The hockey world is anxiously waiting for any news about when the 2020-21 season might start for the various leagues around the world. For the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques in particular, the excitement is sky-high.
Despite finishing 16th in the league in 2019-20, the team has a number of young, exciting players either returning or that are new to the team that should get fans looking forward to puck drop. Drafting first overall in the 2020 QMJHL Draft certainly helped that too, as did the Olympiques’ first-round pick in the 2020 CHL Import Draft.
While the offseason drags on, let’s take a look at a few of those players that will make the Olympiques one of the teams to watch in the 2020-21 season – whenever that may be.
Zach Dean, C
After being draft fourth overall in the 2019 QMJHL Entry Draft, Zach Dean – a 2021 NHL Draft-eligible centreman – had an extremely impressive rookie season. He racked up 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists) in 57 games for his first campaign, enough to earn him a spot on the QMJHL’s All-Rookie Team. He was also a finalist for QMJHL Rookie of the Year.
Building on to his impressive 2019-20, he played in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge for Team Canada Black, where he collected three goals, four assists, and seven points in five games, tying him with his exceptional teammate, Shane Wright.
While the first thing you’ll notice about Dean is his excellent skating ability, his ability to get through traffic with crisp passes and open up the play for his teammates are what set him apart. He also has extremely fast, nimble hands when the puck is on his stick. I’d expect Dean to be a leader on the Olympiques for the upcoming season, and he should be a riser on the 2021 NHL Draft board.
Yevgeni Kashnikov, D
Another rookie in the 2019-20 season, Yevgeni Kashnikov didn’t explode right out of the gate as Dean did but watch for him to take a big step forward this season with his freshman campaign under his belt. He finished the season two goals, five assists and seven points in 59 games.
The left-handed defenseman was the 12th-overall pick in the 2019 CHL Import Draft and, like Dean, is eligible for the 2021 NHL Draft. He likely won’t be a guy who lights up the scoreboard on a nightly basis, but he plays well above his age in his own zone, using his big, 6-foot-4 frame to force forwards to the outside and interrupt the offensive attacks coming his way.
Tristan Luneau, D
With the first pick in the 2020 QMJHL Entry Draft, the Olympiques took one of the 2022 NHL Draft’s top prospects in Tristan Luneau. The right-shot defender had previously committed to the NCAA’s University of Wisconsin, but kept his options open and it now looks like he’ll be playing closer to home in 2020-21 (from: “Badgers reportedly lose 2022 recruit Tristan Luneau to Quebec major junior team” – Wisconsin State Journal – June 5, 2020).
Luneau is a puck-moving defenseman that is confident at both ends of the ice. He has the ability to lead the rush and dictate the pace of the play. He should be able to step right into the QMJHL and impress, as he’s proven that he can dominate in tough games already.
He was the captain of the QMAAA’s Trois-Rivières Estacades in 2019-20, putting up 30 points (six goals, 24 assists) in 37 games and was a member of Team Canada for the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland where he wore the “A” and had two assists en route to a bronze medal.
Alexei Prokopenko, F
This might be one of my favourite picks in the 2020 CHL Import Draft, where the Olympiques landed one of the top forwards available in Alexei Prokopenko. The Russian forward spent 2019-20 dominating in Russia’s U17 league, captaining Avangard Omsk U17 and putting up 26 goals, 40 assists and 66 points in 30 games.
He saw time in the MHL with Omskie Yastreby, where he continued to excel with eight goals, four assists and 12 points in 14 games. He wasn’t done there, also captaining Team Russia at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, leading the team to a gold medal.
According to JF Plante of Le Droit, Prokopenko was a target of Gatineau’s and already had an agreement discussed with the his agent. The team believes that he will have an immediate impact, as the goal-scoring forward should.
Samuel Savoie, F
The Olympiques had an incredible draft day for the 2020 QMJHL Draft, selecting at No. 1, 2, 4, and 8. We’ve already touched on No. 1 in Luneau, and we’ll get to No. 2 shortly. Samuel Savoie was the No. 4 pick, a centreman from the Moncton Rallye Motors Nissan Flyers of the NBPEIMMHL.
Savoie played 37 games with the Flyers last season, scoring 18 goals, a league-leading 38 assists and 56 points in just 37 games. He was named to the First All-Star Team for his efforts.
Savoie has that perfect combination of skill, speed, and compete, making him a threat every time he hits the ice. He also brings a level of grit to his game, which can get him into trouble at times (as his 69 penalty minutes last season shows that), but one thing is for sure – he’s going to be fun to watch.
Antonin Verreault, LW
With the second selection of the 2020 QMJHL Draft, Gatineau turned their attention to offense after taking Luneau with the first selection (the best defenseman available) and selected Antonin Verreault from the QMAAA’s Saint-Eustache Vikings – the best forward available.
Verreault was an alternate captain for the team, potting 17 goals and adding 31 assists for 48 points in 39 games. He also joined Luneau at the Youth Olympic Games, collecting five points (three goals, two assists) in four games and helping the team to the bronze medal.
The dynamic left winger is slightly undersized at 5-foot-7 but makes up for it with an extremely high compete level and excellent offensive awareness. Like Dean, he’s a great playmaker and should be a driving force of the Olympiques’ offense. He’s eligible for the 2022 NHL Draft.
Olympiques a Must-Watch Team
After a near-bottom finish in 2019-20, the Olympiques altered the look of their franchise at the QMJHL and CHL Drafts. While Dean should be a leader on the young team next season, expect Luneau to be right behind him leading Gatineau’s charge along with the offensive prowess of both Prokopenko and Verreault.
This list doesn’t even include players such as the No. 8 overall pick in the 2020 QMJHL Draft, Noah Warren, 2020 NHL Draft-eligible forward Pier-Oliver Roy and goaltender Remi Poirier, or another 2021-eligible defender in Olivier Boutin. The Olympiques look to be stacked with young talent and that should make for a very exciting campaign.
This group will make the Olympiques a must-watch team not just in 2020-21, but for the next few seasons as the youth movement gets ready to take the QMJHL by storm.
Starting out as an Ottawa Senators contributor for The Hockey Writers, Josh is now an editor and at-large contributor, focusing on prospects, the NHL Draft, hockey history, and breaking news stories.