Perhaps the greatest reward that comes from being a DraftGeek is being afforded the hockey season during which one of your team’s prospects is “the guy,” the buzz generator, the point machine nonpareil, the wellspring of irrational exuberance — the prospect whose production and fanfare fuel fanciful thoughts of future scoring titles with the big club. Mere weeks ago this label appeared directed exclusively at Caps’ ’06 first-rounder Nicklas Backstrom. This morning, there may be two such young stars in the Caps’ development pipeline — incredibly, culled from the same draft class.
We are deep enough in the ’06-07 slate for OFB to issue its first formal FutureWatch Fire Alarm: familiarize yourself with the Acadie Bathurst Titan’s Mathieu Perreault. All 5-foot-9, one hundred and fifty one pounds of him. To this end you can continue reading my account or instead follow the advice of Perreault’s message board marketers at hockeysfuture and simply archive footage of Denis Savard’s 1980s wizardry with the Blackhawks. The exploits of the two are that similar, the Perreault enthusiasts allege. He’s inviting that caliber of cybercrazytalk.
Today Perreault ranks as the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s leading scorer, with 62 points in just 29 games. He needs a fleet of Quebec firehouses to douse his scoring flame.
Recently, in Game 1 of the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge (the Russian Junior National team each year flies over to Canada to play sets of two games against all-star teams from the three OHL leagues), Perreault was named the game’s first star for his 2-goal, 1-assist effort in the 6-2 Q League win.
Perreault was plucked by the Caps in the sixth round, 177th overall, the very last pick they made in this past summer’s Entry Draft. His numbers last season for the Titan were decent if unspectacular — 18 goals and 34 assists for 52 points in 62 games. But even his increased production in the 2006 playoffs (21 points in 17 games) in no way forecasted this season’s monster numbers. His offensive dominance, combined with his brilliant skating, is making an increasing number of Caps’ prospect watchers wonder if Perreault is that uber-rare, late-round gem Washington so seldom unearths. Like Peter Bondra.
A mini Bonzai.
Perreault, though, is a center, at which the Caps are presently perilously thin on the depth chart. Among the praise accorded him by Q league observers at hockeysfuture is that exceptionally rare quality of receiving crisp passes on his tape soundlessly. We’re talking seriously soft hands.
The Caps, according to Perreault, have taken notice of his play, meeting with him on numerous occasions already this season.
“They came to see me four times so far and in each occasion we’ve gone at the restaurant and they give me some feedback and also talked about some details to improve but so far they like the way I’m playing,” he said.
The Perreault draft selection is novel, too, for the sheer fact of his playing in the Q. The Caps historically have been, to put it mildly, tepid supporters of that development league. If like me you regard 1998 as General Manager George McPhee’s first full-fledged entry draft with Washington — he was hired on June 9, 1997, and conducted that summer’s draft without his selected scouting staff and with what was likely largely Washington’s existing draft list — the Caps, from 1998 through 2005, selected a grand total of three QMJHL players . . . with 75 picks. In his eight draft classes prior to 2006, McPhee and his scouts selected Q leaguers in just two of them. Q first-rounders selected by the Caps in the McPhee years, including 1997?
2005 first-rounder Sasha Pokulok hails from Montreal, but he chose to play junior hockey in Saskatchewan and then two seasons at Cornell before turning pro. This backdrop makes the francophoning of McPhee’s 2006 draft class remarkable. In addition to Perreault, he chose Francois Bouchard (a right wing currently 5th in the Q in scoring) of Baie Comeau in the second round and Maxime Lacroix of Quebec in the fifth round. In other words, at one draft table this past June McPhee equaled the cumulative tally of Q leaguers he had previously selected in the entirety of his drafting for the team.
This wasn’t a break in draft pattern merely for the sake of shaking things up linguistically. The Q, once the CHL’s primary repository for skilled prospects but more recently the home of gifted butterfly netminders and little else, simply produced a deeper pool of high-end skating talent in 2005 and 2006. So much of the McPhee/Mahoney draft pool until this past summer was flavored western Canadian, but if guys like Perreault and Bouchard pan out, in a few years we could see a real UN roster in Washington — Russians and western Canadians and eastern Canadians joining French Canadians and Americans. Maybe still the German in goal.
More immediate is the ever-increasingly intriguing question of where guys like Perreault and Bouchard stand in terms of HockeyCanada’s World Juniors selection committee. The World Juniors are less than a month away in Sweden, and on one hand, you’d think two guys ranked in the top 5 of scorers in the Q would be automatically regarded as legitimate candidates for the Canadian roster. But as non first-rounders — and in Perreault’s case, a 6th rounder — attempting to dislodge scores of high-profile prospects, not to mention that the Canadians return many skilled fowards from last year’s gold medal winning club, the Caps’ ’06 Q leaguers could be victims of a basic numbers game.
French-speaking Canada has produced some of hockey’s most prolific and entertaining scorers since the inception of the NHL, but it’s interesting to note that the Caps haven’t really had a high-profile Quebecois ever wear their sweater. Guy Charron scored 118 goals in five years with the Caps in the mid-to-late ’70s, and Alan Haworth tallied 129 in five seasons the following decade. Neither were drafted by the Caps. There isn’t a French Canadian in the top 10 in scoring goals, assists, or even games played as a Cap.
Will Perreault — or Bouchard — finally be francophones to make a lasting impact in Washington? Perreault’s size and draft selection slotting strongly suggest that the odds of his making it in D.C. are longshot to be sure. But the ride he’s taking Caps’ fans on now ought to be enjoyed for its own sake.
We haven’t seen its like, as an asset of ours, in that region before.