Julien Gauthier

This time last year, I previewed 10 QMJHL prospects worth watching in the 2015 NHL Draft. A season later, nine of them were drafted and have become recognizable names for many NHL franchises.

The Boston Bruins took Jakub Zboril, an offensively gifted Czech defender 13th overall

The Detroit Redwings took scoring left-handed winger Evgeni Svechnikov 19th overall. This preseason he was the last junior prospect cut from Red Wings camp.

Two-way defensemen Jeremy Roy slipped in the draft, snatched up by the San Jose Sharks with the first pick of the second round. 

Later in the second round, the Colorado Avalanche selected Nicolas Meloche, another strong QMJHL defender.

The Pittsburgh Penguins took Daniel Sprong, an exceptionally gifted scoring winger, 46th overall. 

Another gifted Czech, passed up for his country’s World Junior squad at Christmas, played his way to a 48th overall selection by the Ottawa Senators.

The Tampa Bay Lightning took Dennis Yan, a Russian-American import draftee, 64th overall after putting up more than a point per game as a rookie.

Guillaume Brisebois, an intelligent man-on-man defender, was also taken early in the third round by the Vancouver Canucks. 

The Carolina Hurricanes selected towering centre Nicolas Roy in the fourth round.

Despite leading his low-scoring Saint John Sea Dogs team in scoring, Nathan Noel was the only player who went undrafted. Along with diminutive scorer Dante Salituro of the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s, Noel’s pass over in the draft became one of the notable talking points of the 2015 crop of talent young players. 

This year, despite lacking the depth that gave the QMJHL more legitimate draft-eligible prospects than they’d had in recent memory, the 2016 crop offers a number of exciting young prospects.

Unique to this class are a number of forwards with tantalizing size and a matching skillset, something that the last year’s crop lacked up front beyond Svechnikov.

Here’s the 10 2016 NHL draft prospects you should keep an eye on this season:

The cream of the crop:

Pierre-Luc Dubois, LW, Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

Dubois scored both of the opening goals of the gold medal game for Canada against Sweden at Hlinka Memorial this summer. The big winger wore an ‘A’ for Canada.

He pursues loose pucks relentlessly and keeps his head up while pivoting his body positioning to make plays. Because of his puck pursuit, he’s able to follow the puck offensively to finish off plays and sneak in and out of the slot to open up chances. He’s the type of player who, despite being immensely talented, is always in around the net, sliding pucks in along the ice instead of up high. Dubois’ a surefire first round talent.

Julien Gauthier, RW, Val-d’Or Foreurs

The lone draft eligible player at Canada’s summer WJC camp, Gauthier’s a net front presence who slides out into the slot to receive passes opportunistically. He’s active to hop on loose pucks but also prone to bobbling the puck.

Gauthier’s sound defensive game and ability to kill penalties compliment his ability to score with power moves and a strong shot. As one of the draft’s oldest players, he’s physical and removes his mark from the puck along the boards with ease.

Vitali Abramov, LW, Gatineau Olympiques

A unique prospect, making his QMJHL debut this season after a 13th overall selection in the 2015 CHL Import draft, Abramov has taken the league by storm early on after spending last season with Russia’s U17 program and Chelyabinsk of the MHL.

He hasn’t been hyped like Gauthier and Dubois, but he derserves to be. Here’s my full scouting report on the extremely talented young Russian. 

Not afraid to handle the puck in dangerous areas at the blueline .. can stop on a dime .. lots of movement in his shoulders when he skates, pushing off heavily from his heels .. played on a line with little QMJHL speedster Alex Dostie .. likes to use inside-out move off the wing and beat defenders wide .. unafraid to look cross-ice .. will push puck off heal to the outside in order to one touch it to himself and cut past defenders for a shot .. often double shifted in order to play PPs as a rookie .. given trust by Benoit Groulx early on in the season .. will cut off the boards and shoot if available or no-look drop the puck down the goal line .. fires shots hard and low under the goalie’s pad or five-hole .. adept at controlling puck into his body with the toe of his blade .. incredible puck skills, likes to use the back of his toe to slide puck through his legs off the rush .. good balance on the inside of his skates, uses it to work quickly at the top of the crease and beat goalies in tight .. turns quickly and sharply on his edges, leaning heavily on his crossovers without losing balance. 

Potential risers: 

Luke Green, D, Saint John Sea Dogs

Probably the closest to rising into that core group, Green is an offensively gifted offensive defensemen who can shoot as well as he can pass and carry the puck. A gifted handler, Green can manage the game and a powerplay from the backend. The former QMJHL first overall selection (2014) isn’t a physical defender, but he’s efficient at closing gaps with his skating and an active stick defensively.

In his rookie season, Green finished third among 1998-born players and second among defenders with 36 points in 60 games on the backend in Saint John.

Frederic Allard, D, Chicoutimi Sagueneens

Allard, a small but offensively gifted defensemen, is another late 1997 birth date, and has an extra season in the QMJHL under his belt as a result, breaking 30 points last season. He will be counted on as the team’s top defender this season and is capable of putting up 40+ points from the backend. Allard doesn’t have a heavy shot, or shoot often, but he handles the puck extremely intelligently and is a talented cross-ice passer at even strength and on the powerplay.

Otto Somppi, C, Halifax Moosheads

Selected 19th overall in this year’s CHL Import Draft, Somppi spent last season playing with Jokerit’s U20 program, where he posted 13 points in 38 games after putting up 12 points in just three games with the U18 program. Internationally, Somppi has also excelled at the U17 level.

This season, as one of Halfiax’s go-to offensive weapons, Somppi has gotten off to a strong start. The big, physical pivot is an excellent passer.

Pascal Laberge, C, Victoriaville Tigres

After being moved from the Olympiques to Tigres in his rookie season, Laberge took his game up a notch and played a more prominent role with his new team. This year, he’ll play a starring role and will be expected to be the team’s engine. A high-energy pivot who forechecks and backchecks hard to create turnovers and open up the play.

Will look pass before thinking shot but could stand to add some weight to an NHL frame and take the puck to the net more often.

Samuel Girard, D, Shawinigan Cataractes

You don’t often see 5-9 defensemen enough excitable attributes to warrant burning a relatively high NHL draft pick on but if Girard can continue to play as dominantly as he did down the stretch last season and early this year, he’ll be worth it.

Girard can both handle and pass the puck as well as any QMJHL defender can in this draft class and his elusiveness allows him to twist and turn his way up us for clean offensive zone entries. One of the more exciting defenders to watch.

Brandon Gignac, C, Shawinigan Cataractes

Gignac, a forward, was outscored by aforementioned defensive teammate last season when he put up 40 points in 63 games.

Still, he’s no slouch, and is posed for a breakout campaign as a point per game scoring threat this season. Another 1997-born player, Gignac’s extra season will give him an added boost as he enters his draft year. This year, he already has nine points in his first six games.

Maxime Fortier, RW/C, Halifax Moosheads

Teammates with Somppi in Halifax’s next wave of dynamic playmakers, Fortier is off to a strong start to the season, with eight points in his first six games.

A shooter, Fortier throws everything he can on net in order to create chances, and already has 31 shots (second most in the QMJHL this season). Halifax isn’t expect to be competitive, but Fortier will get his fair share of touches and a chance to become a go-to guy.

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