Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Let the Games Begin (QMJHL)

We have arrived in the QMJHL as we finish up our look at the Ranger prospects who will be a part of the Traverse City Prospect Camp roster. This was supposed to be the easiest of reports to put together but as we have learned about the QMJHL nothing is ever easy.

Antoine Lafleur (Team UNKNOWN)

It is a shame to write that we have no idea where the soft spoken Lafleur is going to play this season but that is the case. The Prince Edward Island Rocket for whom Lafleur played for last season made it clear that they did not want him back having traded for Bobby Nadeau during the off-season.

As of this writing Antoine Lafleur did not report to the Prince Edward Island Rocket training camp and we support his decision to do so. It was clear that the Rocket did not want him, that they tried to trade him during the off-season and did not finish the deal.

Lafleur had a bad season last year there is no question about it but in our eyes there was a ton of blame to spread around. Lafleur lost his confidence in himself, his fundamentals disappeared for most of the season and he could never figure out how to right himself.

It was a shame to because Lafleur when he did show those flashes of his game explained why the Rangers used their 2007 2nd round pick on the 6'4 goalie. There is talent here if it can be developed.

We also point a finger at the Prince Edward Island Rocket because in many a game we watched last season, what they tried to pass off as defense simply hung out Lafleur to fend for himself on too many nights.

Put it this way in our eyes the Rocket defense was like having 6 Christian Backmans playing every night. In the goaltending stats among goalies who played more than 20 games, Lafleur faced the 3rd most shots (34.3) of any goalie in the QMJHL (his teammate Marc-Antoine Gelinas led the league with 36.3).

As much as we like to see a goalie get a lot of work, the number of times that Lafleur faced odd man rushes or flat out breakaways was crazy. Despite his poor numbers (14-19 4.21), Lafleur did what goals are supposed to do which is try to keep his team in the game on more occasions than the numbers show.

A coaching change early in the season to Guy Chouinard did not help Lafleur as the coach kept rotating goalies and never really gave either goalie a chance to be the starter last season. On several occasions last season we wondered openly if a trade would have been best for Lafleur.

Now it seems that unless a trade was made on Tuesday (several teams did not submit the required paperwork in time to be announced) before the end of the trading deadline then Lafleur might not have a place to play this season in the QMJHL. If that is the case then we call upon the Rocket to give Lafleur his release so he can find a team to play for.

Lafleur when he played last season for the Rangers at Traverse City played well including in the championship game where he only gave up one goal in that game. The Rangers did not give up on Lafleur and the reports we got during the June Development camp also said Lafleur played well.

We believe Lafleur will play well again at Traverse City and hopefully the Rangers will be able to help him find a team that wants to give him a chance to play.

Chris Doyle (Prince Edward Island Rocket)

The Rangers went back to the Prince Edward Island Rocket for their 5th round pick where they took Chris Doyle in the 2008 draft. Like Lafleur, Doyle starts this season with some serious question marks about his ability.

Doyle put up 63 points last season for the Rocket but his stock fell despite scoring 29 goals as the inconsistent play that plagued the Rocket plagued Doyle as well.

Doyle started last season as a projected 3rd draft pick but did not elevate his game as many thought he would. Doyle is a nice guy and that might be his biggest drawback as he needs to stop being one of the boys and become the leader of the boys.

That role is going to be thrust upon him this season so the question is can he handle the responsibility of being a team leader? There is talent in Doyle, just as there is a lot of grit and some responsible defensive skills.

The question is does Doyle want it bad enough to take his game and his team to a higher level? We heard that Doyle got a wake up called during the prospect camp as he saw what his peers were doing to make it as professional hockey players.

The question begs to be answered: will it sink in for Doyle this season? If he does then the Rangers will be waiting with an NHL/AHL contract for him to sign after this season.

His first test is going to be Traverse City as Doyle is going to have his work cut out trying to get ice time with his fellow prospects. The Rangers will have 13 forwards on the TC roster with 6 centers so his best hope is at RW where the Rangers will only have 3 listed.

Doyle is going to need to play with a mean streak and push his way into the lineup at TC. If Doyle has the hunger then he will get to play but at least one forward is going to be a scratch in each game.

We do however wonder why the Rocket are playing Doyle at center in the exhibition games, from what little we have seen it makes no sense for him there. Doyle is not a natural at faceoffs and labors at it. His grit and energy makes him ideal for the wing as he can be most effective at winning battles in the corners and on the forecheck.

Dave Stich (Saint Johns Sea Dogs)

This is an interesting invite to Traverse City and is a good gamble by the Rangers to take. Stich is a 6'2 209 lb defenseman from the Czech Republic who has never lived up to his potential.

The question is like so many prospects who were not drafted, has the light kicked in on realizing that this might be his last good chance for an NHL career?
Stich has skill, he very much has the size to play defense and the tape we have seen of him shows that he can skate.

Only 14 assists last season but 102 PIMS and 98 hits during the regular season say that is just another possible goon. Then you look at what Stich did in the QMJHL playoffs and say maybe the light did turn on for him finally.

During the 2008 QMJHL playoffs Stich was the 6th leading scorer among defensemen at 3-7-10 in 14 games. Those are pretty decent numbers for a guy who did not score a single goal during the regular season.

We like his ability to skate and how he can keep himself positioned but the question is now was the playoffs just a hot streak or did his potential finally catch up to him? If it did then the Rangers could have a defender who is not afraid to throw his body around, has a bit of a mean streak in him and fill the requirement of being a good skater in today's NHL.

This is very much worth the look the Rangers are going to take here and given the lack of nasty on the Ranger blueline, it is a look we really do hope can work out.


This finishes our series on the CHL prospects but out of fairness we want to take an early season look at the kids in the NCAAs.

None of the Ranger prospects were in action on Tuesday evening but we are hoping that changes on Wednesday as at least 2 teams with Ranger invitees are in action.

And a message to Marko to say thanks for his offer of pictures for us to use. Please send us a comment with your email address in it so we can contact you. Since comments are moderated then we can protect the privacy of your email address as we would like to see you pictures.

(Picture Credits: Lafleur- Dubi Silverstein/Blueshirt Bulletin, Doyle- Prince Edward Island Rocket, Stich- Saint John Sea Dogs)

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