Olympiques hold three of top four draft picks, Wildcats look to restock

A Gatineau Olympiques jersey. (Jacques Boissinot/AP)

TORONTO — Moncton Wildcats director of hockey operations Ritchie Thibeau knew he would be rebuilding his team this off-season.

He was just hoping to do so with a championship trophy to show the new guys.

Thibeau went all-in on a title run last season, shipping away more than a dozen future draft picks in various trade deadline deals before the global pandemic eventually halted the Canadian Hockey League playoffs and Memorial Cup. At the time, the Wildcats were ranked third in the 60-team CHL and poised to be a threat in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League post-season.

“It’s disappointing as an organization and for the players. It was a great group, committed and really prepared for a playoff run,” said Thibeau. “End of the day, unforeseen circumstances we cannot control. You pick up the pieces and move on, look for the future and look to get back to that position again.”

Thibeau’s task of rebuilding the Wildcats intensifies this weekend at the 2020 QMJHL Entry Draft that is being held virtually on the league’s YouTube channel due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But it won’t be easy with Moncton not holding a pick in either of the first two rounds after moving them in January for skilled veterans who most likely won’t be returning to major junior in the fall.

“For sure we’re looking at opportunities to maybe move up,” said Thibeau. “At this point we haven’t got it done but we’ll definitely be following the first round, things can change.

“We feel very good about it. We have 11 picks overall. We feel the group has done a good job over the last two months, we’ve done our work. We’re ready to prepare and go for the draft now.”

Unless a trade to move up is made, Thibeau will be watching Friday night’s first round and not participating until Saturday, which hosts rounds two through 14. The Wildcats first pick is in the third round, No. 41, followed with their second at No. 57.

“For us over the years we’ve had players contribute that have been picked third, fourth, fifth round. We feel an early third-round pick and late third-round pick, should be two players there that will eventually contribute to our lineup,” said Thibeau, who began the rebuild Wednesday by trading forward Zachary L’Heureux to the Halifax Mooseheads for five draft picks.

“It was a reconciliation of our trades at Christmas and acquiring some picks,” he added. “The two third-round picks we reacquired. That was key for us. Some picks for future years as well.”

Meanwhile, the Gatineau Olympiques are hoping patience, timing and a little bit of luck pays off, as various trades and mediocre results on the ice in recent years have landed them the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 picks.

The top pick was originally acquired from the Mooseheads in a Dec. 2018 trade, while the second selection was obtained in a Dec. 2017 trade with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Both squads gave up their future top picks for Memorial Cup runs just like the Wildcats.

The Saint John Sea Dogs hold the No. 3 pick while the Quebec Remparts round out the top five.

The Sea Dogs got some good news on Thursday when forward Cameron MacDonald, a 2019 third-round pick, decided to decommitt from Boston College and instead join Saint John for the upcoming season.

The 17-year-old from Hammonds Plains, N.S., spent 2019-20 with the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede and is eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft.

“My goal in the Q is to win a President Cup and a Memorial Cup and I think Saint John is the team that can do it,” said MacDonald.

Defenceman Tristan Luneau of the Trois-Rivieres Estacades is considered by scouts as the top prospect ahead of the draft. Forward Antonin Verreault of the Saint-Eustache Vikings and blue liner Michael Mastrodomenico of the Laval-Montreal Rousseau-Royal are ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively.

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