There was a great deal of drama at this year's QMJHL draft and the fall-out is still making headlines. Officially, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles just announced on Wednesday that fourth overall pick Shane Bowers would not be attending training camp. But as I first reported minutes after the selection was made, Bowers was never going to be a Screaming Eagle.
There was a good deal of confusion at the time, since Bowers put on a Cape Breton jersey at the draft in Sherbrooke and said all the right things to local media. But seriously: What else would you expect a polite 15-year-old to say when put on the spot like that?
Cape Breton had been told very explicitly by Bowers' advisor Pat Brisson that the gifted young center would be keeping his NCAA options open and that selecting him would be pointless, but GM Marc-Andre Dumont decided to gamble. I can understand Dumont's drive to select the best player available, but there was no reason to believe Bowers' camp was bluffing.
The whole top end of the 'Q' draft was thrown into chaos when center Joseph Veleno was granted exceptional status to enter the league one year early – less than 48 hours before the first selection was to be made. The Saint John Sea Dogs naturally grabbed Veleno thanks to Hockey Canada's decision and that pushed Bowers, a Halifax native, back from the potential top slot.
There had been speculation that Bowers would have played for Saint John or Halifax, though right now that's a moot point. I can say that Cape Breton attempted to trade the fourth overall pick to at least one of those teams, but the price tag was deemed too high by the potential partner.
So the big winner in the end appears to be the USHL's Black Hawks. Bowers is already scheduled to attend Waterloo West High School and will join a team with some pretty nice players already in the fold.
Along with returning goaltender Cale Morris (1.85 goals-against average and .937 save percentage this past season), Waterloo will welcome back left winger Liam Pecararo, the team's third-leading scorer in 2014-15, who had been at the University of Maine.
New recruits include Carolina Hurricanes draft pick David Cotton, a big center committed to Boston College, and a pair of University of Minnesota commits in big blueliner Sam Rossini and high-scoring left winger Garrett Wait. Both of the future Gophers will play for Team USA in August's Ivan Hlinka tournament. Bowers promises to be just as important, however, even at his young age.
"His skill level and talent level are high," said GM and coach P.K. O'Handley. "He makes players better and he's going to make our team better. He's a top forward for us."
Because Bowers is Canadian, there were some hoops to jump through in order to gain eligibility in the USHL as a 16-year-old. Hockey Canada had to sign off on the transfer, but the youngster had the expertise of Brisson and the CAA team behind him. That's good news for the Black Hawks and a bad look for the Screaming Eagles.
This is the third straight year a first-rounder has refused to report to Cape Breton: Nicolas Roy was eventually traded to Chicoutimi, while Michael O'Leary re-entered the draft this year and was taken by Moncton. Pierre-Luc Dubois was taken by the Eagles before O'Leary in 2014 and he signed on, ending up sixth in team scoring this past season. Dubois is a solid prospect for the 2016 NHL draft, listed on Central Scouting's watch list.