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QMJHL

 

A season ago, Nico Hischier was their main attraction. And again this season, the Halifax Mooseheads are one of the most watched QMJHL teams.

Why you ask? Easy. They boast a plethora of high-end NHL draft eligible prospects, almost forcing National Hockey League scouts to flock to Moose Country in hopes of landing a future star.

For Benoit-Oliver Groulx, Jared McIsaac, Alexis Gravel and Filip Zadina, it’s a matter of dealing with the pressure together, as a group.

“Obviously there are a lot of distractions”, admitted Groulx. “But we have a couple of guys going through the [same] situation, so we can help each other a lot. We are trying to eliminate every distraction possible.”

“There [are] four of us going through the process right now”, said McIsaac. “I think we are all leaning on each other for the most part, and helping each other through that. The team does a really good job minimizing the distractions as well.”

The players getting help from the team over their draft year isn’t all that surprising. Over the course of their history, the Mooseheads have had countless high-profile NHL prospects in their lineup and have done a fantastic job in managing any potential distractions associated with the extra attention they were getting.

Balancing the distractions, pressure and high expectations in a draft year can be daunting.  Filip Zadina, the Mooseheads Czech Republic import star has already met with both the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers, but is trying to remain focused on his first QMJHL season.

Zadina has adapted quickly to the North American game; the 18-year-old sits third in the QMJHL scoring race with 51 points (27 goals, 24 assists) in 35 games.  He also boasts a strong two-way game that has drawn comparisons to Nico Hischier.

However, the soft-spoken native of Pardubice, Czech Republic, is quick to point out that the current NHL rankings aren’t a distraction for him.

“I’m just focusing on my hockey life right now, not on some rankings”, he said. “I just want to focus and play hockey.”

Some NHL scouts have already planned their one-on-one meetings with the Halifax prospects to ensure their opportunity to get to know the Mooseheads players on more a personal level.

As for McIsaac, he credits Mooseheads head coach Jim Midgley for helping in the process as well.  The pair has worked with each other since their days with the Nova Scotian team that participated at the Canada Games.

“I’ve known [Midgley] for four or five years now. He’s been really good for this program, and he’s been a huge part of my development through the years,” said McIsaac.

The quiet and confident McIsaac can play in any situation, and boasts a complete game from the backend. His offensive instincts, coupled with his strong defensive presence, make him arguably one of the best defencemen in the QMJHL.

On Benoit-Olivier Groulx’s end, he is aware of the expectations that come in a draft year, but feels he doesn’t necessarily have to change his style of play to get noticed.

“Obviously there is some pressure offensively, but I don’t want to put too much on myself. If I can play the way I’m supposed to play, the chances are going to come”, he stated. “I have to concentrate defensively in order to go in the offensive zone, so I don’t want to worry too much about my game.”

Groulx possesses a great two-way game and is one of the most complete players in the league at the center position.  He is a strong skater with great edge control and balance, which makes him tough to contain in one-on-one battles all over the ice.

Despite that Groulx’s father, Benoit, coaches at the American Hockey League level, he is content handling the process on his own for now.

“My dad knows a lot about scouts and everything going into your draft year”, he explained. “But we haven’t talked a lot [about it] actually. He’s doing his thing, and I’m doing mine. And if I have some questions, I’ll ask him for sure.”

It’ll definitely be interesting to see where the Mooseheads players do end up going in the NHL’s upcoming draft. But for now, all eyes are on them to see if they can keep the Halifax squad atop the QMJHL’s overall standings.

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