NHL training camps and the pre-season are well underway, as is the QMJHL regular season. Many teams, particularly the Saint John Sea Dogs, have been playing with skeleton rosters as their heavy hitters are away at NHL camps. Some of the later draft picks have begun returning to their junior clubs, but there are still a few impact juniors with NHL aspirations who have yet to get the snip. Many would-be overagers will be turning pro, if not in the NHL then in the AHL, so I won’t look at them, but here are some big name under-20s in the QMJHL, and their chances of sticking in the show:
There’s been a big question mark about whether or not Gormley would be sent back to the Moncton Wildcats. Looking at the situation in Phoenix, I can’t imagine him sticking in the desert this season. The Coyotes have seven defensemen signed to one-way NHL contracts currently. Unless they make a trade to free up space for Gormley, they’d have to bury one of those contracts in the AHL (or carry eight defensemen). Given their current ownership situation, it’s unlikely they’d be willing to pay an NHL salary to an AHLer. The one thing working in Gormley’s favour is his entry-level contract, which would make him attractive to a cash-strapped team like Phoenix. With the CBA set to expire, all bonuses count towards the cap this season, even if they aren’t reached. That means that Phoenix may only pay Gormley something like $1 million if he doesn’t reach his bonuses, but he still counts as $1.345 million against the cap which would help them reach the salary floor should they need to. But given that they’re currently above that floor, his contract doesn’t offer much benefit. With three UFAs-to-be on the blueline next summer, expect Gormley to crack the lineup next season, but not this one.
The 8th overall pick in June has just cashed in with his first contract from the Philadelphia Flyers, thanks in no small part to the impressive pre-season he’s had. He has a share of the league scoring lead through Friday’s action (yes, yes, preseason, I know) and certainly hasn’t looked out of place. On a weaker team, he’s probably a lock for a spot on the big club. With the Flyers, Couturier is going to be in tough. There are a few factors working against him; aside from the strength of the team, their contract situation doesn’t do him any favours either. The Flyers are tight to the cap, and, as Travis at Broad Street Hockey explains, they’re also at (or possibly above) the 50-contract limit imposed on NHL teams. The only way to keep Couturier off that count is to send him back to junior. The team is deep down the middle, so I’d say if he does crack the team, it’s as a winger in the bottom-six, but the odds are stacked against him. Expect him back in Drummondville, and expect him somewhere else at the trade deadline.
Opinion probably not shared by many: Nathan Beaulieu is more NHL-ready than Jonathan Huberdeau. Beaulieu already has the size to handle NHL forwards, he skates remarkably well and, obviously, has skill. His strength will need some work but I think he’s more prepared to stick in the NHL than his Sea Dogs teammate. Having said that, he’s got some work to do in order to crack the Canadiens’ lineup. They currently have eight defensemen signed, but Andrei Markov is, shockingly, injured. That leaves a little bit of daylight for Beaulieu to step in and perhaps play at least nine games, filling an offensive role and forcing the Habs to make a decision on whether to send him back to Saint John, or burn a year of his entry-level deal. I’d expect it doesn’t materialize this season, but with only two defensemen signed through next year, Beaulieu could be a full-timer before long.
Big things are expected from the highest draft pick out of the Quebec league since Sidney Crosby, although not necessarily this year. There’s no doubt that Huberdeau is going to be a big-time player in the NHL, but he has some hurdles to clear if he wants to make the Panthers this season. They went on a signing spree this summer, bringing in four or five forwards who they’ll expect to play on scoring lines. That hurts Huberdeau’s chances right off the hop, as one would think he’ll need to play an offensive role to make the club. Huberdeau hasn’t been signed yet, but once he is he’ll be in a similar position to Gormley, where his contract would likely be more expensive in cap dollars than real dollars, thus helping Florida reach the floor. However, like Phoenix, the Panthers are already
above the floor. One can also look at last season’s kerfuffle with another 3rd overall pick, Erik Gudbranson, where Florida wouldn’t meet his contract demands, despite him essentially making the team, and sent him back to junior. Whatever the circumstances, I’d expect Huberdeau to end up back in Saint John. He dominated as a 17-year old, and there may not be much left for him in the Q, but another Memorial Cup run and a starring role with Canada’s World Junior entry should be reason enough to give him at least one more season in junior.
I’m not expecting a Jeff Skinner-esque arrival from any of these four. I wouldn’t be shocked to see some, or all, of them end up playing the up-to-nine games permitted before a year of their entry-level contract is burned. It’s something of an extended tryout, but a player has to really impress and show they belong for the NHL club to choose to keep them around, since doing so will send that player to unrestricted free agency earlier. In the end, I figure all four of those guys will end up playing the bulk of their season in the Q, which is great news for fans around the league.