This week’s column profiles a number of 2020 NHL Draft eligible prospects. Ryan Wagman looks at five draft eligible players, all from the Chicago Steel in the USHL, who will be critical to Team USA’s chances at the World Junior A Challenge in Dawson Creek, BC. Scouts will be watching their performance closely and it is an opportunity to set their draft year momentum. Mike Sanderson reports in from the QMJHL with a profile of an exceptional talent in Hendrix Lapierre. Destined for the first round in Montreal in June he has been hurt by extremely tough injury luck.
The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com
2020 NHL Draft prospect
Hendrix Lapierre, C, 6’0”, 181 lbs 2019 Stats: Two goals, 15 assists in 19 games for Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)
The former QMJHL first overall pick is facing major adversity due to injuries this season. He hasn’t played since November 21 in Moncton when he was knocked back out of the Sags lineup in a critical year of his development. Before we touch on the injury history, let’s dive into what makes Lapierre a special player.
Lapierre is one of the best playmakers available in the 2020 NHL Draft. His ability to hit the open man consistently is equaled by few in this class. He also possesses elite hockey sense to be in the right place all the time and to play aggressively without sacrificing without the puck.
He is very talented with the puck and can play in all situations. His skating is very good, especially his edgework, and he changes speeds very well to force the defense to make a move, where his hands can finish the job.
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His play style dramatically tilts to a passer over a shooter, but he is one of the best in the class at maximizing the talent of his linemates. He will make a career of getting his linemates paid with good statistics.
All of that potential could be for naught, as Lapierre is on the shelf again. In Moncton in November, he suffered a concussion and is out indefinitely. It’s his second concussion in this young season, and his third concussion in eight months. Those are troubling numbers, not just for his hockey career, but for his well-being.
This has labeled him injury-prone, as it does on a scouting report, but it’s so much more than that. For a young prospect to have three concussions in less than a calendar year, it’s devastating. Former Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Zachary Lauzon just retired from the game as a result of issues stemming from a concussion, and he was only 20 years old. One player lost to concussions from this great game is too many. Lapierre could be on his way to that.
We have seen top players return from major concussion issues, including Patrice Bergeron and Sidney Crosby, but their recovery included long times spent away from the game to reset themselves and get the proper rest and recovery they needed. Since we still know so little about how concussions work and their long-term effects, Lapierre is at a massive crossroads in his career.
Having said that, with the proper recovery, Lapierre could end up continuing his career unabated. It’s such an unknown at this point, as he is still out of the lineup with no return date expected. Barring another major injury, Lapierre will be taken in the first round in June; he is a player worth the risk for his ability alone. – Mike Sanderson, QMJHL
With a full recovery, Lapierre is a top-level playmaker who excites the fans. Let’s hope he’s exciting the fans of Chicoutimi again sooner rather than later.
Prospects in the news
Brendan Brisson, C, 5’11”, 180 lbs
2019 Stats: nine goals, 13 assists in 20 games for the Chicago Steel (USHL)
Sean Farrell, LW/RW, 5’9”, 175 lbs
2019 Stats: nine goals, 21 assists in 20 games for the Chicago Steel (USHL)
Sam Colangelo, RW, 6’2”, 205 lbs
2019 Stats: 12 goals, 12 assists in 20 games for the Chicago Steel (USHL)
Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, C, 5’10”, 175 lbs
2019 Stats: 12 goals, 10 assists in 20 games for the Chicago Steel (USHL)
Luke Reid, D, 6’0”, 190 lbs
2019 Stats: one goals, six assists in 20 games for the Chicago Steel (USHL)
The Chicago Steel hit the news this weekend, with the report that head coach Greg Moore was hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs’ organization to take over as head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Toronto Marlies, following the promotion of Marlies’ incumbent Sheldon Keefe to the NHL club.
The Steel will continue to be in the news over the next few weeks as five members of the club will be absent for new coach Brock Sheahan’s debut, as they will be in Dawson Creek, B.C., representing the Red, White, and Blue at the often-neglected World Junior A Challenge.
The Steel Five may be somewhat overshadowed on the American roster through the presence of three drafted players (G Ethan Haider, Nashville – Sioux City, LWE Rhett Pitlick, Montreal – Muskegon, D Michael Koster, Toronto – Tri-City), but the hopes of Team USA will largely rest on the shoulders of the Steel Five, all of whom are looking to hear their names called out next June in Montreal.
The best-known name of the bunch belongs to Brendan Brisson, son of top NHL agent Pat Brisson. Brendan is making his own name this year, as he has been one of the top USHL rookies in his draft year, with over one point per game as he heads to the great Northwest. He is a skilled center, with play driving ability and great strength on his stick. If he is on the ice, and there is a puck battle in the corners, chances are that Brisson is the player that will skate away with it. Brisson is committed to attend Michigan next year.
The player of the bunch with the highest pre-season expectations is Sean Farrell. One of two late birthdates on last year’s world beating USNTDP squad, the Steel made Farrell the top pick in the USHL Entry Draft and are already reaping the rewards, as he has put up an astounding 30 points in 22 games, giving him five more points than the runner-up, league-wide. Equal parts goal scorer and play maker, he has been lining up with Brisson all season and the two have developed great chemistry together. He has powerful offensive tools and will compete with at least two of his teammates to be the first non-USNTDP player drafted out of the USHL this year. Farrell is committed to Harvard.
Often overshadowed by the aforementioned two players, right winger Sam Colangelo is a third late ’01 birthdate who has been making a case for his eventual selection at the draft in the early goings of the season. Larger than Brisson or Farrell, Colangelo can play a solid power winger game, the Northeastern commit, and plays a strong board game. He also skates rather well for his size. He has soft and quick hands and can be a good net front presence at the next level.
Finishing up the forwards, we move on to the coolest name of the group in Gunnarwolfe Fontaine. Not drafted last year, Fontaine was born one day too late to have been 2018 eligible, yet he has been making a compelling argument that he should be drafted in his second go-round next June. While he isn’t very big, the Rhode Island native plays a high energy, rambunctious game. His offense has caught up with him this year as well, particularly his shot, which is very hard and very accurate from the slot. He has been attacking soft spots in the defense a lot more this year, and that has been paying off in spades. Fontaine is expected to join Colangelo at Northeastern next year.
Finally, we have Luke Reid, a dual citizen Canadian/American blueliner of whom much has been expected over his year-plus with the Steel. He is a solid skater and able puck mover but has been known to struggle to contain opponents in his own end while the offensive contributions have not really caught up with his advance billing, mostly a result of a strong showing at the 2018-19 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. He is young enough to have his game click more, and the WJAC is likely to be his last chance at a big stage before his draft day arrives. - Ryan Wagman, USHL
2020 World Junior U20 Championship
Next week in this space we will begin to look ahead to one of the major events in the hockey prospect world, the World Junior Championship, and will feature some players and stories to follow. We will have extensive coverage at www.mckeenshockey.com culminating in the publication of our annual World Junior Tournament Guide in December, the week prior to the tournament. There is always a quick turnaround for the magazine given the time from the announcement of the rosters, that come at varying times right up until the start of the tournament. Our team is based around the world and will be following the roster developments closely to provide some insight for you as we get closer to puck drop.
Two teams to date have announced their training camp invitees, Finland and Canada. You can find the players Canada invited at the Hockey Canada website here. Another powerhouse lineup which we will break down on our site with Brock Otten in attendance to report for us. For Finland, Marco Bombino will be providing analysis of prospects he has been scouting for quite some time. More to come as the teams and stories develop over the coming weeks.