To describe the pace of the QMJHL pre-season, I give you this contradiction – it moves incredibly slowly but things also come at you pretty fast.
By that, I mean it can seem interminably long to open training camp in mid-August and then have to wait until the third weekend of September to watch a real game. But at the same time, the amount of player movement and news churns constantly and quickly.
Here’s a sample of what has been going on while fans have been waiting for the calendar to hit Sept. 19 when the defending champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada play each other to open the 2019-20 regular season:
-In the push and pull between the Quebec league and NCAA, there were some wins and losses both ways.
The Q lost three first-round picks to the American route – defencemen Evan Nause (drafted sixth overall by Val-d’Or) and Guillaume Richard (No. 7, Victoriaville) and centre Zachary Bolduc (No. 14, Rimouski) all opted for the U.S. College route.
Hammonds Plains forward Cam MacDonald also announced his commitment to Boston College a few days ago and will play for the same USHL team as Nause this season. He was another first-round calibre player who went later in this year’s Q draft (third round, Saint John) because he informed teams in advance of his intentions.
On the flip side, the Quebec Remparts swung forward James Malatesta from his NCAA plans. He was ranked as a potential first-rounder but slid to the seventh because he was set on going to the States. He is a good addition to the Quebec league.
-You can also put import forwards Vasily Ponomarev and Adam Raska in the win column.
Both are highly regarded 2020 NHL draft prospects who opted to report to the Quebec league. The Shawinigan Cataractes had to jump through a few hoops to get Ponomarev out of Russia and Raska just arrived in Rimouski last week and should make an immediate impact for the Oceanic.
-It also took some shuffling but the league is better for having defencemen Cameron Whynot and Oscar Plandowski in it as 16-year-olds this year.
The Sherbrooke Phoenix drafted Kentville’s Whynot ninth overall and the Chicoutimi Sagueneens took Halifax’s Pladowski 18th. They were subsequently traded to Halifax and Charlottetown, respectively, where there was a better fit.
The Phoenix got top winger Xavier Parent for Whynot and the Sagueneens received a 2020 first-round pick and a 2022 second-rounder in their trade so everyone wins in these situations.
-And speaking of the Sagueneens, they welcomed captain Rafael Harvey-Pinard home this week.
The 20-year-old winger is from nearby Jonquiere and was also the captain last year in Rouyn-Noranda. He played a huge part in the Huskies winning the President Cup and the franchise’s first-ever Memorial Cup last year.
He was richly rewarded when the Montreal Canadiens drafted him in the seventh round in June and I’ve read more than one report of his excellent play at their rookie camp. There might have been some anxiety he would jump straight to the pros this year but he’ll be back in junior after all.
I’ve only had brief interactions with him but could tell from those, as well as numerous reports from people who know him way better than me, he is a high-character individual who will be a tremendous presence for the Sagueneens in his homecoming.
-NHL scouts will also flock to Chicoutimi this season, especially after the August Hlinka Gretzky Under-18 tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Sagueneens rising star Hendrix Lapierre had a breakout performance for Canada and is the pre-season’s biggest riser by far on the scouting charts. The two-way centre was already considered a first-round prospect but many rankings now have him in the top 10.
TSN’s Craig Button even had him at No. 2 in his first 2020 list, released on Tuesday. The only player ahead of him is Rimouski superstar Alexis Lafreniere. He is the consensus favourite to go first overall. Chicoutimi forward Theo Rochette is also appearing on some lists as a possible first-rounder.
Halifax’s Justin Barron came in at No. 10 in Button’s rankings and will be in a race with Team Canada captain Jamie Drysdale and a few others to be the first defenceman off the board in June. This is all to say it is shaping up to be the Q’s best draft year since 2013 when Nathan MacKinnon went No. 1 and Jonathan Drouin was No. 3.