Shifting the series back to Canada, we sit down with Scott Wheeler of FutureConsiderations and The Toronto Star to discuss prospects from the CHL’s most Eastern league: the QMJHL. The Q always seems to have an interesting crop of prospects given the league’s penchant for skill and notoriety for lack of defense. Last year they provided the third prospect taken in Pierre-Luc Dubois, and look to surpass that this year with a potential first overall Nico Hischier.
Christian: The QMJHL’s past draft classes are all over the map, sometimes producing stars, other times not so much. Outside of Nico Hischier, this draft class seems pretty absent of big names from the Q. How does this class shape up for the QMJHL and what sort of NHLers do you see emerging from it?
Scott: At this point, there is little doubt that Nico Hischier is going to be a star. Barring a catastrophic injury, I think it’s reasonable to expect he becomes a 60-point player in the NHL (or better). After Hischier, you’ve largely got depth options. Pierre-Olivier Joseph probably has the best chance to be a star, while Maxime Comtois, Antoine Morand, and Ivan Chekhovich all have outside chances at becoming top six NHL players. After that, it drops off, but I’m also a fan of Joly D’Artagnan’s game.
C: Speaking of Nico Hischier, he was a top prospect going into the season, but he’s elevated himself into first overall discussion. How legitimate is the hype surrounding Hischier and what kind of player do you see him becoming at the NHL level?
S: The hype around Hischier is definitely legitimate. Along with Kailer Yamamoto, Hischier is among the most electric, raw offensive talents in this class. He has the explosiveness and the puck handling to become a dynamic, first line star in the NHL off of those traits alone. I still don’t think he’s a better prospect than Nolan Patrick, but Hischier has established himself as the clear cut second best player in the class.
C: Maxime Comtois had an underwhelming offensive season with just 51 points in 64 games, but is consistently regarded as a first round pick by scouting services. What about Comtois and his game transcends his below average scoring numbers?
S: Comtois is an interesting case because he’s one of those players who has been highly regarded for two years now after a huge 2015-16 season in the QMJHL and some standout performances with Canada in big games internationally. Still, there is no question his offensive production was disappointing. Draft-eligible players should be taking huge steps forward, rather than slowing down. I don’t think Comtois should be a surefire first rounder, but he has the physicality and the athleticism to grow more as an offensive threat than he has to date.
C: Once you get out of the first round, that’s when a scouting staff really goes to work, trying to undercover those diamonds in the rough in the later rounds. Who are a few sleepers who could provide real value in the later rounds from the QMJHL?
S: I mentioned him earlier, but Joly D’Artagnan is among the higher ceiling forwards in the QMJHL and he hasn’t received nearly enough attention. If a team can pick him up in rounds 5-7, there’s tremendous room for him to blossom. I’d expect D’Artagnan to become an 80-point player with the right environment next season, and he has the skillset as a shooter and passer to become a dominant force in the QMJHL.
C: Sometimes it takes players longer to find their stride and put it all together. Are there any overagers to really keep an eye on from the Q going into the draft?
S: I have spoken about him at length all season, but Maxime Fortier should be a top-100 pick in this class. He isn’t your typical late bloomer though. I had Fortier in my top 60 last season and he just continued to develop this season. He’s one of the best players in the QMJHL and there’s still upside there.
C: Who has been your biggest surprise from the QMJHL this season?
S: I think the progression of Halifax Moosheads defender Jocktan Chainey stands out. I wasn’t in love with his game a year ago but he developed really well this season. There are still kinks in his game defensively but there’s enough there with the puck to rightfully merit attention in the middle of this class. I’d keep an eye on him. There’s some untapped talent there.
C: Who has been your biggest disapointment?
S: I already touched on him above but Comtois was definitely the biggest disappointment this season. If there was another player who disappointed it was Antoine Crete-Belzile. There was a time when his ability projected well at the NHL level and he deserved the recognition he got. This season, that was not the case. I don’t even think he should have been to the combine. Crete-Belzile’s game with the puck has flatlined and that doesn’t bode well for his consideration as an NHL prospect. I’d steer clear of him unless it’s in the very latter rounds of this draft.
C: If you had to choose a most overrated and most underrated prospect for this year’s draft from the Q draft class, who would they be?
S: Again, I’d probably say D’Artagnan is the most underrated player in the class, though I’d also argue that Fortier and Yaroslav Alexeyev aren’t far behind. As far as overrated players go, there’s no debate: It’s Crete-Belzile. Alexeyev, though, is another prospect who has high-end talent and performed well despite being smaller on a Sherbrooke team that lacked star power. He had a strong rookie season and I’d bank on him posting 80+ points next year.
C: Lastly, who’s your favourite QMJHL draft eligible and why?
S: I really like Fortier’s game. I’ve always been impressed by players who can dictate a game without having any one discernible trait that makes them stand out as elite threats offensively and Fortier has just continued to grow. I’d be shocked if he weren’t selected as an overager.