The month of January saw a number of notable matchups and events throughout the Eastern Canadian and QMJHL scouting regions, including Ice Jam in Nova Scotia as well as in general, the ramp up of competition as club teams begin to see the light that is a potential post-season birth. The development of many 2023 QMJHL draft prospects is, in many cases, beginning to draw clear lines of progression as players gain confidence, comfort, and discover what tools make them most impactful in their current roles.
Most of the players who saw the most prominent impact to their ranking throughout the month of January are those who have leaned into their strengths and embraced their role to deliver a positive outcome for their team, and a positive trajectory for themselves.
Movement inside the top-15
Perhaps the most interesting of the changes to the rankings in January will be the removal of Lane Sim from the QMJHL draft list. This month we’ve learned that prior to Christmas, all QMJHL teams were notified of Sim’s decision to declare for the OHL draft. Although it had been widely speculated, the mechanism that enables Sim, and his brother Landon before him, to do so is somewhat unclear, but anecdotal reporting indicates that it is somehow related to his fathers playing history in the league. In any case, what it means for our rankings is that any player previously ranked 11th or lower has had a free ticket to move up one spot on our list.
While continuing to lean into his strengths and identity as a playmaking power forward, Caleb Desnoyers has leapfrogged Shawn Carrier into the 5th ranked place on our rankings. Desnoyers performances of late have been of a higher pace, and yet he’s remained methodical and defensively responsible. He’s the most productive ‘07 born player in the QM18AAA circuit, and having been so productive while being able to maintain a consistently responsible presence was a key factor in influencing the change.
Desnoyers’ linemate Emile Guite has also jumped one spot, from 10th to 9th, moving past Moncton’s Zach Wheeler. Interestingly enough, Guite and Wheeler might be considered by some to be cut from the same cloth. I’d argue that currently, Guite’s skating and ability to play with more versatility in terms of his offensive tactics and roles in what tips the scale in favor of the Gaulois forward.
The most drastic rise of any player on our list in terms of percent-increase was by Dartmouth Steele Subaru forward Cole Chandler who moved from 18th to 10th. In getting more and more familiar with the class, and revisiting the Nova Scotia players in more depth this month I’ve concluded that Chandler’s full-throttle speed, skill and functionally physical presence make him a contestant for the top-10 among the likes of Wheeler, Guite, and Carrier. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out if some teams regard Chandler even higher than 11th on their list.
Expanding to Top-80
With another month in the rearview we’ve confidently expanded our list to a top-80 players from the previous top-60. The addition of 20 new players, however, has not come strictly within the range of 60-80. With some individual attention over the last month, three new additions have cracked the top-60.
Fredericton’s Alex Thibault missed a significant amount of time at the beginning of the season so it was difficult to accurately place him on the list, even after some exposure at the Team NB Summer Selection camp. His return to the Caps has been strong. Thibeault reads and forecasts the puck well on the forecheck and is quick to reposition himself as an outlet for friendly puck carriers. He makes quick exchanges with the puck when it comes to him, demonstrating that he’s capable of making predetermined assessments of his options. He lands at 49th.
Isaac Juneau and Nathan Lebrasseur debuted at 52nd and 56th, respectively. The College Esther Blondin Phenix and College Notre Dame Albatros defenders are both examples of players who’ve recognized their strengths and embraced them by the mid-way point of the season. Juneau’s two-way tendencies are supported by good footwork and quick puck exchanges at the offensive blueline as well as his adaptive reads to defend effectively in the neutral zone, before his team is forced into a bad situation in their own zone. Lebrasseur has become a strong dual threat in transitioning the puck. Both an effective passer and puck carrier - he often leaves the puck in a far better place than when he took it. Neither of the two show signs of rookie jitters anymore, but rather have the comfort and confidence to control the puck and make composed decisions on their time, while using whatever technical tools are required to buy themselves the necessary time.
Potential for continued momentum
Some of the additions to our list in the range of 60-80 are players who’s previous performances have simply warranted such a ranking. In an equal amount of cases, however, our recent viewings have been the difference in helping a player rise into this range. With additional time under the microscope, I think there’s potential for a few players to continue their rise.
At the risk of making this a St-Hyacinthe Gaulous-heavy feature article, I have to recognize the potential of one Pierre-Olivier Denis. Debuting at 69th on our list, he’s shown that he can be a valuable supporting asset when it comes to holding the puck in the offensive zone and making simple, subtle key plays to maintain and maximize the value of possession. He's not a high pace player with the puck but that doesn't mean he can't support high pace play. He's a solid defensive asset for creating turnovers and making himself available as an outlet. While he doesn’t have any one particular skill to hang his hat on, and won't be found making sexy transition plays, there's a half decent chance that if he's on the ice, he was at the root of a positive play with a simple key pass off the boards or in his own zone.
Our 2023 QMJHL Draft list will expand to 100 players at the end of January so stay tuned for further updates and scouting reports!