I had the opportunity to attend a regional Midget AAA tournament on the weekend, and had some time to chat with a couple of scouts for QMJHL teams who were also there to check out the action. Good news for the Habs on that front. The only player whose rights they own in the Q is centre Olivier Fortier...last year's third-round pick, 65th overall. He's not big, at about 5'11" and 170lbs. But the consensus among the scouts is his future could very well include the NHL. They say he's super fast, and very, very smart. They also say he never takes a shift off, and will go to the wall to win. The name that came up several times as a comparison was Guy Carbonneau's. In fact, Fortier won this year's Guy Carbonneau trophy as the best defensive forward in the Q. So, in all the euphoria over Pacioretty, McDonagh, Maxwell, White, Subban, Weber, Emelin and Valentenko, we can have hope the Habs' lone Quebec junior prospect could also be a player to watch.
I couldn't resist asking these guys about Angelo Esposito as well. The Habs got so much flack for not picking him, then he went to Pittsburgh, then Pittsburgh unloaded him to Atlanta in the Hossa deal. In the meantime, he got cut for the third time from Team Canada at the world juniors and dropped from 98 points as a sixteen-year-old to 79 last year and 69 this season. The scouts I spoke to said he's not got attitude problems, as some have speculated. He's just not as good as his hype. They pity him because he was built up to be the next great thing, and he never had the skills to live up to that. They say he should have been a second-round pick and he'd be right on track now. But living up to the first-round expectations are too much for him. They still think he'll make a decent NHLer, but he'll never be what everyone thought he'd be.
The other point of interest we discussed was the idea of banning fighting in the Q, given impetus by the Jonathan Roy incident a couple of weeks ago. Scouts say they're actively changing the type of player they're looking for now, when it comes to toughness, in anticipation of a fighting ban.
Ironically, the first thing I saw when I walked into the rink in the middle of the first game was a couple of sixteen-year-olds ripping off each other's face cages and pounding the crap out of each other. It was meant to inspire the team that was down 5-1 at the time, and maybe entertain the crowd in the process. But the team that was down went on to lose 7-1 and a lot of people in the crowd just continued to eat their ketchup-drenched fries while the fight went on. The worst thing was, the players involved weren't doing it because they thought it would really make a difference. They were playing a role...one they seemed ill-suited to play. They reminded me of little kids tottering around in dress-up clothes and their parents' shoes. What they were doing seemed unconvincing and self-conscious. I didn't like it.
I've never really had an opinion on fighting in hockey. It just always seemed to be there, and I wasn't either thrilled to watch it or disgusted by it as so many say they are. But if we're teaching our sixteen-year-olds that this robotic, calculated display of fisticuffs is part of the game, I think we're wrong. So, if the Q decides to ban fighting, it might be a good thing.
And if a fighting ban means that a kid who's small and not that great with his fists gets a chance to play some hockey over a player whose main skill is pugilistic, maybe we'll see more skilled NHLers coming out of the Q. Maybe next time I get a chance to talk to some scouts about the Habs' prospects in that league, we'll have more than one guy to discuss.
A lot of people are recognizing the fact that Guy Carbonneau...the guy that trophy Fortier won is named for...might actually know what he's doing as an NHL coach. It might take a little longer for them to recognize part of Carbonneau's wisdom includes his refusal to carry a goon, deciding to roll four lines of guys who can actually play hockey instead. I think his philosophy is one that will only convince others if it's backed up by winning.
So far, so good.