Two months ago, the OHL kicked off things with its priority selection draft. Then, the WHL joined the fun in May, with the USHL following shortly after. Now, it's time for the QMJHL to get in on the action.
Each Canadian region has its own unique minor-hockey feeder system. In the QMJHL, teams choose players mainly that play midget, a combination of what other regions will call minor and major midget. Teams will be selecting 2003-born kids, with most of the players eligible for the NHL draft for the first time in 2021.
On Saturday, the 18 'Q' teams will determine who they want to lead their franchise into the future, with the Saint John Sea Dogs picking first for the third time since 2014 and just one year after taking William Villeneuve second overall. Unlike the OHL or WHL, where prospects Shane Wright and Matt Savoie came in as the top prospects respectively, the QMJHL has a Jack Hughes/Kaapo Kakko situation on its hands: do the Sea Dogs take center Justin Robidas or winger Joshua Roy? Depending on which scout you talk to, there's no clear answer because they're both so good.
So, how does this draft class stack up? Here's a look at some of the top prospects available from Eastern Canada this year heading into Saturday's selection process in Quebec City:
Justin Robidas, C (Magog Cantonniers)
Yes, his dad is former NHL blueliner Stephane Robidas, and, yes, he’s also a well-respected leader. Robidas challenged for the top draft spot all year long and his five goals and 10 points at the Canada Winter Games really got people talking. A center unlike his defenseman dad, Justin is listed by the QMJHL as 5-foot-6-and-a-half, but a lack of size doesn't seem to hurt his play. He's a dominant offensive threat and an all-around talent with the skill to burn. Robidas had 28 goals and 53 points in 35 regular-season games with the Cantonniers before finishing fourth in QMAAA playoff scoring with 22 points in 14 games, leading his team to a championship. Robidas is a special player and will immediately transform the team that selects him.
Joshua Roy, LW (Levis Chevaliers)
Roy was often seen as the go-to prospect for the draft, especially with his ability to play both wing and center. Roy’s Chevaliers club had a 41-1-0 record, largely due to Roy’s scoring touch and ability to dominate on the power play, scoring nearly half of his 88 points with the man advantage. One of the highest-scoring 15-year-olds in the history of Quebec AAA hockey, Roy had 13 points at the Canada Winter Games. Despite posting 11 points in 11 playoff games, Roy left a lot to be desired and wasn’t as competitive shift-to-shift as you’d like to see. Still, he’s a star prospect and will make an immediate impact in the QMJHL next season.
Zachary Dean, C (Toronto Nationals)
Unlike most players who will go in the first round, Dean didn't actually play in the QMJHL region this year. Instead, he crafted his trade with the GTHL's Toronto Nationals, one of the best programs in the Greater Toronto Area. Originally from Newfoundland, Dean finished the season with 89 points with the Young Nats and had an additional 15 points as his province's best player at the Canada Winter Games in February. A dangerous goal-scorer, Dean has been a standout everywhere he's played and will gift a QMJHL squad with a terrific shot release and a two-way power-forward work ethic.
Zachary L’Heureux, LW (Chateauguay Grenadiers)
Nobody was as impressive at the CWG as L’Heureux, who scored a whopping 10 goals and 13 points to help Quebec win gold. One of the best players in Quebec midget AAA, L’Heureux had 21 goals and 52 points in 41 games with the Grenadiers as a dynamic rookie. At 5-foot-11, L’Heureux has the ability to administer big hits and spends a lot of time creating havoc in front of the net, with and without the puck. He isn’t the most consistent player, and that was evident in some of the later games at the CWG, but scouts love how he can run the power play and score at will.
Cameron Whynot, D (Valley Wildcats)
You don’t want to draft Cameron? Whynot? OK, sorry, lame, yet easy, joke. But, wow, when he’s on his game, he’s a force. A great skater who's adept at getting himself into a scoring position, Whynot finished the year with 13 goals and 40 points for the Wildcats, while also evolving his physical game. Whynot is susceptible to giveaways and trying to do too much, but he has a game-changing ability that allows him to totally take control of the pace. Whynot is not afraid to take the puck end to end and it was rare that he wasn’t the best player on the ice. If he can limit his mistakes, he’ll truly be a star for the future.
Olivier Nadeau, RW (Levis Chevaliers)
Roy’s right winger this season, the first thing you’ll notice about Nadeau is his size. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, he has the ideal frame to be a two-way power forward in the QMJHL almost immediately. He’s skilled with the puck, possessing a great shot release and a good set of hands. Not a great skater, Nadeau’s flaws are few and far between, and the raw talent is there, especially after finishing with 21 goals and 52 points in 31 games.
Riley Kidney, D (Cole Harbour Wolfpack)
Kidney did just about everything right he could have during the year, forcing himself into top-10 draft conversation after a tremendous season in Nova Scotia. With 19 goals and 47 points this season, Kidney was one of the better goal-scorers in minor midget a year after leading bantam playmakers with 47 assists. He's very smart with the puck, both at defending it from the opposition and knowing exactly when to set someone up. He’s not a big kid, so adding a bit of beef to his frame is still needed.
Zachary Bolduc, C (Trois-Rivieres Estacades)
There’s a ton of reasons to like Bolduc. For starters, he had 54 points in 42 games for the Estacades in midget, so you know he can contribute offensively against older competition. A power-play specialist, the puck spends a lot of time on Bolduc’s stick and he’s often the top-shooting forward on his team. He’s not the most consistent player, but when he’s at full speed, both figuratively and literally, he tends to play at a better pace than most. If he doesn’t end up becoming a big-time scorer in the 'Q,' at least he should turn into a dominant faceoff man. That is, of course, if he does play in Quebec. Bolduc is set to play for Mount St. Charles Academy in the United States next year, but, of course, that can still change.
Evan Nause, D (Newbridge Academy)
One of the top prospects from New Brunswick, Nause’s speed is one of his most impressive assets. A raw prospect with loads of skill, but mistakes aplenty, Nause moves the puck very well and doesn’t lose many 1-on-1 battles, no matter what side he’s on. It won’t take long for him to become a top defenseman in the QMJHL, assuming he goes that route instead of playing for Sioux Falls of the USHL.
William Blackburn, G (Elites de Jonquiere)
William Rousseau may be considered by many to be the top goalie, but with him holding an NCAA commitment, there’s no guarantee he’ll actually play in the 'Q.' Blackburn is far from a slouch – we’re talking about the goalie, and not the Lac St-Louis Lions winger of the same name who will also get drafted this weekend – especially after stealing the show at the Canada Winter Games. No stranger to highlight-reel saves, Blackburn is an athletic netminder who thrives under pressure. He’s small at 5-foot-9, but, given he’s still just 15, he has time to grow. Look for him to become a QMJHL starter in a couple of years.
Players committed to an NCAA school were omitted, so that’s why star winger Peter Reynolds, committed to Boston College, and defenseman Oscar Plandowski, perhaps the best blueliner in the draft but holding a Quinnipiac University commitment, are not included.
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