The QMJHL has not had a good run the past few years, as far as churning out a quality or quantity of picks. They had no picks in the first round last year, and only two the year before that. Last year, where the OHL had 35 players selected and the WHL had 33... the QMJHL had just 12.
It's been trending that way for the past few years, as the WHL and OHL have simply pulled away in terms of league and prospect quality. I gotta admit, junior hockey can be messy at the best of times to watch. The QMJHL can be particularly rough. This year looks to be no different. There aren't many real high profile prospects from the early season draft rankings – there may only be the one, and I'll get to him below.
That said, this doesn't mean that no good prospects come from it. Tristan Luneau, Zachary Bolduc, Jordan Dumais, Joshua Roy, Dawson Mercer, Justin Barron, and Jeremie Poirier are some of the better prospects from there the past few years. A couple of them have already become regular NHLers.
So these days, looking at prospects in the Q is a case of looking for some diamonds in the rough. So let's grab a pickaxe and get to mining!
I wrote about Massé in my first early watchlist as someone who had some hype going into this season. He is a 6'2", 193 lb winger who was the 3rd overall pick by Chicoutimi in the QMJHL draft, and is coming off a 29 goal, 62 point season in 65 games last year. He also played for Canada at this summer's Hlinka Gretzky tournament, where he had 5 goals and 6 points in 5 games. So dude is legit, and so far this year he has 7 goals and 17 points in 12 games, plus 48 shots. His points leads the draft eligible players in the QMJHL. Honestly I started writing this piece mid-week last week, when Massé only had 1 goals and 9 points. Then he went off this weekend, putting up 6 goals and 1 assist in 3 games since Thursday. So that shooting percentage regressed hard, in a good way.
Massé is first on his team in points, and has the most shots. 7 of his 16 points have come on the powerplay if that detracts or adds to his lustre for you. He has a bit of it all: he's big but it doesn't affect his ability to skate well. He can shoot well and score goals and set up teammates. Most importantly, he can link his skills together. Watch the video below – he skates well to carry it up the ice, slows down a bit when entering the offensive zone to give his team time to present options, draws two defenders to him, makes a cross ice pass to get the goalie and defense moving, and immediately books it to the net to present a passing option back. He's a smart offensive player that is fun to watch, and given his past ability to fill the net I'm thinking he still may have some positive regression coming for his goal production.
Boilard is a 6'2", 190 lb power forward-style center. He plays as the 2C for Baie-Comeau and does it fairly well from the bits I've seen. He has 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) in 13 games, and has 32 shots. He has only one goal on the powerplay, the rest have come at even strength. He's a former 4th round pick to the QMJHL, so he hasn't had as much hype as one of his teammates that's next on this list. He actually played the past two years in the BCHL, so this is his very first time in the league this season.
Boilard's shooting percentage is high but not that unreasonable for junior. He's an okay looking skater, though I'm no expert. I'd say he does look pretty slippery at evading defenders, and has a good motor. He plays a simple but smart game – he makes passes and goes to the net, he uses angles and give and go's effectively. Four of his goals came from deflections, rebounds, or pouncing on loose pucks right around the net. A lot of his shots come from right around the net, which also helps ease some concerns about his shooting percentage. He's not on any draft lists, so I'd expect him to be a mid/late round pick as of now. But if he keeps up his play and makes some improvements he may get some recognition down the stretch.
Poirier is actually a teammate of Boilard's on Baie-Comeau. Unlike Boilard, Poirier has had plenty of hype coming into this season. He was the 4th overall pick, and already had a full season under his belt where he had 48 points in 55 games. So far he leads all U18 players in the league with 13 points in 13 games (9 goals, 4 assists) and 46 shots. Unlike another former top pick, Massé, Poirier isn't relying as much on the powerplay – he only has 2 of his 13 points coming on the PP.
Poirier has a good amount of skill with some quick hands and a good shot, but he also has the usual concerns with players who are only 5'8". However, he's also a pretty hefty 190 lbs, his older brother (Jeremie, Calgary draft pick) eventually grew to 6'1", and he has a very late September 4th birthday making him one of the youngest players in the draft. So there is some reason to believe that Justin still has some more physical growth coming. I think he's an interesting guy and I'll be curious where he winds up, even if he produces and plays well enough to get a pretty high draft ranking in the end I see him being a guy who falls a lot on draft day due to size and the usual concerns that come with that. But this could be another Lane Hutson situation where if you see he has talent and think he has another couple of inches to grow to where his size won't be as much of a concern, then maybe...
Blais is a 5'10", 152 lbs center on Rimouski. He was a 25th overall pick, and actually has the most experience in the QMJHL on this list. Even some of the top picks in the QMJHL only started with their teams last year, but Blais as a late 2005 birthday was drafted a year earlier and played 21 games for Rimouski that same year. He had 8 points in 21 games as a young 15 year old, then had 42 points in 64 games last year, and so far this year has 14 points (8 goals, 6 assists) in 13 games this year. Five of his points have come on the powerplay, and another one has come on short handed. He plays 1C for Rimouski and is used in all situations.
Blais is a bit undersized, but has some tools that make up for it so far in junior. He has a good motor and is an adept stick lifter and puck thief. He's a good skater, especially in terms of agility and shiftiness to keep checkers from squaring up on him. With the puck, he's a good dual-threat guy as a shooter, playmaker, and has a pair of nifty mittens. I like the bits I've seen because he seems like he can involved himself in plays even if he's not on the scoresheet, and he just makes plays happen.
Lacerte is a 5'10", 156 lb forward that has been playing as Shawinigan's top line right winger. He's a former 22nd overall pick in the QMJHL, and is coming off a 52 point season where he played in 67 games in his D-1 season. So far this season, he has 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists) in 12 games, with 46 shots. He has the second most points on his team, behind his 20-year old center.
Eye test wise, Lacerte plays like a well rounded winger. I think he is likely bigger than what he's listed as right now, and he plays a bit of a power forward style. He doesn't really throw his weight around, but he is more than willing enough to go to the dirty areas – in fact, around half his goals have come from around the net on deflections, cleaning up rebounds, etc. I don't see a high level prospect out of him, but there's enough there that interests me that I have him on my watch list for now.