The Monctonian Challenge is one of the premier hockey spectacles in Eastern and Atlantic Canada, hosting upwards of 25 teams in three separate age groups from across Canada to compete for their annual trophies. With an off-year in 2020, the tournament was back at full capacity for 2021.
Last weekend we had the opportunity to scout the U18 group with a primary focus on players eligible for the 2022 QMJHL draft, and man did we learn a lot. One of the best aspects of an event such as this, in addition to having such a substantial number of teams and players in one spot, is the opportunity to network and have dialogue with parents, as well as other scouts and advisors from different leagues, backgrounds, and walks of life. The result is a boatload of player information, as well as context and framing for the performances in front of us.
The weekend was jam-packed and we’ve got plenty of notes and thoughts to distill, so let's start with a few general thoughts…
First and foremost, the U18 tournament, which was five days long in total, consisted of 28 teams with most of them being from the four Atlantic Provinces, in addition to a few from Quebec and Ontario, plus the Notre Dame Hounds from the Athol Murray College in Saskatchewan. Between the 28 teams, we expected there to be around 150 players from the 2006 birth year. That’s in addition to some pretty impressive undrafted 2005-born players who seemed to be getting a lot of attention from scouts as well. In fact, as you might expect, the sentiment among several QMJHL scouts seems to be that this year could very well set records in terms of the amount of over-aged players to be drafted. This was also reflected by the fact that six players born in 2005 were included in the QMJHL Prospect game held on Friday night. Considering that the game was intended to give scouts an additional layer of evaluation for players who are already on their radar, one can safely assume that there will be quite a few re-entries for the 2022 class.
With such a large number of teams and players, we unfortunately weren’t able to see every one of the players that we would have liked to. For those who were high on our watchlist that we missed out on, we were able to gather some thoughts from other viewers, but not to the point where we’ll be able to provide detailed analysis at this time.
Throughout the tournament there were a number of players and teams who clearly became the favourites for scouts. Seating in any of the rinks outside the two primary ones was at an absolute premium, so when Halifax and Cole Harbour faced off on Saturday night, we got there early and didn't move much. In addition to those two teams, some others who seemed to be heavily scouted were Saint John, Moncton, Pinnacle Growlers and RNS. All of that said, no team was under-scouted at this event, with many QMJHL clubs seeming to deploy an array of three to five or more scouts early in the tournament.
In terms of individual evaluation, we’ve compiled a list of the players of interest who we felt were the most prominent at the tournament and ranked them by starred tiers. The scores are based primarily on our viewings, with supplemental information (like prior first-hand viewings or second-hand viewings from this tournament) contributing only when necessary to score a key player who we weren’t able to see enough.
These are the players who we think performed well enough in our viewings, that if you extrapolated their performance over the span of the entire season, would be expected to be in the late range of QMJHL team draft lists. They’ve shown flashes of talent or skill in one or two particular domains, but not on a totally consistent basis, and also come with some baggage. Their actual ranking on our list as well as teams lists will obviously take into consideration their entire body of work, while this rank is purely reflective of our assessment at this tournament.
LW, Brody Pare, Fredericton Caps
Strengths: Energetic on forecheck, sometimes shows good patience while carrying the puck in the offensive zone.
Opportunities: As often as he exhibited some patience with the puck just as often, Pare is a hair too energetic. The game is always full speed for him, which serves a purpose, but when it comes to developing a tactical offense, he might not be the man for the job. Playing or practicing in the pure role of a centerman more often might force or help him to see the ice a bit better and let the play breathe.
C, Jack Mombourquette, Halifax Mcdonalds
Strengths: General quickness is good, as is his 200-foot awareness. He has a mature mindset as a young center.
Opportunities: His size is a challenge for him. Although he doesn’t play scared, he doesn’t tend to carry the puck from the perimeter into the middle, or straight up the gut very often. Hopefully he grows, but if not, developing strength in his lower body so that he can be resistant to contact will help him develop on a good trajectory.
LW, Ewan Cleary, Pinnacle Growlers
Strengths: On occasion, Cleary seems like he could stick handle his way out of a phone booth, and protect the puck well in doing so.
Opportunities: The consistency doesn't seem to be there, and he will need to work on the fullness of his stride in order to compete for loose pucks or capitalize more often on his open ice opportunities. Working on carrying the puck in stride while being subject to physical contact is something that could help him get more in tune with his balance and lower body control.
RD Cole Cooper, Pinnacle Growlers
Strengths: For a bigger guy, Cooper tends to move quite well. His stride is mechanically efficient and he’s well adjusted to his larger frame that he can use well in the defensive zone. He keeps his head on a swivel while defending his own net to make sure he is ahead of the attack and neutralizes it when he can.
Opportunities: His tendency to play the puck into unfavorable traffic seemed high in our viewings of him. It often seemed to result in pucks coming back his way. Being more selective, and practicing his reaction speed under pressure could clear this up a bit.
LD, Nicholas Devereaux, Pinnacle Growlers
Strengths: Devereaux showed a high aptitude for tracking opponents on the rush and angling them towards the outside of the ice. His lateral mobility while moving backwards also supported this.
Opportunities: His footspeed, as is, seems to limit him a bit to a stay-at-home defensemen niche. While he’s been productive in league play, embracing the role of an effective stay at home defensemen could be his path to optimal success.
RW, Sam Hope, South Shore Mustangs
Strengths: Hope has a great shot both in terms of power and release quickness. He can get it off in a hurry from an awkward position and long-range with impact.
Opportunities: His skating requires some work. While he’s shown evidence of having a couple powerful strides over short distances, his recovery stride and ability to make tight turns pose a significant obstacle for keeping pace at a higher level. Playing with more energy and engagement when he’s away from the puck, as well as practicing tight turns at game pace will promote his value significantly.
LD, Koen Shand, South Shore Mustangs
Strengths: Koen has an impressive aptitude in the defensive zone, staying between the puck and the net at all times and showing a willingness to sacrifice his body when it counts. He has a long reach and active stick which are effective thanks to his solid posture and good mobility.
Opportunities: He hasn’t been productive and doesn’t seem to engage as much as he could in the offensive effort, despite likely having the skills to do so. With the approval of his coaching staff, testing the waters with his skill in the offensive zone against weaker opponents might help him to realize this opportunity.
LW, Aiden Bent, Valley Wildcats
Strengths: Bent is a good skater who shows a high level of compete and engagement in scrums and puck battles. He can win possession with a combination of finesse and tenacity.
Opportunities: He’s on the smaller side and can get pushed around, despite his willingness to engage. Adding strength will be an important aspect to his development.
RW, Drew Lutz, Valley Wildcats
Strengths: Seems to have good positional awareness in the offensive zone. Uses his upper body to jockey a bit for position and continues to move around to optimize his position. He carries and protects the puck well and is an active backchecker who isn't often left behind the play.
Opportunities: He seems to lack game-breaking speed. Working to incorporate more lateral movement might help him compensate for this.
These are the players whose performance at the tournament, if extrapolated over the span of the entire season, we think could justify consideration for selection in the mid-to-late-rounds (5-8) of the QMJHL draft. Most of these players have exhibited occasional or inconsistent skills in more than one domain, but come with some baggage that needs to be sorted through. Their actual ranking on our list as well as teams lists will obviously take into consideration their entire body of work, while this rank is purely reflective of our assessment at this tournament.
LW, Campbell MacIntyre, CB West Islanders
Strengths: For a player of his size, MacIntyre’s skating has developed really well. He is fluid in his extension and this serves him very well on the forecheck. He is a bit of a go-and-get-it player for his line which is a role that he can and should embrace.
Opportunities: There were some occasions where he was a bit of a sitting duck in his own end. While the cycle was happening below the hash marks, he hung high with static feet and waited for his center and defensemen to develop the play. Continuing to move and think about how he can help develop the next opportunity will make him an entirely different player.
RW, Cohen Pictou, CB West Islanders
Strengths: On the opposite flank from MacIntyre, Pictou is another sizable winger who leverages his size to extend possession and protect the puck in high stress environments. He showed a good amount of puck control while his reach with the puck was fully extended. He also has an impressive level of fluidity in his stride.
Opportunities: We didn’t observe any significant opportunities in his performance during our viewings, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. We’ll aim to identify these opportunities in future articles. The reason he isn’t higher in the rankings is because we didn’t observe a high level of dynamic skating or playmaking.
LW/C, Jacob Sanford, Cole Harbour Wolfpack
Strengths: He uses an active stick in the defensive zone to aide his defenders in shutting down cycle plays. Additionally he tends to be capable of quickly turning the puck up ice when it ends up on his stick.
Opportunities: Sanford lacks full extension in his stride which will limit his ability to keep pace at higher levels. Focusing on that with a power skating coach will be a good first step.
LD, Evan Rose, Dartmouth Steele Subaru
Strengths: Rose is a very balanced backward skater which enables him to crosscut smoothly when tracking attackers. He manages his gap well and is able to pinch off some very nimble opponents, despite his current lack of size and reach.
Opportunities: His size is a minor concern as it does limit his full range of mobility. If physical growth is in his bloodline then he’s on a good trajectory. If not, playing to his strengths and further increasing his reaction speed will be valuable to his development.
RW/C, Austin Sanchez, Moncton Flyers
Strengths: Sanchez plays far above his weight class on most nights. He’s a very speedy forward, but also makes some very nifty decisions to out-maneuver his opponents, and negate what perceived weakness his size may present.
Opportunities: As quick as he is in most situations, I think there is more for him to give in terms of his stride. He keeps his feet low on his kick, rather than giving a full powerful extension, this slight modification could be the difference between his game being sustainable at higher levels or not.
These are the players whose performance at the tournament, if extrapolated over the span of the entire season, we think could justify consideration for selection in the mid-rounds (6-7) of the QMJHL draft. For the most part, each of them exhibits some extremely enticing value in one way or another, but also comes with a substantial amount of risk to balance their value. Their actual ranking on our list as well as teams lists will obviously take into consideration their entire body of work, while this rank is purely reflective of our assessment at this tournament.
LW/C, Coen Miller, Cole Harbour Wolfpack
Strengths: Miller has been incredibly productive in the NSU18MHL this year, and continued that trend at the Monctonian with five points in three games. He goes to the net and that's where things tend to happen. Some scouts will vouch for his vision and intelligence as well - I wasn’t able to pick out a particular play or trend in the Cole Harbour games that corroborated that, but will hone in on that aspect in future viewings - his line at the Prospects Game was productive and finished the game +3.
Opportunities: I find that Miller makes some questionable decisions with the puck. There were a handful of particular instances where he either held on to the puck in situations where he could have distributed on the rush, and others where he put his linemates in tough positions to safely receive his passes in the middle of the ice. Being a bit more selective in this respect will boost his value.
C, Riley Sampson, CB West Islanders
Strengths: Sampson stood out to me in the Prospects game as a player with a top-notch ability to rush and pressure his opponents in the attacking zone. He is energetic but more importantly he anticipates the flow of play well. He is persistent on puck carriers and able to turn their possession into his with a high level of efficiency.
Opportunities: He has a tendency to carry the puck starting with his head down - this is an immediate hurdle for him to overcome in improving his timing. Scanning the play ahead of time to improve the efficiency of his transition will make a big difference.
LD, Eliot Kavanaugh, Dartmouth Steele Subaru
Strengths: When Kavanaugh is able to get out in front of his opponents he can be a very difficult defenseman to cross. He tracks well, and steers pressure to the outside. In the offensive zone he passes relatively well and keeps his head up.
Opportunities: He has a tendency to make bad pinches that he’s not able to recover from. His pivots, once beat at the blueline, are not efficient enough to recover speed and catch a speedy forward, so he should do his best to stay upstream of the attack when possible.
RW, Yejune Eom, Halifax McDonalds
Strengths: Eom is a fluid and speedy skater who seems to get limited ice time for the Macs. He usually has his head up so is able to acquire and re-deploy pucks effectively at game pace.
Opportunities: While there are many aspects of skill to his game, Eom doesn’t seem to put it all together in a single play from start to finish. Whether it's a matter of confidence or something else, that is one of the key elements missing in his game. More ice time and exposure will help him grow and develop this aspect.
C, Matt Butler, Pinnacle Growlers
Strengths: Butler has top-notch puck skill among this entire class. When he has the puck on his stick he is able to move around the perimeter using intricate puck control to cradle possession and juke would-be attackers. He has great vision as well and can create scoring chances by identifying opportunities in the middle of the ice.
Opportunities: Despite his skill, Butler’s size unfortunately gets in the way of his full potential. When a competent defender who has a wide reach chooses to stick with him in transition, he can be neutralized readily. Playing to his strengths is his path to success, so continuing to improve his distribution and timing will be critical.
C, Matthew Vohra, Weeks Majors
Strengths: Vohra isn’t fast so much as he is nimble once he begins to move through traffic with possession. He keeps his head up with the puck and forechecks very analytically, extending his reach to block the ice and scanning the defensive tactics before engaging.
Opportunities: Throughout this tournament it became clear that puck skill is one of the key areas of Vohra’s game that needs some improvement. When it comes to acquiring pucks in movement, or even just in simple areas of the ice, Vohra wasn’t very efficient or reliable. His stride in open ice without the puck could also use some work, as he tends to use his power to move his upper body, rather than using that power to extend his legs, but it's not a deal-breaker. Repeating drills that focus on receiving and settling pucks inside of movement will help him to develop this.
Of course, with such a condensed schedule, there are some players who just didn't catch our eye at the right time, or we just caught them on the right or wrong shift. As with all players, their entire body of work in and out of events like these will feed into our final ranking.
In addition to this group, some of the players who we think will likely fall within this group who but just didn’t have an opportunity to focus on enough to detail include Ben Manos from Weeks, Jack Livingstone from South Shore, Darien Thomson from Fredericton, Reid Calder, Alex Pelletier as well as Colby Train from Saint John, Evan Nicholson from Charlottetown, Charles Beland from Seminaire St-Joseph, and Jack Mackinnon as well as Dawson Sharkey from Kensington. We’ll make certain to continue evaluating those players as the season moves on.
Stay tuned for our upcoming feature articles detailing 2006 players with 4-star and 5-star performances at the tournament, with progressively increased analysis, plus a bonus section on some over-aged, re-entry players.