Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Questions about the Q

Of all the Ranger prospects the ones who are the hardest to gauge are the 2 who play in the QMJHL. Antoine Lafleur and Chris Doyle at times make you excited about their play and then can turn right around and make you want to pound your head in frustration.

Neither prospect plays on a team that has any serious chance at winning the QMJHL championship. For both these prospects if they can advance to a second round then it would be a winner of a season.

Antoine Lafleur was the Ranger's 2007 second round pick, a tall goalie (6'5 190) who when his game is on can be a QMJHL version of Henrik Lundqvist. The problem is that when Lafleur is off then he really is off.

As Lafleur and his Rouyn-Noranda Huskies get ready for their first round matchup with the Montreal Junior; the question is who is going to be the starting goalie for the Huskies?

Do they go with the more experienced 20 year old Lafleur or the 17 year old rookie Mikael Audette? The Huskies are not telling but one has to think that whoever gets the start is going to be on a very short leash.

Numbers wise, Lafleur has a better season than he did last year with Prince Edward Island as he lowered his goals against from 4.21 to 3.20. Lafleur even earned himself a QMJHL "Goalie of the Week" for his play this season.

The problem is though Lafleur in the very same week as being awarded that award also played some of his worst hockey of the season. That kind of hockey is what highlights Lafleur's career over the last 2 seasons in the QMJHL.

Nothing is more frustrating than a prospect who you can clearly see has the kind of talent that if you can develop would become an NHL goalie. Then you can turn around and see a goalie loses his confidence and positioning in the very next game.

You have a better chance predicting a coin toss than trying to figure out which Antoine Lafleur will show up. For his sake and to help his cause in earning a contract from the Rangers we hope that the Lafleur we know can play will get a chance.

We bring that up because the Rangers are going to have to make a decision on whether or not to sign Lafleur to a contract or allowed him to walk as a free agent. This is really Lafleur's last chance to make a case for himself, we know he can play but now Lafleur needs to show how badly he wants it.

In our eyes if Lafleur can get a chance and lead the Huskies at least to the second round of the QMJHL playoffs then it might earn him at the very least an ATO from the Rangers now. A bad playoff run and who knows.

The best way to describe Chris Doyle's season is to call it the roller coaster ride of the year. Selected by the Rangers in the 5th round of the 2008 Entry Draft, Doyle wound up as the second leading scorer among the Ranger prospects.

Doyle's season started with being the only 2008 draft pick to be cut after Traverse City and not brought to the main Ranger's training camp. Even Doyle ackowledges that it was a wake up call that helped fire up his season.

Doyle's first half was awesome as in the first 40 games Doyle was 21-30-51 (and 5 fights) and as high as 2nd in the QMJHL scoring race while playing for the Prince Edward Island Rocket. The second half was a totally different story as Doyle's numbers simply disappeared 9-12-21 in the remaining 19 games.

To be fair Doyle missed close to a month with a disc injury in his back and he was not the same once he returned from that injury. It is interesting how in his first game back after a month, Doyle put up a 5 point game then after that just 5 points over his next 10 games (no fights).

How serious was this injury was remains unknown because injuries are almost impossible to get the full story at any level. What does matter is that Doyle stopped scoring and did hardly anything else.

What offers us some hope for Doyle is that Doyle's rough period seemed to come to an end in March. In 7 games Doyle was 6-5-11 and if he is starting to score again then there is hope for his career.

Prince Edward Island will need a major miracle if they have any hope of advancing to the second round of the QMJHL playoffs. They are going up against the Moncton Wildcats who finished with the 3rd best record overall in the QMJHL as well as the number one defense in the league.

The Rocket only finished 40 points behind the Wildcats in the standings so if this series goes more than 5 games then consider that a win in itself. Doyle is only 18 in terms of his junior age so there is no hope of going to Hartford once his season ends.

Tomorrow the best hope for a championship from a Ranger prospects as we look at the OHL and Evgeny Grachev, Michael Del Zotto and Mitch Gaulton.

(pics: Lafleur/Rouyn-Noranda, Doyle/PEI Rocket)

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