clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2020 NHL Draft Profiles: QMJHL Forwards

New, comments

We end our exploration of the forwards playing the CHL this season with a glimpse at some standouts from the QMJHL.

2020 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

The QMJHL draft class will be remembered in 2020 for providing this year’s #1 overall pick in Alexis Lafrenière, who took home the CHL Player of the Year honours for the second straight season. But after that, there’s still a handful of players that have piqued our interest, including likely first-rounder Mavrik Bourque who we profiled here, and Dawson Mercer who could be an intriguing option if he falls to the Islanders’ pick.

As we did with the OHL and WHL, we’ve picked the four forwards from the QMJHL who fall anywhere below being considered a ‘lock’ for the first round. Compared to the other two CHL leagues, we consider the Q’s forward crop to be the weakest of the three in terms of their depth of talent.

Despite that, the Ottawa Senators haven’t shied away from finding value picks in the QMJHL, selecting defenceman Maxence Guénette in the seventh round last year, plus finding some great talents ranging from goaltender Kevin Mandolese to forwards Filip Chlapik and Drake Batherson. With the sheer amount of picks they possess it feels inevitable they’ll reach to the QMJHL at some point, and maybe that ends up being one of these players.

Hendrix Lapierre (C)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Chicoutimi Saguenéens QMJHL 6'0" 181 lbs 18 - 34 #13 (NA)

To get a good idea of where things stand with Hendrix Lapierre, we have to go back a few years. He was the highly touted first overall pick in the 2018 QMJHL draft, and lived up that hype in his rookie season scoring 45 points in 48 games, the second highest total for the Chicoutimi Saguenéens. He followed that up with a dynamite Hlinka Gretzky Cup performance for Team Canada, with his eleven points in five games ranking second best in the entire tournament behind Cole Perfetti.

All eyes were on him for a potentially massive 2019-20 season as a potential top ten pick, but in an unfortunate turn of events, he was hit hard with injuries. With concussion issues having prematurely ended his 2018-19 season, another one this year plus a severe neck injury later in the same month kept him out for the remainder of the season.

He seems to be recovering well, although these types of injuries can have a major impact on a person’s long-term health. It’s also been nine months since he played his last game — crucial development time which he’s unfortunately missed — with the best case scenario being that he returns to full health in 2020-21, playing the same creative style of hockey he showed in 2018-19.

It’d be a disservice to pick apart his play from the 19 games Lapierre played this season. It’s also a small sample size to extract much meaningful value from, although the bits of microtracking we have show that even in a catastrophic circumstance, it’s Lapierre’s playmaking that really shines through, with his 12.49 shot assists per 60 minutes being one of the highest in the QMJHL.

There’s good reason why Lapierre was so lauded coming into the season though, with TSN’s Craig Button ranking him as high as second overall in September (although even that was an outlier compared to the at-the-time consensus). He sees the ice extremely well, creatively setting up plays that catch his opponents off guard. He works at a high pace in all spaces, also being lauded as one of the better two-way forwards with his responsibility as a natural centre.

It’s difficult including Lapierre in this article, because he could be drafted anywhere from the top ten to the back of the second round. It will all depend if there’s a team gutsy enough to take a chance on a skillset with as much raw potential as he has, with the caveat being the possibility he doesn’t reach that level again. The Senators could be one of those teams given the amount of picks they possess — Lapierre is from Gatineau, after all, and he trains with Anthony Duclair in the off-season.

There’s no bigger wild card in this year’s draft, but above all we can hope for a full and healthy recovery for Lapierre.

Highlights


Ryan Francis (RW)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Cape Breton Eagles QMJHL 5'9" 168 lbs 55 - 97 #55 (NA)

Like the NCAA’s North Dakota Fighting Hawks, the Cape Breton Eagles have had a fair amount of Sens draft picks that’ve gone through their system in recent years. Drake Batherson in 2017 and Kevin Mandolese in 2018 both played a majority of their hockey in Nova Scotia’s jewel, and while watching the latter this season, the Sens should’ve gotten a decent look at Ryan Francis, a smart, versatile winger who was the engine of the Eagles’ offence.

Drafted in the second round of the 2017 QMJHL Draft, Francis’ first two seasons weren’t anything to write home about: 11 goals and 34 points in 58 games in his rookie season, followed by 10 goals and 32 points in 64 games in year two. This past year, he more than doubled his combined production, with 24 goals and 72 points in 61 games. What’s behind the surge? Part of it is due to the chemistry of playing with overager Egor Sokolov, who brings everything Francis isn’t to their line — 6-foot-4 frame, strength, and the ability to score 46 goals in 52 games. I don’t think you can separate the two, but I would put more weight in Francis being the younger, possession-focused player on his line playing the style of game that’s more likely to translate, especially given that he was able to do it despite his size, as opposed to the way Sokolov found his success this year. Those who agree with my line of reasoning have Francis higher — even as high as a second-round pick — while those who don’t expect him to be taken around the fourth-round or so.

Here’s what we like about him. He’s a play-dictating winger who utilizes his quick hands and strong edges to open up space for a pass to a linemate, or to drive the net for a high-danger opportunity. He’s got great hockey sense and awareness of his body, and with both his feet and his mentality, he’s not afraid to play ‘up’ his 5-foot-8 frame. His head coach, Jake Grimes, has used him in all-situations this year, including taking advantage of his sense off-the-puck in defensive situations like on the penalty kill — a rarity for an 18-year-old diminutive player who has the creativity Francis possesses. When looking at Mitch Brown’s CHL micro-tracking data, Francis is in the 90th percentile in terms of expected primary assists per 60 and shot assists per 60, and is also extremely involved in Cape Breton’s exits — in the 95th percentile or above — another rare trait.

Where Francis can sometimes get in trouble is trying to do too much with the puck — a common concern for players with his skillset. For every time he’s successful with weaving his way through opposing defences, there are times where he overhandles the puck or turns it over. I don’t mind seeing that in junior because it shows confidence, creativity, and the puck skills necessary to even attempt a play like that; you can expect that he’ll work on picking his spots at the next level. In the seven games Brown tracked, Francis fared well (80th percentile) in terms of completing zone entries with control. Like most players, he’ll have to work on his strength to be able to play with the same determined energy, and while his agility is a strength, working on adding an explosive step to his game might be the difference in his ability to create the same space.

With only Alexis Lafrenière, Mavrik Bourque, and Dawson Mercer scoring more primary points at even-strength this year than Francis’ 0.67, he’s statistically keeping very good company and usually, players with that type of production aren’t available after the second-round. Let’s see if the Sens’ experienced QMJHL staff dip their toes into the shores of Cape Breton Island another time.

Highlights


Vasily Ponomaryov (C)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Shawinigan Cataractes QMJHL 6'0" 176 lbs 34 - 71 #48 (NA)

Selected with the 9th pick in the 2019 CHL Import Draft, Vasily Ponomaryov decided to make the trip to North America after a successful year as a 16-year-old in Russia’s MHL. His success transferred to the QMJHL this past season too, although perhaps not the degree some were expecting. He played decent minutes on the Shawinigan Cataractes behind Mavrik Bourque (who we profiled here), scoring 0.86 points per game, and was just below his team average with a GF% of 48.42%.

It’s decent stats for a draft-eligible player, albeit nothing eye-popping. But what’s elevated Ponomaryov to being a likely second round pick is his baseline level of talent, and the potential he has to grow into a more dominant player. It starts with his skating. He’s a fast accelerator who’s strong on his skates and attacks the offensive zone. When he’s on his game he can be a real high-octane offensive threat with excellent awareness of his passing options. That awareness transfers defensively too, where he often makes himself involved in Shawinigan’s backcheck.

The criticisms of Ponomaryov’s game tend to be inconsistent between scouts, and from what I can gather it mostly boils to consistency. He has the gear to his game where he can fly around the ice and make elite level plays, but there’s only a chance you’ll see that from him depending on the game. It’s possible this could come from the adjustment to the North Americans style of play, as he’s without a doubt shown he has the potential for a breakout year. He’s a talented player, but that talent hasn’t fully shone through just yet.

Ponomaryov’s expected range of 34-71 means he’ll be a likely second round pick. While I personally have other players ahead of him on my draft board, taking a gamble on a player with the raw tools to be a powerful two-way force could be an enticing option for Ottawa. Don’t expect him to be NHL-ready in two, three or four seasons down the road, but he’s a name to watch for as a breakout candidate on what’s shaping up to be a strong Shawinigan team next season.

Highlights


William Dufour (RW)

Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Drummondville Voltigeurs QMJHL 6'2" 194 lbs 91 - 130 #69 (NA)

Only Alexis Lafrenière (30) scored more even-strength goals among QMJHL draft eligibles than Drummondville’s William Dufour (25) this season. If you expand that list to include all CHL draft-eligibles, Dufour is eighth — ahead of consensus first-rounders like Jacob Perreault, Tyson Foerster, Connor Zary, and Dawson Mercer. The sixth overall pick in the 2018 QMJHL Entry Draft, Dufour has always had pedigree, and even played internationally for Canada at the U17 level, but has also been traded twice in two seasons. He was shipped off from Rouyn-Noranda to Chicoutimi after his disappointing 21-point, 55-game rookie campaign, and then to Drummondville this season where he had 55 points in 59 games.

Before the trade to Drummondville, Dufour noted that there wasn’t much going right for him:

“When I arrived there was nothing that was working. I was lacking chances [...]. I was working less and I had a meeting with the coaches, and since then I have been working hard in the practices and things are going very well. It looked like I was not working the right way and my work ethic in practice has improved since then, ”reported the Blizzard product from Séminaire Saint-François.

While some “character” questions will come up when a highly-touted player moves around that often, Volts general manager Philippe Boucher offered an alternative explanation: “On two occasions, he found himself in the same scenario, in a team that had to sacrifice its young people to try to win the top honours.” As Mikaël Filion reported, Dufour really listened to the advice of coaches Steve Hartley and Denis Gauthier, and saw immediate improvements playing alongside top overager Xavier Simoneau. If it wasn’t for COVID-19, Dufour would’ve likely seen his draft stock skyrocket. In the 13 games he played in February and March, Dufour had 14 goals and 25 points.

In a draft with few physically imposing players at the top of the class, Dufour stands out as a traditional goal-scoring power forward. What I love the most about these next three clips (both from the same game) is Dufour’s support of the puck. All three feature the winger positioning himself well in the defensive zone, accelerating with the puck, showcasing an extra effort, and on two occasions, unleashing a powerful wrist shot to score [1, 2, 3]. While he’s not overly physical, where Dufour is able to use his physicality in a smart way is by parking himself in and around the net, where he scored 83% of his goals this season. In the tracking data we have, Dufour doesn’t seem like a reliable zone entry option, but fared well in helping out on zone exits and was extremely involved defensively. Dufour’s shots-per-game rate this season was a respectable 2.44, but a far cry from his statistical compatriots. Next season, with Drummondville building around him for the future, seeing that number increase, continuing to work on his defensive play, and adding some top speed to his frame, could make Dufour a top-end goal-scoring winger in the future.

Highlights


Honourable Mentions

Player Pos Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Player Pos Team League Height Weight Expected Range NHL Rank
Brady Burns C/LW Saint John Sea Dogs QMJHL 5'10" 161 lbs 84 -144 #207 (NA)
Xavier Simoneau C Drummondville Voltigeurs QMJHL 5'7" 176 lbs 90 - 168 NR
Charles Beaudoin RW Shawinigan Cataractes QMJHL 6'0" 174 lbs 145 - 201 NR
  • The first two honourable mentions have one thing in common: they’re tiny! I have a special place in my heart for the small bois who have skill for days, and Brady Burns definitely fits that category. He’s a very elusive player on the ice with an immense amount of creativity, but at 5-foot-10 and 161-pounds, he has a lot of strength to gain. His skating stride is fairly awkward too, with those two factors alone likely pushing him far down most draft boards.
  • Even shorter than Burns is 5’7” Xavier Simoneau, who I highlighted in my list of the draft’s 20 most underrated players:

Surprisingly passed over in last year’s draft, Xavier Simoneau has done everything he can this season to guarantee he gets taken the second time around. He’s an electric player in the offensive zone and on the power play, and although his 5’7” height will almost certainly turn some teams away immediately, the league is much different now where players like Simoneau can thrive. He’s currently fifth in league scoring as the captain of the Drummondville Voltigeurs.

  • What I failed to mention in that blurb is that Simoneau is highly regarded as one of the league’s hardest working players. He plays with an incredible amount of tenacity and, like Burns, is an incredibly elusive player in spite of his height. Sure, the QMJHL is a place fit for players like Burns and Simoneau to thrive before being hit with a pile of bricks in the AHL. But Burns and Simoneau pack an undeniable level of skill that, to me, they’re impossible to pass up in the later rounds.
  • A statistical comparable to the aforementioned Burns, but in a 6-foot-0 frame and as a right-shot, Charles Beaudoin scored 84% of his points at even-strength this year and had more primary points than Ponomarayov and Theo Rochette. The 11th overall pick in 2018, Beaudoin took a while to get used to the QMJHL, but can really hurt opposing teams in multiple ways if he’s distributing the puck. He’s got a sneaky shot — 18 even-strength goals is nothing to scoff at — and good vision. All positive signs as a potential late-round selection.

More Draft Coverage

--- Individual Profiles --- --- Grouped Profiles ---
--- Individual Profiles --- --- Grouped Profiles ---
Alexis Lafrenière First Round Forwards
Quinton Byfield First Round Defencemen
Lucas Raymond OHL Forwards
Tim Stützle WHL Forwards
Jamie Drysdale QMJHL Forwards
Marco Rossi Next week: USDP Skaters
Cole Perfetti
Alexander Holtz
Jake Sanderson
Anton Lundell
Yaroslav Askarov