Maxime Comtois’s NHL draft stock has fallen, but confidence is high

TORONTO – It’s basically a given in junior hockey that a player should improve his point total each year.

That draft-eligible Maxime Comtois didn’t might cause some to classify his season as a disappointment. Comtois has heard the chatter, but doesn’t share the sentiment.

“I think my year was better than last year even if I didn’t have the points,” he said.

“A little bit before Christmas I started putting up points. My offensive asset came back. I’m just happy the way I played.”

Still, his production, or lack thereof, has raised eyebrows and lowered his draft stock.

At least one scout pegged Comtois early in the season as a possible 50-goal scorer. Thanks in part to a sluggish start, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound forward had 22 goals and 51 points in 64 games. As a rookie, he produced 26 goals and 60 points in 62 games.

As a result, NHL Central Scouting’s mid-term rankings slotted him 15th among North American skaters. In Jeff Marek’s latest draft rankings, Comtois fell from 15th overall to 19th. Comtois entered the season as a potential top-10 prospect for the 2017 NHL Draft.

But, as he notes, it’s not always how you start but how you finish. His output improved greatly down the stretch, earning points in 10 of his last 14 regular season games before his ninth-seeded Victoriaville Tigres were swept in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs by Chicoutimi.

“At the beginning of the season, I hit probably four posts in the same game,” Comtois, 18, said. “I was missing a lot of chances.

“They were saying that about Sidney Crosby last year. His game was over. He was not the best player. He finished the year strong. He won a Stanley Cup. People kind of forget what he did at the beginning of the season. I was just going in that same direction – working hard to get out of my slump.”

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That’s good news for Hockey Canada.

Comtois is part of the preliminary roster for Canada’s under-18 world championship team. He and his teammates practised early this week in the west end of Toronto before departing for Slovakia on Wednesday. Their first pre-tournament game is Sunday.

The roster will be augmented with more players whose teams are eliminated from the CHL playoffs. But regardless of who is added, Comtois figures to be a pivotal part of the squad.

He’ll play on the power play, penalty kill and on the first line, according to coach Darren Rumble.

“He needs to be one of our top guys,” said Rumble, who also coaches the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats.

Comtois played in the tournament last year in Grand Forks, N.D., as an underage player, not an easy feat. He started as the 13th forward, but worked his way up to the third line and had two points in seven games.

He then had four goals and an assist at the Ivan Hlinka under-18 event in August and was one of Canada’s leaders. Rumble was an assistant coach on that team.

The Canadians finished fourth last year and didn’t medal at the Ivan Hlinka, the first time since 2007 they didn’t claim gold.

Comtois will have to make a big impact for Canada to win its first under-18 world title since 2013.

He’s hoping for the same arch to his season as the one Crosby had a year ago.

“Winning a gold medal will be just like a Stanley Cup for Sid,” said the Longueuil, Que., native, smiling.

Comtois is confident and Rumble predicts big things. After all, this is the last chance for Comtois to be noticed by NHL scouts in game action before the draft.

Comtois is most dangerous playing his off wing – the right, as a left shot. He was a reliable faceoff man for the Tigres and could see time up the middle for Canada.

Rumble, a former defenceman with 193 games on his NHL resume, believes Comtois will be a second- or third-line power forward with defensive acumen in the NHL one day.

In that scenario, Comtois’s offensive counting stats won’t be nearly as important.

“Stevie Yzerman became a better player when his points went down,” Rumble said. “He became a 200-foot guy. He became one of the top team players of all time.”

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