QMJHL lays ‘foundation’ with bumper draft crop, including 15 top-60 picks

NEWARK, N.J. — The QMJHL won't always have a draft year like this, but it could do wonders for the perception of the league.

Sometimes overlooked in comparison to the Ontario and Western leagues, the Q had a historically good year that went well beyond having the Halifax Mooseheads' duo of Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin go Nos. 1 and 3 overall. The Quebec league accounted for 15 of the first 60 picks on the floor at the Prudential Center. That's a marked improvement over even a good draft year such as 2011 (eight top-60 picks from the Q, including Jonathan Huberdeau at No. 3), to say nothing of 2010 (two in the top 60).

"It's great to see Quebec hockey grow," said Quebec Remparts forward Anthony Duclair, who went in the third round (No. 80 overall) to the New York Rangers. "Hopefully the league is growing, we've seen that with the Memorial Cup the past three years [with a QMJHL team winning each year].

"We're just catching up," Duclair said. "There's better coaching throughout minor hockey. Our coaches are really playing a part in what we're doing. With something like this hopefully you attract more European imports, you attract more American players. It's a good foundation."

With six first-rounders, the QMJHL fell one shy of tying its record of seven first-rounders set during the Vincent Lecavalier draft in 1998. But producing nine second-rounders and having four more players called down in the third round spoke to the depth of talent within the 18-team league. Along with an array of offensive players, two-way forwards and goalies, the early picks from the Q included hulking defencemen such as Rimouski's 6-foot-6, 202-pound Samuel Morin (No. 11 to the Philadelphia Flyers) and Victoriaville's 6-5, 223-pound Jonathan-Ismael Diaby (No. 64 to the Nashville Predators).

"Guys are way tougher now," Diaby said. "Hockey has changed so much."

Having half-a-dozen of the first 30 picks helped give the CHL a record 22 first-rounders, with the OHL and WHL accounting for eight apiece. The previous mark of 21 was first set in 1998 (9 OHL-7 QMJHL-5 WHL)and matched in '11 (11 OHL-5 QMJHL-5 WHL).

It's too soon to evaluate the 2011 draft. Looking back 15 years, four of the seven QMJHLers taken in that first round in '98 went on to substantial NHL tenures: Lecavalier, Alex Tanguay, Simon Gagné and Jiri Fischer. Eight more Q players went in the second and third rounds, with Brad Richards, Mike Ribeiro and François Beauchemin qualifying as notable NHLers.

Time will tell how the '13 class pans out. But having 19 players chosen inthe first three rounds suggests QMJHL followers have more players to follow in the NHL in a few seasons' times, plus it might show the league is better organized than it was a few short years ago.

"We proved we can compete against the OHL and the WHL," said Charlottetown Islanders forward Yan-Pavel Laplante, who was taken No. 62 by the Phoenix Coyotes. "Everything around the QMJHL is a bit better, but there's some incredible players too."

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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