QMJHL blog: NHL prospects report


Jevpalovs came out of nowhere to score 49 goals and 100 points. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty)

A tangle of bodies is gathered in front of Charlottetown Islanders goaltender Mason McDonald’s crease as teammates tie up opponents, severely hampering his ability to see the puck. After briefly attempting to peer through the mess of players, the Calgary Flames second-rounder straightens his six-foot-four body and, like a periscope breaking the surface of the ocean, tracks down the puck as he towers above the mess.

On first glance, height stands out most when McDonald takes the crease. Now in his third season, and first as starter for Charlottetown, the goalie has taken a step forward in his development both on and off the ice. “He worked so hard on his conditioning, he’s already starting to become a man,” says Islanders general manager Grant Sonier, who acquired McDonald from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan last season in exchange for a first-round pick and a pair of fourth-rounders. “He was a skinny, wide-eyed kid when we got him. He was a little naive like most 16 and 17-year-olds are.”

Sonier says the NHL draft last spring—where he was the first goalie off the board at No. 34—along with experiences with Hockey Canada have helped McDonald focus on his goals and strengthen his mental approach as he physically matures.

McDonald’s workload increased nearly two-fold this year, starting 56 games compared to 29 the season before. He had one of the heaviest workloads in the Q and faced 1,573 shots, third most in the league. On February 20, he faced 52 volleys from the Saint John Sea Dogs while leading Charlottetown to a 4-2 win. It’s been a busy year, but McDonald has prepared carefully for the task. “Getting the right amount of sleep, eating the right things, going to the gym, working hard in practice and working on things I wasn’t as good at last season,” he says.

And his numbers improved as well. He posted a career best .906 save percentage and 3.06 GAA, a great number considering he faced 28 shots a game. He finished with a 28-22-4 rwcord, closing out the season strong with four wins in March.

An injury five minutes into game three versus Sherbrooke will keep him out of action indefinitely, but the Halifax, N.S., native should get a look for Canada’s world junior squad next year. He has experience with the maple leaf on his chest, playing for the under-18 team and at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament. The crease in Calgary has featured a rotating cast of players since Mikka Kiprusoff retired after the 2012-13 season. If McDonald’s development trajectory continues, he could find himself a full-time job with the big club down the road.

Here are other top affiliated NHL prospects from around the Q and how they fared this season:

Team Canada world junior alumni

Anthony Duclair, LW, Québec Remparts
New York Rangers, 2013, 80th overall (traded to Arizona Coyotes)

Duclair surprisingly made the New York Rangers out of training camp in the fall and remained with the big club until leaving for the world juniors. After starring for the gold medal-winning Canadian squad, Duclair was returned to the Remparts. After a sluggish first month back, he started hitting his stride as the season came to an end. Duclair had three straight multi-point games to close out the season, finishing with 34 points in 26 games. If the Remparts want to go far in the playoffs and Memorial Cup, he will need to find more consistency and flash the skills that the Rangers saw in training camp and led Canada to gold.

Zach Fucale, G, Québec Remparts
Montreal Canadiens, 2013, 36th overall

After a trade from the Mooseheads to the Memorial Cup hosts, Fucale will have a chance to win his second CHL championship. His numbers took a dip this season and he didn’t dominate the Q like he has in the past. With Québec, Fucale’s stats were pedestrian—he finished with an 8-8-0 record along with a 3.22 GAA and .877 save percentage, both career lows. Fucale surprisingly began the first round of the playoffs in the backup role with NHL draft prospect Callum Booth took the starting reigns. Fucale was brought in to relieve Booth in game three, and will get his first playoff start with the Remparts in game four. Even through the struggles this year, winning world junior gold showed Fucale is at his best when the pressure is on.

Samuel Morin, D, Rimouski Océanic
Philadelphia Flyers, 2012, 11th overall

A slapshot to the face and the resulting broken jaw, along with an extended stay in Flyers training camp and a spot on the Canadian world junior squad limited Morin’s season to 38 games. The 6-foot-7, 225-lb. defender shuts down opponents but also shows speed and offensive flare, a dangerous combination for such a big player. Morin closed out the season with a three-game point streak, setting up two game-winning goals against the rival Québec Remparts. He finished with a career best 32 points and brought his PIM down to 68 after having more than 117 and 121 the past two seasons.

Frédérik Gauthier, C, Rimouski Océanic
Toronto Maple Leafs, 2013, 21st overall

Like Morin, Gauthier’s season was limited by injury and the world juniors. He missed nearly two months to start, then missed six games near the end of the season with a concussion. The 6-foot-4, 215-lb. centre had 32 points in 37 games, but as shown at the world juniors, he’s elite when in shutdown mode. He’s also tough in the faceoff circle where he won 53.7 percent of his draws this year. While Gauthier didn’t take a step back this season, an extended playoff run with Rimouski would give a better sense of where his development is.

Euro flash

Nikolaj Ehlers, LW, Halifax Mooseheads
Winnipeg Jets, 2014, 9th overall

In his second year in the Q, Ehlers dominated, scoring 101 points in 51 games. He went on a franchise record 33-game point streak, netting 73 points over that span. He’s often the best player on the ice, showing incredible speed and offensive flare. In December, he represented Denmark in the world Jr. A challenge and the world juniors, showing he can compete with elite players. The Jets are pleased with his process this season and are helping with his workout routine so he can add strength. Jimmy Roy, the Jets director of player development, says if Ehlers can translate his speed and skill from junior to the professional level that he’ll be a special player.

Ivan Barbashev, C, Moncton Wildcats
St. Louis Blues, 2014, 33rd overall

The 6-foot-1, 194-lb. Russian took a big step forward in his third year with the Wildcats, setting career highs in goals (45) and points (95). Playing on a line with the league’s top point scorer, Conor Garland, Barbashev consistently found the back of the net. The skilled playmaker went through a brief cold spell after returning from the world juniors, but soon bounced back and scored 15 goals in February. Barbashev will look to follow the path of his former Wildcats teammate, Dmitrij Jaskin, and land a spot in the St. Louis Blues lineup in the next couple of seasons.

Valentin Zykov, RW, Gatineau Olympiques
Los Angeles Kings, 2013, 37th overall

A hernia injury kept Zykov out of action in November and December, and from representing Russia on the world junior stage. He was traded from Baie-Comeau to Gatineau in exchange for Buffalo Sabres prospect Vaclav Karabacek (2014, 49th). The Olympiques hovered around the bottom of the standings most of the season but were hot down the stretch. Zykov found his stride in that time, scoring 12 of his 21 goals in the last 14 games of the regular season. He finished with 46 points in 42 games of an injury shortened season and saw his productivity dip in his third season.

Other notables

Adam Erne, LW, Québec Remparts
Tampa Bay Lightning, 2013, 33rd overall

After playing for Team USA in the 2014 world juniors, Erne was a surprise late cut from the American squad in December. He didn’t spend any time pouting, scoring in his first game back on December 28. In his fourth season in the Q, Erne set career highs in goals (41), assists (45), points (86), plus minus (21) and penalty minutes (102). The power forward found consistency in his game and will be a key figure to the Remparts’ Memorial Cup run.

Nicolas Aubé-Kubel, RW, Val-d’Or Foreurs
Philadelphia Flyers, 2014, 48th overall

The Flyers pick works hard, showing speed on both ends of the ice and finishes his checks. Last year, he was below the point-per-game mark. Now in his third season, Aubé-Kubel’s production spiked and he finished the season with 38 goals and 80 points in 61 games. He was a key part of the Foreurs second-half surge, netting 23 of his goals in 2015. Aubé-Kubel has always played a high energy style, but this is the first season where he’s shown more finish around the net. He’s turned into a dangerous player with and without the puck.

Undrafted free-agent signees

Nikita Jevpalovs, LW, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
San Jose Sharks

Last fall, Jevpalovs left Philadelphia Flyers training camp without a contract. In January, the Latvian winger had the best month of his junior career, potting 10 goals and adding 15 helpers. The San Jose Sharks came calling and Jevpalovs signed an entry-level deal after not being selected in three previous drafts. He’s excelled under coach Joel Bouchard, finishing fourth in points with 100 and second in goals with 49. The 6-foot-1, 210-lb. winger possesses a nice blend of physicality and skill.

Danick Martel, C, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Philadelphia Flyers

Like teammate Jevpalovs, Martel was rewarded in-season for a productive campaign, signing with the Flyers in March. The 5-foot-8, 162-lb. center saw his production skyrocket, finishing third in the Q with 48 goals and second in scoring with 102 points, besting his previous career high of 60 points. What Martel lacks in size, he makes up in skill and determination, putting up points and dishing out hits.

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