Hockey scouts are like miners, always digging for a hidden gem. The Moncton Wildcats definitely found one when they drafted Charles-Antoine Pilote in the 7th round, 117th overall in the 2019 QMJHL entry draft. Pilote’s journey in the game is one of patience and persistence. His fantastic start to his QMJHL career caught the attention of the organization, it’s loyal fan base, but more importantly NHL scouts.
There’s no question the shy quiet confident kid from Saint Lambert, Quebec has a bright future in the game.
Pressure, High Expectations, but No Limitations
Charles-Antoine Pilote came to Wildcats Training Camp in the fall of 2019 ready to elevate his game and prove he could be an impact player in the years to come for the Cats.
First impressions are everything, but there was definitely some buzz surrounding the young defenders start in the Hub City.
Clearly, Pilote was raw, but there was something there, a tremendous foundation in which to build on.
From training camp 2019 to start of the 2020-2021 season, Charles-Antoine Pilote grew as a player and person. There’s no question coming into a year of so much uncertainty and unknown, Pilote was definitely on the Cats radar to land a roster spot after his solid camp a season before, but the pressure and high expectations were there, but there were no limitations or restrictions when it came to his developmental curve. It was suppose to be an unprecedented rebuild after the Wildcats after they loaded up for a run at junior hockey supremacy, that monumental run never happened due to the start of the pandemic.
Faced with the harsh reality of the rebuild the Cats gave their young core group a chance to play, grow and develop.
“I realize it wasn’t a normal season, but I think it gave me a small idea of what the QMJHL really is,” Pilote said of the pressures of his debut in the league and subsequent NHL draft year.
“I still have a lot of things to learn about a real full season.”
“For me this season was all about learning.”
“I only played 31 games so that means I had a lot of practice and time with the defense coach and coaching staff to do video work and extra time after practice.
“I tried to work on all my weaknesses this year, but also worked on building on the strengths of my game,” explained Pilote.
Obviously, you have to look beyond the stat sheet to fully appreciate what Pilote accomplished in his debut with the Cats. There’s no question the smooth skating effective puck moving rearguard flew under the radar for most of the season. Nevertheless, at 6”3 192 pounds, it’s hard not to notice the rangy rearguard patrolling the blueline.
Very few “17-year-old rookies” catch the attention of NHL scouts and let’s face it, it’s tough going for that vintage of defencemen in the QMJHL. Playing the position at 17, as a rookie takes a lot of poise, resiliency and think skin. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for rookie blueliners in the Q.
Dan Lacroix and the entire coaching staff did a fantastic job teaching the game, but also setting up their young core group of players to have success.
“I really liked Dan, he’s a great coach,” Pilote said.
“I think he was the perfect coach for my first junior year.”
“Dan was good with all the young players on his team.”
“I also worked a lot with Josh Hepditch after practice with extra exercises and video work. In term of development, I think it was my best year, I really learn a lot of things with the coaching staff.”
The adversity of the season and long pauses didn’t seem to effect Pilote’s development.
“I had a good billet, so he had always something to do with them during the pauses due to COVID.”
“COVID was an opponent during the season because it meant I couldn’t play against every team, and I would have liked to play Quebec based teams for experience, but I think I still grew as a player and person during the year, it was a challenge, but I feel I learned a lot with the Cats,” stressed Pilote.
“To be a Wildcat is special because it is probably the best organization in the CHL.”
“I really like the city, the team, my teammates.”
“It’s pretty special to play for an organization like that where everyone plays an important part, and everyone has the same goal to succeed,” Pilote added.
Growth, Development and the Dream
Charles-Antoine Pilote possesses all the tools to be a highly effective two-way defender in the years to come in the QMJHL and beyond. He skates tremendously well for his size and has a great shot from the point. He has a solid good first pass, possesses solid puck skills and sees the ice and thinks the game very well.
Pilote isn’t flashy and at times this year his inexperience did show, but you have to look at his over all growth and development especially in the second half of a season like no other to fully appreciate his progression as a player and person.
Everyone in the hockey world has crazy expectations when it comes to NHL draft eligible prospects especially defencemen.
“To be honest I wasn’t trying to think about this season being my draft year.”
“I know it was hard sometimes to play eight games in a row and take a break for a month or two because of COVID restrictions, but at the same time it was the same thing for everyone else in the league.”
“I was just focused when it was the time to play, I just tried to forget everything else that was going on just focused on my game,” stressed Pilote.
When you watch, assess and project a player like Pilote, you have to look big picture, you have to ask yourself, what is this kid going to be like at 19 or 20?
Where is he going to be at 22 or 23?
It seemed like every game this season Pilote made a play or did something on the ice that jumped off the page. Every game there was a glimpse of future brilliance. That’s exactly why some NHL scouts were quite intrigued and watched his progression very closely.
Did he personally feel that he surpassed his own expectations this season?
“Yes, I think I had a pretty good year,” said a reflective Pilote.
“Maybe because I was on a young team, but I had my chance to prove myself since it was my first season in the Q. I think I took chances and I did pretty well because I didn’t really have any stress being on a young team like the Cats.”
With only 37 QMJHL games under his belt, Pilote definitely has room to grow, but he certainly has the potential to play at the next level. The rangy defender had three goals and seven assists this season. He appeared in six playoff games recording a goal and two assists. Obviously, there’s lots of work to be done, but the mature well-spoken kid that grew up in Saint-Lambert, is willing to do what it takes to get to the next level.
“I would love to play in the NHL, I think it’s the dream of every kid who plays the game of hockey,” admitted Pilote.
“I think if I could start in the American Hockey League and continue to grow and develop there I could move on to the NHL.”
“That would be great, after all that’s my goal,” confessed Pilote.
Pilote has good edge control and compete level. His processing and hockey IQ increased dramatically as the season progressed. He will have to work on his quickness and pivots to excel at the next level. His defensive coverage and stick positioning in his own zone below the dots are above average for his age and experience
Like many other young defenders Pilote will have to continue to work on his consistency, refinement of his defensive play, explosiveness and his upper body strength to reach his maximum potential at the pro level, but the foundation is definitely there.
Pilote’s early success in the QMJHL hasn’t gone to his head, he’s as grounded and humble as ever. He’s trying to take everything in stride understanding that’s all part of the process. The unwavering support and sacrifices that his coaches and family have made to get him to this point of his career isn’t lost on the young defender.
“I think the time and the patience it took my family to give me the best chance to achieve my goals in the game were huge sacrifices.”
“Every weekend they were always there for me, every weekend at the rink during winter and summer months, they were always there.”
“Joël Perreault who was my coach Bantam AAA and Midget, always told me to never give up on my dreams, that I’d would always have my chance,” Pilote said.
“Joel showed me a lot of things in those two years, I always take his advice and the confidence he provided on the ice.”
Pilote is currently ranked 218th amongst North American Skaters by the NHL Central Scouting Department. Some might say it is a longshot for him to get drafted this year, I won’t bet against it, given his progression this season. Pilote has come a long way in a very short time.
From his living room to the Canadian Hockey League and perhaps the NHL, things have seemingly happened very fast for the young skilled defender.
“My mother told me when I was two-years-old that I would be playing hockey in the living room with a mini-stick. A short time after that I remember my father asking me if I’d like to play hockey, I was like four or five and remember telling him ‘Yessssss I want to.’”
Pilote had touched the ice until that point. “I immediately started playing Timbits hockey,” Pilote added.
“My father played a big role in my start to game, he showed me the basics of skating and hockey, that’s how I got my start.”
“Growing up my role model was Drew Doughty. He was my idol.”
“I watched him on the TV even on YouTube to take and emulate his best attributes as a defenceman, then I would try to do the same thing on the ice in practices and games.”
“He’s a great two-way defenseman, so I definitely wanted to incorporate some of his style of play into my game,” Pilote said.
What would it mean to Pilote and his family if he were to hear his name on draft day?
“It would be a dream come true to hear my name called.”
“Since I was a young kid it’s what I wanted, it was my dream.”
“I would be happy, but I would be thrilled for my parents to prove to them that all the sacrifices they made for me wasn’t for nothing.”