The Best of the Best: Who will be Atlantic Canada’s next Top NHLer?

Atlantic Canada has produced some of the game’s greatest ever.

The next generation of young aspiring NHL Draft Prospects from this region have weathered the storm of two incredibly difficult seasons in hopes of accomplishing their lifelong dream to get drafted and play at hockey’s highest level, the NHL.

Zachary Dean: Gatineau Olympiques C/F Zachary Dean does everything at top speed; that’s what makes him so lethal. Newfoundland’s next top NHL prospect The 18-year-old center possesses elite level puck skills and doesn’t shy away from high traffic areas. Dean will have to get stronger and continue to work the defensive side of his game to play through the middle at the next level. Dean’s stats may not have jumped off the page this season, but his overall game still does. Dean blossomed into a great two-way centre for the upstart Olympiques. Dean’s subpar offensive input this season shouldn’t decrease his draft stock. The Olympiques alternate-captain thinks the game extremely well and has all the makings of a highly-effective pro.

COLE HUCKINS, – ACADIE-BATHURST – C Cole Huckins possesses all the tools to be a highly effective scoring power forward at the next level. The Fredericton, New Brunswick product had very productive rookie campaign for the rebuilding Titan a season ago. In 64 games, the smooth skating center scored 13 goals and added 25 assists. Huckins played through the middle a year ago but found on left wing to start the season. From set-up man to sniper, a move to the wing might have been exactly what Cole Huckins needed to draw even more attention from NHL scouts.

His point totals certainly didn’t dip, but after several games on the wing, the Titan’s coaching staff elected to put him back in the middle. It was a move that was needed for both the player and organization.

At times over the past two seasons, he looked like a young Joe Thornton, setting up his teammates with unbelievable passes from the center position. Huckins skates extremely well for his size, has heavy accurate shot, but will have to work on his edge work, agility and explosiveness to reach his full potential at the pro level. The sophomore forward has made a difficult transition to the wing position look easy, but he’s it’s clear that he’s a natural centre. Huckins is definitely a player to watch moving forward. In some cases, players of his statue take more time to develop, but once they do they become offensive weapons. The rangy forward as drawn some comparisons to that of Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn.

EVAN NAUSE, – QUEBEC – LHD 

After great consideration Evan Nause finally arrived in the QMJHL this season and boy oh boy did he ever make his presence known. After spending the past season in the USHL, the blueliner made the decision to come to the QMJHL in early June. Nause got off to a slow start, but turned it on extraordinarily well after the Remparts and the league took a long pause. Nause was a dynamic force for Patrick Roy’s club from that point on.

The 18-year-old who grew up in Riverview, New Brunswick possesses all the tools to be an ultra-effective two-way defender at the next level. Nause’s vision and superior skating ability certainly set him apart from other defenders his age. The strong two and half zone defenceman will have to put on some extra muscle to add a little physicality to his play, but there’s no doubt that given his work ethic and dedication to the game, he will definitely get there. Nause plays a very similar style to that of former NHLer blueliner Jay Bouwmeester.

Oscar Plandowski Charlottetown Islanders RD  

Oscar Plandowski can flat out fly on the ice. The Halifax, Nova Scotia product is one of the fastest and smoothest skating defenceman in the QMJHL. Plandowski appeared in 60 games as a rookie last year and though his point totals may not have been as high as some people would have predicted, there’s no question he benefited a great deal watching and playing with Vegas Golden Knights draft selection Lukas Cormier. The 18-year-old defender came into his own with the Islanders this season and has solidified his standing within their top four. Plandowski logs significant minutes in all situations.

The highly skilled two-way defenceman has a fantastic first pass and shot from the blueline.  He thinks the game extremely well and is very elusive when he has the puck on his stick.  He patrols the offensive blueline with fantastic poise, confidence and composure.  The young two year veteran has the ability to play both point positions with relative ease.  At 6’0, 190 pounds, Plandowski has a great frame, but will have to continue to get stronger in order to reach his full potential at the next level. Plandowski didn’t light the world on fire offensively his season, but that didn’t mean he’s didn’t have an impact. Plandowski continues to be amongst the leaders for time on ice for Islanders. The gifted skater plays in every situation for Jim Hulton. He has worked extremely hard on his shot from the point which definitely adds another dimension to his game.

PETER REYNOLDS, – SAINT JOHN – C

Peter Reynolds has always been one of New Brunswick’s top player for his age group. The Fredericton, New Brunswick product is coming off a great season with Chilliwack Chiefs of the BCHL that saw the highly skilled two-way center record 47 points in 53 games.

Reynolds was a welcomed addition this season for the already highly touted Saint John Sea Dogs. The gifted play maker logged significant minutes in their top six and and contributed, however he did leave some scouts wanting more.

The 18-year-old rookie does everything at top speed which makes him a very dangerous player. He possesses breakaway speed, solid compete level and isn’t shy to go to the dirty areas of the ice to create offensive opportunities for himself and his teammates.

At 5’10, 168 pounds, the Sea Dogs center will have to continue to get stronger in order to win puck battles in all three zones at the next level. The Fredericton product found great chemistry with forward and Calgary Flames draft pick Ryan Francis and import overage star and San Jose Sharks prospect Vladislav Kotkov this season, but he will have to fulfil a larger role with the club as they go all in for a championship run this upcoming season.

The Dogs first line centre is a gifted playmaker that isn’t scared to get to the middle, but definitely needs to get there a lot more and execute. Reynolds consistency and play in traffic with and without the puck will have to improve to reach his full potential at the next level.

CAMERON  WHYNOT,– HALIFAX – LHD

Cameron Whynot has all the tools to be an effective transitional defenceman at the pro level.

The Kentville, Nova Scotia product is an elite level skater and possesses great instincts in all three zones. The skilled blueliner experienced some growing pains a season ago with the rebuilding Mooseheads, but has certainly regained his confidence and swagger with puck this season.

Whynot thinks the game incredibly well, has a solid first pass and can break down oppositions forechecks with his speed, agility and puck skills. Colorado Avalanche draft pick, fellow Nova Scotian and Moosehead teammate Justin Barron has been a tremendous asset for Whynot.

Whynot and Barron were a great one two punch for the Moose all season long.

The smooth skating rangy rearguard has seen his time on ice skyrocket this season. At 6’1, 180 pounds, the 18-year-old will have to fill out and gain some strength so he can compete better on pucks at the next level. Whynot continues to fly under the radar, but some scouts definitely appreciate his skill set.

 Cameron Whynot still has an extra gear to his game which is scary if you think about it. This kid is only going get better with experience, an increased role and confidence.

The sky is the limit for the young highly touted defenceman.

ZACH BIGGAR, – ACADIE-BATHURST – LHD

Zach Biggar is trying to take a similar route to that of Moncton Wildcats standout defenceman and LA Kings prospect Jordan Spence.

Biggar had a tremendous season as a 16-year-old with the Summerside Western Capitals of Maritime Hockey League.

In 47 games with the Caps last season, the Portage, Prince Edward Island product scored 7 goals and 35 assists. The offensive numbers weren’t there for Biggar this season with the Titan, but there’s no question he has all the tools to be a highly effective two-way defenceman at the next level.

The strong skating defenceman processes the game extremely well, has a very active stick defensively and a great first pass. The proud Islander is very tough to play against and seldomly loses 1 on 1 puck battles downlow in his own zone. Biggar will have to work on his quickness and explosiveness to order to excel at the pro level.

Long-time NHLer Andrew Ference comes to mind when projecting Biggar to the next level. Zach Biggar isn’t the flashiest player on the ice, sometimes you might not even see him, but don’t worry NHL scouts certainly took notice. The Portage, Prince Edward Island product is no doubt a hidden gem. The strong skating 18-year-old is an intelligent puck mover, high character defender that will do just about anything to defend and win hockey games. The hard-nosed defenceman seldomly loses puck battles and is extremely versatile given his ability to play both sides of the ice with relative ease. Biggar has all the tools to become a very effective transitional two-way defenceman at the pro level. The Titan rookie processes the game extremely well, has a very active stick defensively and an accurate first pass. He has great offensive instincts and jumps into play when the opportunity presents itself.

RILEY KIDNEY, – ACADIE-BATHURST – C 

Riley Kidney is arguably one of the smartest players in the QMJHL. Former Gatineau Olympiques and current Boston Bruin standout David Krejci comes to mind when watching Kidney strategically plot his way around the ice. The Enfield, Nova Scotia product will never over power opponents, he will just out think them. The skilled skater and gifted player maker has an incredible knack at finding the open man from anywhere on the ice. Whether slowing the game down or speeding it up, Kidney always finds a way to put points on the board. Sure, the diminutive center will have to get stronger, but his compete level rivals his smarts which is a deadly combination.

Kindey has a very underrated shot and release, which goes unnoticed due in large part to his play making abilities. In 59 games as a rookie, Kidney had 5 goals and 28 assists for 33 points.

School is always in session when Riley Kidney takes the ice. Depending how old you are you might not appreciate the next comparison, but Riley Kidney plays a similar style of game to that of Russian superstar and Hockey Hall of Famer Igor Larionov. Larionov, was nicknamed “The Professor” throughout his career due in large part to him “schooling” his opponents on a nightly basis. The Titan sophomore forward does the exact same thing. The 18-year-old ultra-competitive gifted playmaker has an incredible knack at finding the open man from anywhere on the ice.

The diminutive centre will have to get stronger and more explosive to reach his full potential at the pro level. Underrated, but certainly not understated, the highly touted play maker is every Maritimes Division coach’s nightmare. Like every skilled player, there’s just no way to game plan against a player like Kidney.

CAMERON MACDONALD, – SAINT JOHN – C Like fellow Sea Dogs teammate Peter Reynolds, Cameron MacDonald applied his skills else where a season ago.  The Halifax, Nova Scotia product played with the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL.

MacDonald didn’t light the world on fire offensively south of the border, but there’s no question, he became a more complete full 200ft player during his time in the Sioux.

In 44 games, he only scored 6 goals and added 14 assists.

The new Sea Dogs center boasts a pro release and great offensive instincts. Nevertheless, it’s his compete level, willingness to do all the little things right and play the game the right way that is drawing early attention from NHL scouts.

There’s no question MacDonald has earned the trust of his new coach Greg Gilbert.

With such a deep forward group, MacDonald has found himself primarily playing in a third line center role, but has seen his time on ice increase drastically throughout the season.

As the season progressed MacDonald quickly become one of the best 200 ft players in the QMJHL. His compete level and attention to detail have NHL scouts intrigued. Every scout looks for intangibles that will translate well to the pro game. The Sea Dogs rookie skates extremely well, has great instincts with and without the puck. He possesses a deceptive release and can score from anywhere on the ice. Every young prospect wants to earn the respect and gain the trust of their coach, Cameron MacDonald did that in a very short time in the Port City. Sea Dogs Head Coach Greg Gilbert relied heavily on the youngster’s line to log big minutes in every situation. The sky is the limit for Cameron MacDonald.

CONNOR TRENHOLM, – CAPE BRETON – C 

Every scout wants to find a diamond in the rough, a player that can make a difference at the next level. Cape Breton Eagles centre Connor Trenholm could very well be that player. The Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia product hasn’t played two consecutive years of hockey at the same level until this season. Trenholm’s path in the game drastically changed in his second year of Atom when it was decided that he step away from the game as a precaution for a suspected heart condition that could have been hereditary. The concern and uncertainty for his condition was crippling, but the family tried to make the best of it. In July of 2016, with further testing the suspected heart condition was ruled out. Trenholm quickly returned to the game he loved and hasn’t looked back since.

The 18-year-old skilled centre and Eagles Assistant Captain is a dominant force in the defensive zone. His compete level is off the charts. He possesses solid puck skills and tremendous instincts for the game. The Eagles sophomore forward might not be flashy, but has all the makings of strong checking two-way forward at the pro level. The best is yet to come for Trenholm, who continues to make up for lost time.

Conor Shortall | RD | Drummondville Voltigeurs 

Somethings are worth the wait. That basically sums up Conor Shortall’s journey in the game and path to the QMJHL. The St.John’s, Newfoundland product is a smooth powerful skater with solid puck skills, a great first pass and tremendous hockey IQ. In many ways Shortall has flown under the radar for most of his career.  The solid two-way, two and half zone rookie defender had a great debut for the Voltigeurs this season. In 34 games, the 17-year-old scored three goals while amassing nine assists. At 5’9 and 189 pounds Shortall’s size could be perceived as a weakness or a barrier for the pro ranks. Nevertheless, the proud Newfoundlander makes up for that with his skill, heart, compete level and skating ability.  

Jacob Melanson |RW| Acadie-Bathurst Titan 

Skill, scoring touch, speed, grit and great hockey sense, Jacob Melanson has it all.

The former 1st round pick (15th overall in 2019 QMJHL Entry Draft) of the Quebec Remparts has certainly excelled with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan after being acquired during this season’s trade period.  The Amherst, Nova Scotia product plays on the edge and creates time and space for his line mates while generating offensive opportunities for himself by going to all of the dirty areas of the ice. Melanson has shown great resiliency coming back from two severe shoulder injuries he suffered during his time with the Remparts. In 18 games with the Titan this season the gritty skilled right winger had eight goals and 11 assists. In 5 playoff games he added two goals and one assist. At 5’11, 200 pounds, Melanson has a good frame and stature to be an effective energy and two-way winger at the next level. He has a great release, solid puck skills in traffic  and is an underrated passer. He will have to continue to get stronger through his upper body to ensure he can compete and win 50/50 puck battles at the pro level. His instincts and will to compete definitely separate him from other players his age.

Bennett MacArthur |LW| Acadie-Bathurst Titan 

Persistence and perseverance continue to define Summerside, Prince Edward Island’s Bennett MacArthur’s journey in the game. The undrafted free agent has blossomed into one of the QMJHL’s most lethal snipers. The 19-year-old gritty two-way left winger possesses an extremely accurate pro release. The Acadie-Bathurst Titan elected to sign the 5’11, 195-pound winger at the midway point last season. The knock or perceived weakness on MacArthur has always been his skating or lack of speed. That certainly hasn’t been the case for the past two seasons. In 33 games last year, the proud Islander had eight goals and four assists. This year he easily eclipsed that mark scoring 28 goals and 12 assists. In nine playoff games, he found the back of the net six times while adding five assists. MacArthur’s innate ability to find open ice in the offensive zone coupled with his lethal shot will undoubtedly translate to the pro game.  MacArthur like many young prospects will have to continue to work on his speed and explosiveness to ensure maximum success at the pro level.

Charlie DesRoches |RD| Saint John Sea Dogs 

Charlie Desroches was surprisingly passed over a year ago in the NHL Entry Draft. The Days Corner, Prince Edward Island product continues to put up solid offensive numbers while playing in every situation for the Saint John Sea Dogs. In 32 games this season, the 19-year-old smooth skating transitional blueliner had four goals and 22 assists. In five playoff games this year, he added four assists. At 5’10 and 173 pounds, DesRoches might have to put on some more muscle, to excel at the next level. The Sea Dogs three-year veteran has improved in every facet of his game and has become one of the most complete defenders in the QMJHL. The proud Islander isn’t flashy he plays the game and the position the right way, which can definitely translate to the next level.

Drew Elliott Charlottetown Islanders LW

Drew Elliott is one of the most honest players in the entire QMJHL.

Honest players are often times overlooked when it comes to draft day. The ultra competitive two-way forward had a tremendous season with the Islanders. The stats might not be there for some scouts, but his character and compete level jumps off the charts. Elliott’s passion for the game and willingness to do whatever it takes to win and protect his teammates is truly unparalleled.

His puck skills are solid, but it’s certainly one area of his game that needs to improve, his speed and determination are simply outstanding.

Elliott’s shot is one hardest in the league. He’s never going to be a flashy offensive player, but the kid is relentless when it comes to the game of hockey and winning.

His speed, character and positional play will undoubtedly translate to the next level. Ultimately it only takes one scout and one team to like a player in order for them to be drafted. If things don’t work out on draft day, Elliott’s phone will probably blow up with offers to attend training camp.

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