The Moncton Wildcats have quietly been among the top teams in the QMJHL - and appear set to emerge from the shadows with a possible lengthy playoff run.
Sporting a roster filled with gritty veterans with past winning experience, Moncton has also received major contributions from 17-year-old Russian winger Ivan Barbashev, the top pick in last summer's CHL Import Draft.
The Moscow native sits second among QMJHL rookies in scoring with 60 points, trailing fellow countryman Valentin Zykov of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar, and is emerging as a prime prospect for the 2014 NHL Draft.
Another youngster making an impact for the Wildcats this season has been big defenseman Jacob Sweeney, a first-round pick (15th overall) in the 2011 QMJHL Draft - by Victoriaville.
Ivan Barbashev (LW, 2014), Moncton
The first-overall pick in the 2012 CHL Import Draft has demonstrated the kind of individual skills that should make him an increasingly dominant player .. steadily building on good chemistry established with Czech teammate Dimitry Jaskin - which helped him find his groove quickly .. possesses a very fluid skating stride, however can improve his first-step quickness as he develops better lower-body strength .. his ability to execute with precision at an accelerated tempo .. can really confuse opponents by making quick and effective passes to teammates .. boasts a large variety of shots in his arsenal - yet with a tendency to use his backhand more often than most players .. exudes uncommon levels of confidence in himself and is not afraid to innovate and make plays, albeit, as a result, can also be guilty of forcing the play at times .. doesn’t bring much of a physical presence to his game at this point and will often shy away from heavier contact .. demonstrates a good mind for the defensive part of the game .. gets back quickly into position in his own zone, however tends to cheat on occasion when backchecking .. there is a sense that he can give more of an effort away from the puck - an area that will come under much heavier scrutiny next season, in his draft year .. emerged from a tentative start last fall and really spiked in January (11-7-11-18), but seemed to hit the wall a bit through February which is quite normal under the circumstances .. will be one to watch during the off-season as he has been rumored to be headed to Victoriaville to complete the Philip Danault trade.
Jacob Sweeney (D, 2013), Moncton
A stay-at-home defender with excellent size at and who generally plays a safe game .. not a very mobile skater due to issues with his footwork mostly affecting his pivots and backwards skating .. his body also tends to stay a little too upright .. doesn’t make glaring errors, displaying good judgment with the puck even when faced with heavy pressure .. stays calm in possession .. safely uses the boards when his options are limited .. his passes are generally hard and crisp, although he has a tendency to telegraph his intentions .. can be effective in 1-on-1 situations against older, stronger opponents, but can struggle defending against shifty skaters as his tendency is to stay a little too far back which allows opponents to gain the blue line .. also has some issues with his balance when opponents pick up speed on the outside .. gradually growing into his body and starting to use his large 6-foot-4, 210-pound body to tangle up opponents more effectively in the crease area .. doesn’t play with the aggressive style some would like to see however .. could make much better use of his reach to cut passing plays .. overall, has shown steady improvement in his all-around play and will get bigger opportunities in the coming year with Moncton set to lose a few veteran defensemen.