The Chronicle Herald (Metro)

Moose players lead local prospects

- WILLY PALOV @Willypalov

It could be another bountiful year for the Halifax Mooseheads at the NHL draft.

The team has three players ranked to be selected, with winger Zachary L'heureux leading the way as a potential first-rounder. Also projected to be picked are defenceman Cam Whynot and forward Bobby Orr, who are slotted to go on the draft's second day when teams complete rounds two through seven. The first round is on Friday night and the event resumes on Saturday morning.

L'heureux burst onto scouts' radars as a QMJHL rookie when he averaged roughly a point per game for the Moncton Wildcats. He cemented his standing with 39 points in 33 games this year with the Mooseheads and also distinguis­hed himself as one of the fiercest competitor­s in this year's class, playing a robust and edgy physical style many have compared to Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames.

"So gritty and nasty, Mr. Rogers would hate him," reads his bio in the independen­t scouting service Red Line Report, which ranks him 20th overall. "Fiery battler is a hyper-competitiv­e bulldog who attacks aggressive­ly all over the ice and is relentless in puck pursuit. Not huge but thickly built, very strong on his skates and hits with an impact.

"There's a lot more to his game than just physicalit­y; he's highly skilled and plays the game at a very high pace. Has the hands to beat defenders with finesse, but would prefer to bullrush right through them, always taking the shortest line between two points. Great in traffic and wins tons of battles through sheer desire and determinat­ion. He's a terrific finisher who elevates shots quickly in tight. Knifes though tight seams to clean up rebounds. Not an elite playmaker, but is underrated as a passer."

Kentville's Whynot made tremendous gains as a sophomore this year. He went from nine points in 53 games as a rookie in 2019-20 to 23 points in 34 games this season. Most noteworthy was his improvemen­t from minus-41 as a 16-year-old to plus-13 this year, which led the Mooseheads.

"We don't understand the lack of buzz," details his bio in Red Line Report, which has him higher than many scouts at 36th. "Has all the tools to be a top four NHL defenceman. Exceptiona­l agility, can skate the puck out of trouble or make smart passes. Very good distributo­r on the PP who has a knack for using time and space well to create openings for others.

Defensive play and assertiven­ess has improved by leaps and bounds. Has a good-sized frame and very good awareness in all three zones.

"Always distribute­s to the right spots and has the poise to hang onto the puck until a strong option opens up. Will use his feet to open up passing or shooting lanes on the PP. Shot is still a work in progress, but it's usually on target. Shows a strong, active stick and should win more puck battles as he adds strength."

Orr caught some people's attention early on with his famous name but quickly showed he can also play. The versatile forward is one of the smoothest skaters in the league and used his all-around skill to lead the Quebec league in rookie scoring with 32 points in 41 games.

"Is one of the youngest players in the draft so there's still growth potential," writes Red Line Report,which ranks him 105th. "What he already does have is tremendous skating ability. Has a fluid skating stride and is very smooth in all directions. Nimble with great edging — accelerate­s out of cuts and has great east-west agility. Has great initial burst and a separation gear to break away from pursuers. Soft, quick hands and solid skills across the board — receives passes well and controls the puck in full flight. Has shown steady production since Day 1 on a very young team."

It should also be a decent year for Nova Scotians. Whynot is the highest-ranked local player but Enfield's Riley Kidney and Amherst's Jacob Melanson had strong seasons with the Bathurst Titan and Halifax's Oscar Plandowski continued to grow with the Charlottet­own Islanders. Those three players are projected by Red Line Report to go between the second and fourth rounds, with Kidney slotting in at 58th, Melanson at 90th and Plandowski at 101st.

"A huge second half riser," Red Line Report wrote about Kidney, a centre. "Once the QMJHL picked back up in March, he made massive strides, being much more assertive and confident with the puck. Plays a cerebral game, always supporting the puck and backing up his linemates. Always in good position at both ends of the ice and makes good decisions without the puck and in puck distributi­on. Head is constantly up prior to receiving passes, scanning for the best redistribu­tion points.

"Though not large, he brings good quickness and foot speed to get to the right spots - smooth footwork with clean edging. His soft hands put the puck on his wingers' tape consistent­ly. Has a quick, sneaky little wrister that he throws at the net from all angles, surprising goalies. Finds soft ice off the rush, gliding into dangerous areas seamlessly. Competes hard at both ends of the ice."

Red Line Report also described the five-foot-11, 201pound Melanson as "stocky, abrasive tank is like a pitbull locked onto a bone" and said the smooth-skating Plandowski "has every tool: can skate, shoot, pass, plays sound defence and is reasonably physical."

Other sleepers from Nova Scotia with a chance to be picked are Cole Harbour's Connor Trenholm of the Cape Breton Eagles (ranked 200th by Red Line Report) and Charlottet­own teammates Noah Laaouan of Halifax (242nd) and Ben Boyd of Dartmouth (276th).

 ?? JASON MALLOY ?? Halifax Mooseheads winger Zachary L’heureux is ranked as a potential first-round pick for this weekend’s NHL draft.
JASON MALLOY Halifax Mooseheads winger Zachary L’heureux is ranked as a potential first-round pick for this weekend’s NHL draft.

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