Recently the NHL Draft has been flooded with prospects hailing from the Halifax Mooseheads. From first-round studs to late round gems, the Mooseheads seem to find themselves on the draft board annually. What is the key to their draft success?
An Eye For European Talent
In the last few years, the Moose have had some big name players on their roster with most of them being from Europe. Stars such as Nikolaj Ehlers, Timo Meier, Nico Hischier, Otto Somppi, and Filip Zadina have had tremendous success with the Mooseheads and found themselves drafted into the NHL.
Hischier was the second Moosehead in the last four years to be drafted first overall by the New Jersey Devils after Nathan MacKinnon in 2013 with the Colorado Avalanche. Ehlers was picked ninth overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 2014. Meier was drafted ninth overall in 2015 by the San Jose Sharks. Somppi was drafted in the seventh round, 206th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning but has recently signed his entry-level contract with the team after enjoying a successful 2017-18 campaign with the Mooseheads.
Filip Zadina is the latest European Moose star to be ranked in the first round for this year’s upcoming Entry Draft. Some scouts have Zadina ranked in the top-five, while most have him as a sure, top-ten pick.
Most of the Mooseheads’ NHL entry draft success comes from their own draft prosperity, the CHL Import Draft, where every team in the CHL can draft the rights to eligible import players. Halifax has hit the jackpot in the last five years with their import selections.
Starting in 2013 with the sixth overall selection, they chose Nikolaj Ehlers, the Danish sensation of the Swiss National League. Ehlers would become a superstar in the city and was a must-watch player. He tallied 204 points in 114 games with the Moose before being drafted ninth overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 2014.
Their 12th overall selection in the same draft was that of Timo Meier from Switzerland of the Swiss Elite Junior A league. Meier went on to post 160 points in 150 games with the Moose, and was drafted ninth overall by the Sharks in 2015.
At the 2015 CHL Import Draft, they owned the 18th overall selection and picked Finnish center Otto Somppi of the Jr A SM-Liiga. Somppi would go on to record 170 points in 178 games with the Mooseheads and was drafted by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the seventh round of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
In 2016, the Moose drafted Swiss center Nico Hischier, who had been playing in the Swiss National League as a sixteen year old. Hischier would go on to play just one season in Halifax, but managed to post 86 points in 57 games, good enough for him to be drafted first overall by the New Jersey Devils in 2017.
At last year’s Import Draft, the Mooseheads selected Filip Zadina of the Czech Extraliga. Zadina is currently ranked in the top-five for this year’s NHL Entry Draft after a stellar rookie campaign with the Moose. Zadina had 82 points in 57 games including 44 goals. He is the latest Moosehead star to be ranked at the top of the draft board. Some scouts have Zadina labelled as the best Czech prospect since the legendary Jaromir Jagr.
The Mooseheads do not have any European scouts. Instead, their general manager, Cam Russel, travels to Europe twice a year to watch European talent himself. Russel, along with a fellow scout, pin the players they like and select them at the Import Draft. Not only are they good at finding these players, they are also terrific at developing them. The Moose quickly introduce these European players to the North American game and give them as much opportunity to succeed as possible.
Developing the Next Superstar(s)
Not only have the Moose had success in the development of their European players, but their North American players as well. Zach Fucale, Jonathan Drouin, and hometown boy Nathan MacKinnon, all were drafted in the first and second round of the NHL Entry Draft. MacKinnon was drafted first overall by the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the 2011 QMJHL Entry Draft but was later acquired by the Mooseheads before the season began. That same draft, the Moose selected Jonathan Drouin second overall and the two would go on to become the franchise superstars for the next two seasons.
MacKinnon and Drouin enjoyed successful campaigns with the Moose, as they won a Presidents Trophy and Memorial Cup together in 2013. Both players were drafted first and third overall by Colorado and Tampa Bay respectfully in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
The Mooseheads coaching staff has been instrumental in developing their best players to become key, important players on their NHL teams. Nathan MacKinnon is a Hart Trophy finalist this year leading his Colorado Avalanche back to the playoffs. Drouin is the first line centre on the Montreal Canadiens, Nico Hischier centers Taylor Hall on the Devils’ top line, and Nikolaj Ehlers has found dangerous chemistry with Finnish sniper Patrik Laine on the Winnipeg Jets’ second line. The Moose have become a pipeline to the NHL with the amount of talent they produce.
Becoming a Complete Player
With a strong focus on offense and speed, the Moose give their top players tremendous opportunities by playing them for big minutes on the top lines and special teams. Nico Hischier and Filip Zadina have been the Mooseheads’ top-two penalty killers for the last two seasons and both also managed to lead their team in points per game as well.
The coaching staff tends to play their top players on the penalty kill to develop their defensive game in order to prepare them for the challenge of the NHL. This year, Hischier was third on the Devils in takeaways as well as second on the team in faceoff wins. Hischier and Hall found great chemistry together and helped lead the Devils to their first playoff berth since 2012.
This year’s NHL Entry Draft includes three Moosehead players ranked in the first round. Filip Zadina, Benoit-Olivier Groulx, and Jared McIsaac. Zadina has elite potential as a goal scorer in the NHL and has the ability to score 40 goals in a season. Groulx will be a solid top-nine forward and possesses a strong two-hundred foot game. Groulx put up 55 points in 68 games this year for the Mooseheads. McIsaac is a reliable, shut-down defenceman with great skating ability and is not afraid to throw a hit. McIsaac has top-four defencemen potential and will be a staple on any NHL team’s blueline in the future.
The Mooseheads are poised to boast two more potential first-rounders in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft as forwards Raphael Lavoie and Xavier Parent are set to become the franchise’s newest draft prodigies. With the Memorial Cup set to return to Halifax as the host city in 2019, prepare for all eyes to be on the Mooseheads next season as they look to dominate the QMJHL with their star-studded lineup.
Tim McKinnon is a sports writer covering prospects and junior players for The Hockey Writers. Tim is a 4th year BBA student studying at Saint Francis Xavier University. For any questions on current or future NHL prospects, send Tim an e-mail at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @TimmyMcKinnon.