This year has been a roller coaster for the junior hockey landscape. Leagues didn’t start on time, there were long pauses and many had limited play. Now, with less than a month before the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, teams are trying to make sense of this past year in order to sift through a chaotic draft class.
The Colorado Avalanche will have the 27th pick in the draft and like last year, they will have to wait through most of the first round to see who is still on the board when they take the podium.
One option that might be availible at that pick is forward Zachary L’Heureux of the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL.
The past few years have been a whirlwind for L’Heureux. Drafted third overall in the 2019 QMJHL draft to the Moncton Wildcats, he went on to lead the league in rookie scoring with 20 goals and 53 points in 55 games. After the tremendous rookie campaign, Zachary was the main part of a blockbuster trade that sent him to Halifax for this past season. He then went on to play 33 games in the QMJHL’s Atlantic Canada bubble this season where he put up 19 goals and 39 points.
L’Heureux’s biggest strength is his transitional play. He is excellent getting the puck from defenders and moving through the neutral zone, finding open ice and entering the zone with speed and space. He thrives on that. Through his rush zone entries, he creates a lot of scoring chances and rebounds for his teammates.
He does most of his offensive damage in and around the net. That’s where L’Heureux uses his body the most to protect the puck, create space and score dirty goals. Below the faceoff dots is where he is at his best.
When viewing his game, you can see that he will often make possession based plays instead of risky scoring chances. He’ll make short passes away from danger and back to the perimeter. Through that, Halifax tends to have the puck a lot and are able to control the play while he is on the ice.
Skating, is there. Its not a strength or weakness for him. But as we have seen the Avalanche draft classes of late, all 1st rounds have to be able to skate and skate well. For L’Heureux, he will never be a burner but he has solid fundamentals and lower body strength which makes his stride and extension nice and tight. Like every prospect, he will have to work on it and study how guys use a lower center of gravity to their advantage. That said, there should not be concerns for his skating coming into pro in a couple of years.
Areas of improvement
One thing that has come up in conversations is his multiple suspensions. He’s got to be more disciplined on the ice when making the decisions to hit - the Nazem Kadri conundrum. While it’s nice to see an aggressive forecheck, committing to the hit too early instead of reading the defensive player and positioning himself to get puck over the body gets L’Heureux into trouble. You love the aggressive play, taking away the space and forcing the team to make a choice, but stay disciplined.
Another area where he needs to improve is his long distance passing. It needs to be more accurate and crisp. He is getting caught making cross ice passes that are too easily picked off or his teammates are being forced to slow down for them. He needs to do a better job of anticipating and leading with the pass. While he is great in the short passing game, L’Heureux will have to speed up the perimeter passing and decision making at the next level.
He led the QMJHL rookies in scoring in his rookie year then improved his totals from 0.96 PPG to 1.18 PPG. With 2 more years left of CHL eligibility, I expect these number to keep increasing as he becomes the player to beat in Halifax.
What others are saying
“High end compete level, strong on the puck, great shooter, solid three zone player.” – QMJHL Scout
“A forward who blends power and skill to produce at a high level. L’Heureux has a wicked wrist shot and underrated touch as a passer to make him a dangerous dual threat. Discipline has become an issue.” – Dobber Prospects
L’Heureux will spend the next two years in Halifax, working on his disciple, leading a Halifax team as their offensive player and working on his penalty killing skills - to use as another tool in his tool box once he turns pro. We won’t see him in an NHL uniform for a few years as he will likely need a year or two in the AHL after leaving junior. Teams should expect a three or four year development path for him. He has all the attributes to round out as a solid middle six left wing who can kill penalties, and add a secondary goal scoring threat.
Where will be he drafted
Teams will likely start looking more closely at him in the later part of the first round. we likely won’t see him falling far into the 2nd.