Quebec Major Junior Hockey League commissioner Gilles Courteau made headlines early last week when he seemingly attacked the Montreal Canadiens for sporting a lineup featuring the minute total of two Quebec-born players in Maxim Lapierre and Mathieu Darche.
There’s no doubt that the franchise should hold on to the idea of maintaining some form of a French identity to not only please its mainly French-speaking fan-base, but also to pay homage to the organization’s history &- one that has been blessed with several Francophone stars such as Maurice and Henri Richard, Jean Beliveau, Guy Lafleur, Patrick Roy and of course, Ã‰ric Chouinard.
However, as scarce as finding a young French Canadian star wearing the Tricolore may be, you’d be equally hard pressed to find one on the other 29 league rosters. The new NHL is a league where the fast, strong and well-minded succeed. If a player is lacking in a certain department, especially one as important as size, they often make up for it by possessing a skill set that brings them up to elite status, i.e. Patrick Kane.
In recent years, the NHL Entry Draft has seen a dramatic descent in QMJHL graduates. The vast majority of draft picks either derive from the CHL’s Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League and even the United States Development Program.
Mr. Courteau, the Canadiens are not alone in the idea that Quebec-born skaters are missing the boat on what is quickly turning into a new era for the hockey player, an era that is being boosted and driven by major advances in equipment and training techniques. Identity-wise, the QMJHL is viewed as the most fragile of the CHL’s junior leagues. The WHL is a power-driven league, with towering, bruising defensemen and strong hard-nosed forwards. The OHL is mainly comprised of skilled, yet strong skaters with a tremendous amount of hockey sense.
The two aforementioned leagues are based in provinces that are making significant advances in improving the style of play at a much younger age. They introduce semi-contact at the pee-wee level, allowing young players to get a feel for what may be ahead of them should they feel like continuing their careers as hockey players. They don’t necessarily teach the kids how to hit, rather they show them how to absorb and evade contact.
Contrary to the “O” and the “W”, the “Q” is a league that features scrawny players who make junior careers out of perimeter shooting and offence. Quebec is a proud hockey province that has produced some of the most electrifying players in league history &- there is absolutely no doubting that. And yes, the league’s best player Sidney Crosby was selected first overall in 2005 by Pittsburgh from the Rimouski Oceanic, however, what have they produced since the Kid? Has the hockey community really been blessed with some serious French-speaking talent?
Fortunately for the QMJHL’s reputation, the early lead for the first overall pick in the 2011 entry draft is Drummondville Voltigeur forward Sean Couturier. Couturier had for 41 goals (10 on the power play), 96 points, and finished with a plus-62 rating and 262 shots on goal in 68 regular-season games. He then capped it with 3 goals, 7 points and a plus-9 rating in four playoff games.
At 6-foot-3 and 185 lbs and just 18 years old, Couturier is certainly on the plus side of the size spectrum. Could he be the first of a new breed of Quebec hockey players?
Quebec must begin adapting to the new style of the NHL. The times of the run-and-gun, helmet-less hockey has passed and gone to a better place. In the same graveyard of hockey’s golden past is the policy that allowed the Canadiens to have first pickings at the QMJHL when draft time rolled around. Commissioner Courteau must understand that and also understand that in order to garner interest from the NHL scouting departments, improvements have to be made. Quebec certainly has the speed to keep up in the NHL but they’re lacking in the hitting department.
It’s why some are afraid that Couturier may end up being the next Angelo Esposito and not “la prochaine Ã©toile”.