With the Avalanche season fading from memory and the Rampage's heading that way fast, I decided to indulge in some junior hockey playoffs with 3 of our prospects on the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Jean-Christophe Beaudin, Julien Nantel and AJ Greer tore through the first 2 rounds, destroying bottom seed Drummondville then taking out Blainville-Boisbriand in 5. The matchup for the semis would be against QMJHL scoring champ Conor Garland and the Moncton Wildcats.
Other than occasional highlights the last time I had seen the Huskies was on the night AJ Greer made his debut back in late December, which had the added bonus of also being Nicolas Meloche's debut on the opposing bench for Gatineau, so it was interesting making comparisons in how much each player had improved in 4 months.
I'll make some general preview notes here, go game by game then some final thoughts on each player.
Beaudin centers the first line and first PP unit, also kills penalties. He plays A LOT.
Greer is the LW on the 2nd line and 1st PP unit next to Beaudin. Occasionally kills penalties.
Nantel played LW on the 3rd line except for game 6 where he was the RW. Plays a good deal on the 2nd PP unit and a lot of PK time.
The Huskies and Wildcats traded goals early then RN scored a pretty deflating goal with a minute left in the 1st for 2-1. AJ Greer scored in the 2nd on a wild shot from his knees off a faceoff. Beaudin assisted on an insurance score in the 3rd, won just about all his faceoffs and ended up as first star of the game. 4-1 Huskies.
Greer: 1G, 2 shots, 2 hits
Beaudin: 1A, 4 shots, 16/18 faceoffs
Nantel: 3 shots
This was a tight game that was 3-3 with 3 minutes to go when Moncton scored the go-ahead then added an ENG in the final minute. RN got one back but couldn't tie it. Moncton 5-4, series tied at 1.
Greer: 1A, 1 hit
Beaudin: 1A, 12/26 faceoffs
Nantel: 1 shot
This was a truly dominating performance by the Huskies. Captain Francis Perron had a hat trick, Greer scored on a terrifying shot from the circles in the 2nd and Nantel eased one into the empty net with 1 second left. 5-1 Huskies, series 2-1.
Greer: 1G, 4 shots
Beaudin: 1A, 4 shots, 17/21 faceoffs
Nantel: 1G, 4 shots
Martins Dzierkals scored 58 seconds into the game and that was it for scoring. It was actually a fascinating game, lots of chances both ways and Chase Marchand was absolutely fantastic in goal for Rouyn-Noranda. Greer had a ton of chances but Moncton's goalie was stout too. Timo Meier got in a fight, which isn't smart for a skill player like him, but also pulled his opponent's helmet off earning him a game misconduct and a 1-game suspension, which is really dumb. 1-0 Huskies, 3-1 series.
Greer: 6 shots
Beaudin: 4 shots, 15/32 faceoffs
Nantel: 1 shot
This was a toughie for the Huskies. Moncton figured out that hitting everything that moves was the only way to get control of play, and it basically worked. It also helped that their goalie was amazing, giving up a single goal on 35 shots. Greer had an amazing game, so many chances, but couldn't get one to drop. Incredibly frustrating. 2-1 Moncton, series 3-2.
Greer: 10 shots, 2 hits
Beaudin: 20/28 faceoffs, 2 hits
Nantel: 1 shot, 1 hit
This game was out of hand. The Wildcats escalated the physical play from game 5 and just decided to cheap shot everyone as much as possible right off the bat. RN got a 5-minute PP in the first from a really dirty boarding call but couldn't get set up at all and ended up giving away a shortie.
Midway through the 2nd, Meier once again decided to get on the stupid penalty train with a horrifying blindside elbow to the head of one of the Wildcats. He was ejected and will be suspended for the next game. This kicked off a truly wild second half of the game. On the ensuing 5-minute PK, Huskies forward Peter Abbondonato inadvertently high-sticked someone and got a double minor. Wildcats scored on both ends and took a 3-0 lead. Francis Perron got one back but Moncton turned around and scored on a penalty shot, 4-1. At this point everyone thought we were packing up for game 7 in Rouyn-Noranda.
Not so fast my friends. J-C Beaudin scored with 34 seconds left in the 2nd and that made a big difference in the game of course but it must have made a big difference in the Huskies locker room at intermission. They came out for the 3rd fast and confident, then Mathieu Boucher scored 52 seconds in to make it 4-3. From then on the Wildcats turdled and the Huskies pressed but couldn't get one to drop until finally Boucher scored again with 2:34 remaining. At this point everyone was thinking OT, maybe a long one. Not so fast again! Francis Perron did a captainy thing and scored a minute later to make it 5-4 Huskies. Incroyable! After blowing two 3-goal leads and turdling for 20 minutes Moncton couldn't get back into scoring mode and Rouyn-Noranda had the win and the series. What a game.
Greer: 4 shots
Beaudin: 1G/1A, 4 shots, 16/23 faceoffs
Nantel: 3 shots
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Series: 2G/1A, 26 shots
Playoffs: 7G/8A, 51 shots, a point per game and 4th on the team in scoring
Greer has come a long way since that first QMJHL game back in December. He's a big fellow but doesn't use his size to just smash into opponents all the time. He uses it to win board battles and control the puck along with setting up right in front of the goalie. I'm not saying he shies away from contact, far from it, but it's a smart way to use the advantage because that's the way he'll be best off using it playing against men. Playing net front as much as he does he gets plenty of chances within a few feet of the goal but he's got a helluva shot and obviously likes shooting the puck too. One thing I was impressed by was his puck skills carrying through the neutral zone and entering the offensive zone. Not a tool I knew he had before but great to see nonetheless.
Overall I can't see how the move to the Q can be viewed as anything other than a major success. He accelerated his development massively and now looks how you'd like a 2nd round pick to look in a draft+1 year. Another bonus is that he will be able to attend rookie camp this summer and training camp in September before heading back to Rouyn-Noranda next season. My wishes for continued development: More work on defense and skating. He's not bad at either, but he's got some upside in both.
Series: 1G/4A, 16 shots, 96/148 faceoffs (65%)
Playoffs: 7G12A, 37 shots, 202/338 faceoffs (60%), 1.27 pts/gm and 2nd on team in scoring
Since he was in training camp last fall we have more of a baseline for Beaudin's progress this year and he's done a great job from my limited viewing. The guy has excellent vision and is a very good passer along with all-around hockey sense. Honestly, if this was where he was at the end of his draft+2 year and he was heading to the AHL I would be very excited. The fact that he's got another year of amateur development left makes me wonder how much he can accomplish next season, a lot probably. There's no one thing he really needs to work on, just continuing to get better overall and prepare for another deep playoff run and his pro career. He and Greer are going to combine for a lot of points next year. Really excited to see him in camp and get an idea of how far he's gotten year over year.
Series: 1G, 13 shots
Playoffs: 4G/3A, 33 shots, 0.47 pts/gm good for 12th on the team in scoring
Nantel's game doesn't show up on the scoresheet as much as the other 2 guys' do. There a few things that really impressed me through the series. First of all, he's nasty in the defensive zone. If a point man messes around with the puck near the blue line too much Nantel will get it and be gone. Great defensive instincts for a wing, which is something the Avs need so bad it hurts. Second is that when he gets the puck he instantly is sprinting forward with it. Puck on stick and gone. It's fantastic to watch because the guy he takes it away from is usually standing there watching him vapor trail off into the distance.
Julien is going to be a huge asset in San Antonio next year because of his defensive instincts, stick work and skating. With his role on the 3rd line for most of the 2nd half of the season he hasn't scored like he's shown he can in the past, he was close to a pt/gm in the early part of the year while in the top-6, but I believe that's something he can work on to become the opportunistic bottom-6 scorer type. I can definitely see him getting a few shorties every year. We heard Patrick mention "puck management forward" many times towards the end of this year and that's going to be Nantel's forte.
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Just an FYI here. The Huskies President's Cup Finals start today against Shawinigan and I highly recommend buying the series if you have any interest whatsoever. It's only $20.42 US for the whole series on QMJHL Live (they charge in $CDN on the site). DO IT.