the QMJHL Heading To The 2021 NHL Draft
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League has been heavily criticized over the years for the lack of high end talent production in the draft. In recent years, the draft has been mostly dominated by the OHL and the U.S. development program, and the QMJHL doesn’t produce as much big names, let alone compared to some European programs and systems. However, this year seems to be a relatively good year, especially in the first two rounds. Here are some of the top prospects from the Q heading into the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
Xavier Bourgault, C – Shawinigan
One of the top dynamic offensive weapons of this year’s draft is from Quebec. The six-foot tall winger plays the game with finesse and is the catalyst for offensive scoring on the ice every time he plays. He’s a rangy player, able to play in all areas of the ice, as well as being a multi-dimensional forward who can pass, shoot and stick handle his way around the ice. He’s a well-rounded weapon who produced 111 points in 92 games, scoring 53 goals along with 58 assists over the last two seasons in Shawinigan.
On top of being a threat when the puck is on the ice, he’s a tenacious forechecker and active in retrieving pucks for his team. He’s always hunting down the opposing puck mover and plays a strong man-to-man cycle. His work ethic shows well when tracking loose pucks, as he engages players with his stick and body. He uses his abilities to give himself that extra advantage.
One of the more underrated parts of his game is his transition play. His skating is overlooked, but he’s able to push the puck up the ice and create odd man rushes quickly. His rushing isn’t always set to max gear. He can slow the play down and shift strides, cut through the ice and throw a curve ball to the defensemen trying to adjust their reads. He can beat you in different ways, whether at full speed or at a slower pace.
Zachary Bolduc, C- Rimouski
Another big and skilled forward from the province of Quebec is ranked at the top of the NHL Draft board. Bolduc is a tempo player and picks up his intensity as he transitions offensively and makes quick decisions on the ice.
He has a high skill level, and when he’s on the ice and fully engaged, he’s very hard to stop. His uphill skating and separation ability is what makes him a dangerous player. He creates a ton of space for himself and that allows him to be creative. His puck handling from one blue line to another creates headaches for everyone on the ice and he’s managed to develop a stop-and-go ability that has only gotten better and will continue to develop as he refines certain edges.
He’s a clear skilled forward who’s a more offensive weapon than a shutdown defensive player. His production comes from both scoring and assisting and his ability to draw players to him. The fear of him scoring is what breaks defensive assignments up and gives his teammates more space on the ice to move around. Moreover, he possesses a precise shot and can pick both corners or beat you from in tight.
Zachary L’Heureux, LW – Halifax
The physical pest from Montreal is up there for one of the more physically engaging skaters heading into the early parts of the NHL Draft.
L’Heureux blends skill and toughness together to build a strong forward. His ability to play any style of game makes him an even more attractive player to any team in the first round. He can play a skilled game, he can play a possession game and he can also play a checking game. His overall passion and intensity make him a player to monitor on the ice. He can play mind games with you, and sometimes, it forces defenders to make quick and unforced errors to avoid being hit by him, which don’t show up on the scoresheet, but create an advantage nonetheless.
On top of his physical play, he can produce offensively. He owns a good shot, quality stick handling ability and a strong net driving stride. He goes to the corners and never backs down from bigger opposition. The majority of his plays come form the net and in the surrounding areas where he gets involved physically and tucks in loose pucks passed the netminder. On top of scoring near the keeper, he can also score from the rush or on set plays like shots from the slot or circles. Though not perceived as a sniper, he can definitely rival the top scorers in this year’s draft.
Evan Nause, D – Quebec
The pride of White Rock, British Columbia, has been one of the most stable defenseman in the QMJHL. He plays a simple, reliable and efficient two-way game.
Nause is one of those lowkey defensemen who makes all the smart, easy plays in his own end that alleviates pressure and get the counter attack started. He’s quick footed, has smooth edge work and is agile when handling the puck. His transition game is very clean and he’s great at those one touch passes that get the puck up the ice with speed and precision. His up ice play starts with him in his zone and often ends up with him near the opposing teams net, making himself available for a potential scoring play.
Additionally to his puck moving skillset, he possesses good offensive abilities. As mentioned before, he can make nice passing plays and also has the ability to get the puck to his teammates through opposing defenders. He’s also good at cycling the puck offensively, which isn’t everyone’s strength. His shot is not at the top of this year’s draft, but it gets on net and it’s pretty accurate.
Cameron Whynot, D – Halifax
The six-foot-one left-handed defenseman from Kentville, Nova Scotia is a strong two-way defender who skates well, is a great passer and has great offensive awareness. Just like Evan Nause, who was mentioned above, Whynot is a newer age defenseman who excels at zone exits, has a good transition game and plays well in the offensive zone.
The Halifax Mooseheads blue-liner pairs up well with offensive partners such as Justin Barron who he played with, and can manage his pinches and step ups well. His agility and smooth skating make him very mobile on the ice, where he can change angles and move to different areas without breaking a sweat.
The change in production from last year to the one that just finished is quite remarkable. He only scored nine points in 57 games in 2020, but followed it up with 23 points in 34 games this passed season with a drastic change in plus minus from -41 to +13. His shooting, passing and skating are what get him a ton of praise, but he’s got high levels of endurance and stamina, which keep him fully engaged no matter the assignment. He doesn’t get tired and can be relied upon when on the ice while he is played against the best players of each team.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League deserves is deserving of respect in 2021. They’re sending a good batch of draft eligible prospects this year, and many of them could develop even more, as they expect to play a full season after a shortened campaign. These kids will continue to work on their game and strengthen what they’re good at and fix certain things they do not do well. There are even more players in the later rounds who could very well become picks of value.