Prior to Wednesday night, the QMJHL had lost five straight games to Team Russia in the CHL-Russia Super Series, with their last win coming in 2009. The fifth loss came Monday night, as goaltender Andrei Vasilevski put together a masterful performance and Mikhail Grigorenko led the way offensively for the Russians, who won 6-2.
The top forwards for the QMJHL were effective at times, but struggled to get the puck past Vasilevski, with Florida Panthers prospect Jonathan Huberdeau and the 2013 draft-eligible Jean-Sebastien Dea and Nathan MacKinnon frequently on the ice for goals against. Huberdeay and MacKinnon both finished minus-4 and Dea finished minus-3.
Missing from the lineup on Monday was Jonathan Drouin, a 2013 draft-eligible forward who plays alongside MacKinnon for the Halifax Mooseheads. His 24 points in 12 games this season makes him tied with PEI forward Josh Currie for the highest points-per-game average in the QMJHL. Drouin missed the first game while still recovering from a foot injury, but his return and familiarity with MacKinnon seemed to make all the difference for the QMJHL on Wednesday.
Drouin and MacKinnon finished the game with identical four-point nights – a goal and three assists – while Huberdeau scored two goals and added an assist himself. Combined with his two assists on Monday night, both on the powerplay, Huberdeau leads the series in scoring, with 5 points in 2 games.
MacKinnon was ranked first overall in in the 2013 NHL Draft prior to the start of the season by pretty much everyone. TSN, The Hockey Writers, Future Considerations, and International Scouting Services all had him at number one and his 18 goals in 18 games to start the QMJHL season has done little to change that. He struck me as trying to do a little too much on Monday, but on Wednesday he tried to do many of the same things and succeeded.
His skating and speed are superb, but he did strike me as somewhat undisciplined, taking a particularly ugly boarding penalty in the second period, but I’m sure that many will see the physical edge to his game as a plus.
His first assist, shown above, was a bit of a gimme, as Nikita Nesterov gambled in the neutral zone that he could beat Huberdeau to a loose puck and lost, leading to a 2-on-0 from the blue line in. Vasilevski had no chance as the Huberdeau and MacKinnon combined on a quick passing play to leave Huberdeau the open net. His second assist, however, was a beauty, as the QMJHL powerplay whipped the puck around Russia’s penalty killing box with precision, with MacKinnon sending the final pass cross-crease to Huberdeau at the back door.
MacKinnon’s goal showed good determination, as he picked up a rebound from a Xavier Ouellet point shot. Vasilevski stopped his first attempt, but MacKinnon stayed with the puck and potted his own rebound. His final assist came off some good work to get the puck in deep with Huberdeau before finding Drouin out front, who slotted the puck just under the bar.
Drouin is projected to go in the first round in the 2013 draft, with his stock rising after his strong start this season. He was less noticeable than MacKinnon and Huberdeau in this game, with all three of his assists being second assists, but he still played an impressive game, using his vision and passing to open up opportunities for his linemates. His quick release and pinpoint accuracy on his goal were also impressive and it would not be surprising to see him as a top-10 pick in 2013.
The top line did the bulk of the damage for the QMJHL, scoring 4 of their 5 goals, but they didn’t open the scoring. That job fell to Panthers prospect Francis Beauvillier. The sixth-round pick was on the team mainly as an energy line presence with his speed and defensive ability, but he showed that he can score goals too, whipping a wristshot past Vasilevski just under a minute into the game.
Beyond the scorers for the QMJHL, I was very impressed with Charles Hudon, a fifth-round pick by the Montreal Canadiens, who did some superb work on the penalty kill and used his speed to create scoring chances while matched up against Nail Yakupov. He drew two penalties during the game, one a coincidental minor with Yakupov and another a tripping penalty. His two-way game played a large role in the victory.
Yakupov, when not hemmed in the defensive zone by Hudon’s line, was very fun to watch. It’s interesting to compare him with his fellow countryman, Mikhail Grigorenko. When Yakupov gets the puck, he sometimes looks like he’s moving in double-time, like an old Keystone Kops film. His legs drive forward, his head bobs and weaves, and he stickhandles the puck 10 different directions in the space of 2 seconds. He seems to be moving in double-time compared to everyone else on the ice.
Grigorenko, on the other hand, seems to move far more purposefully. His movements look smooth, yet calculated. Where Yakupov is constantly moving, Grigorenko frequently seems to be standing still. Visually, it’s easy to see why scouts began to criticize Grigorenko for seeming lazy or unmotivated, but I think it’s just his playing style. You can turn the comparison around fairly easily by suggesting that Yakupov spends energy fruitlessly at times, while Grigorenko conserves energy and expends it when it can best be used.
Compared to Monday, Grigorenko wasn’t nearly as effective, but that can be said for most of the Russian team. It remains to be seen how well Grigorenko will play once he reaches the NHL, where his size won’t be as much of an advantage, but I like his thoughtful and patient approach to the game.
As an additional note, Drouin and MacKinnon weren’t the only draft-eligible players from the Halifax Mooseheads in the game for the Halifax Mooseheads, as 17-year-old goaltender, Zachary Fucale, started the game for the QMJHL. He played just over half the game and made 9 saves on 10 shots. Fucale is the top ranked goaltender for the 2013 draft according to most rankings.