My expectations going into Victoriaville’s game versus Gatineau Mar. 1 were not overly high given the stats and recent reports I’d received from other scouts in regards to Maxime Comtois.
The 6-2 center/winger was touted as a top-ten pick going into the season after amassing 60 points and catching everyone’s attention last year as a QMJHL rookie, then following that up with four goals and a solid showing in the Ivan Hlinka. With just 42 points after 55 games however, there were loud whispers that he lacked top-six potential, and might be nothing more than a role player at the NHL level.
Comtois looked good in my last viewing of him in Hull at the start of the QMJHL season, so I wasn’t ready to write off his upside just yet, and following his three-assist performance the other night, I am even less convinced that he lacks offensive potential, as he showed me that his pucks skills, playmaking and vision are just fine, and no one ever questions his work ethic as he always puts in an honest effort.
Comtois started the game in impressive fashion, creating scoring chances, working the corners and winning puck battles, and making several nice feeds from below the goal line. He made a very skilled pass that also exhibited quick thinking and vision on Victoriaville’s first goal. The puck was in tight to his body in the high slot, and he still managed a quick backhand feed under pressure that was pretty improbable to Jeremie Beaudin for a one-timer from the end boards.
The nice plays continued throughout the game, and while his final total of three primary assists was impressive enough, he could have had another two or three helpers with a bit of puck luck. His third assist was especially eye opening, as he got the puck in the slot and with his back turned to teammate Alexandre Goulet shoveled a perfect behind-the-back pass to him for a gimme goal in the open cage.
A scout standing beside me went “whoa” when it happened, then commented that perhaps he just lucked out and didn’t actually see Goulet, but replays show that he took a peek over before making the pss and put it right on his tape.
Comtois spent most of the season on the wing, but his recent move to center has been a fruitful one. Given his puck skills, vision and smarts I think he’s better suited to play center, and if the production can continue for the rest of the season his draft stock will go back up again somewhat as teams certainly value centers more than wingers all things being equal.
I may have a higher value of Comtois than many scouts who have seen the mediocre side of him this season – I have been fortunate to scout two of his better efforts this season in Hull, so I’m not about to slide him back into my top 15 or anything rash like that – I’ve seen some lackluster games on video, and even in this game it was certainly noticeable that his skating will be the biggest concern on draft day.
While his speed was not a hindrance in this game and he kept up just fine throughout, he will need to strengthen his lower body and work on his stride and quickness, as it is noticeably weak.
So the big question for NHL scouts heading into the draft will be – does he have second-line upside? His average stats and skating have many already concluding that he doesn’t; that is the common perception in the scouting world, so don’t expect him to go in the top 20 of the draft.
After games like that, however…I think back to the promise he held last season…his misuse on the wing most of this season, playing with average linemates on many occasions, his character and willingness to work hard to improve his skating,and wonder if he may not have 15-20 goal and 35-40 assist potential playing with skilled players at the NHL level while bringing a solid defensive game.
In today’s NHL, that would make him a very solid second-line center. Most scouts would disagree with that projection, and I’m not saying it’s anything close to a definite that he could reach that upside, but to even ponder it makes me think that he would be a solid pick in the 20-25 range, and perhaps he even merits consideration in the 15-20 range.
He is going to play, and at the very least on an NHL team’s third line providing 20-25 assists and 10-15 goals while bringing size, character, defence and versatility. In this draft that makes him a top 25 selection or better when one can also suggest that he may have more upside than that if all goes well with his development.