Zachary L’Heureux should develop into the power forward the Carolina Hurricanes wish they’d had in the 2021 Playoffs. The 5-foot-11, 196-pound winger is a net-front presence and has open-ice physicality. Yes, his emotions have occasionally gotten the best of him, contributing to four separate suspensions during the 2020-21 Quebec Major Junior League (QMJHL) season. Nonetheless, considering their deep prospect pool and a wide-open Stanley Cup contention window, the Hurricanes can take a risk with a high-reward player like L’Heureux and select him 27th overall.
Playing the role of Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell in THW’s 2021 Mock NHL Draft, I selected L’Heureux at 26th overall (the Hurricanes’ final draft position is 27th) and stand by my decision. Carolina needs an intimidating figure to complement their skilled skaters, and he can provide just that.
L’Heureux Draft Profile Summary
I can’t profile L’Heureux without addressing his disciplinary shortcomings and the subsequent risk of drafting him. However, I will begin with his best attributes (refer to THW’s draft profile for a more detailed breakdown of L’Heureux’s skill set).
A Punishing Power Forward with Finesse
L’Heureux is a prototypical power forward, and his frame helps him win puck battles and establish a net-front presence: “From (in front of the net) he can score with a deflection, with the quick hands to pounce on rebounds, and by one-timing a pass into the back of the net,” wrote Ben Kerr from Last Word on Sports.
In L’Heureux’s most recent QMJHL season with the Halifax Mooseheads, he played just 33 games and scored 19 goals and 20 assists. Thirty-three of those were primary points, and 23 of those were at even-strength for a 69.7 percent rate. As THW’s Peter Baracchini points out in L’Heureux’s draft profile, his 69.7 percent rate ranks 10th among draft-year players (Matthew Beniers produced at a 70.8 percent rate). The Hurricanes finished the 2020-21 regular season tied for 15th in even-strength goals, so they will welcome a player who excels at finishing his plays at five-on-five.
L’Heureux also adds value defensively, whether at even strength or on the penalty kill. Scouts note his ability to pursue puck carriers aggressively and disrupt plays using his body: “L’Heureux will deliver open ice hits in an effort to silence the cycle and regain possession of the puck,” wrote Josh Tessler from SMAHT Scouting.
Disciplinary Hurdles to Overcome
In 33 games last season, L’Heureux racked up 47 penalty minutes. He was also suspended four times for a total of 13 games — four games for “fighting after the original altercation, accumulation of codes”, two games for unsportsmanlike conduct, three games for “high sticking and accumulation of codes (4th infraction)”, and four games for unsportsmanlike conduct and removing his helmet during a fight.
I have three points in response. First, there is a difference between extracurriculars like what we see here with L’Heureux and what I consider a “dirty play”, such as a check to the head, a spear, or a slew foot. Second, Don Waddell is no stranger to drafting players with a history of out-of-line play. He selected Jamieson Rees 44th overall in 2019, despite that the young center had served an eight-game suspension for a blindside hit in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
Finally, a player with raw talent but questionable behavior can be mentored in the right environment with the right people around him. The 2020-21 Jack Adams Award recipient, Rod Brind’Amour, has fostered a unified locker room and comes across as a veteran who is rallying his team for a final Stanley Cup push.
A Fit for the Hurricanes and Their Prospect Pool
In January, THW ranked the Hurricanes’ prospect pool fourth in the NHL. The organization’s top talents include Dominik Bokk, Seth Jarvis, Jamieson Rees, and Ryan Suzuki, among others. Carolina’s pool features a strong group of centers but is fairly depleted on the wing — with players like Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov already thriving in the NHL. This presents a fitting opportunity to bring in L’Heureux.
All prospects mentioned above now play for their affiliate Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League (AHL). L’Heureux will benefit from joining his teammates, but he doesn’t need to rush to the next level just yet. He turned 18 in May and can spend one more year in the QMJHL to work on his puck control, build even more muscle, and, hopefully, learn to channel his emotions properly.
The Hurricanes’ existing core will make them a competitive club for the next few seasons, even in the stacked Metropolitan Division; they will need to add grit either in the offseason or at the deadline, but they can wait a few years for a prospect who adds more than just big hits.
Nonetheless, they will likely embrace L’Heureux’s presence. Look at it this way: of the team’s top-five hitters last season — Jordan Staal, Andrei Svechnikov, Vincent Trocheck, Cedric Paquette, and Jordan Martinook — four of them have contracts that expire by 2023-24, and that assumes Svechnikov is extended this offseason. That’s when a player like L’Heureux can get a look at the NHL level.
Projected Anywhere from 13th to 41st
L’Heureux’s draft projection still ranges as widely as any player slated for the first round or even the second round. When THW composed his draft profile, analysts expected him to be a late first-round pick. That may still be the case, but even leading up to draft day, the range is wide.
On the low end, The Athletic projects L’Heureux to be selected outside of the first round, falling to the Vancouver Canucks at 41st overall. Conversely, TSN director of scouting Craig Button had L’Heureux going to the Philadelphia Flyers at 13th overall (Philadelphia’s final draft position is 14th) as of his June 17 predictions.
NHL.com’s most recent mock draft has L’Heureux being selected either 23rd by the Detroit Red Wings (Adam Kimelman) or 24th by the Florida Panthers (Mike G. Morreale). In a separate article, Morreale ranked L’Heureux third among draft-eligible left-wingers — ranking his soft hands as the best among draft-eligible QMJHL prospects. Only William Eklund and Brennan Othmann rank higher at the position, leaving me to believe that a team may take a chance on L’Heureux before we reach the late first round.
L’Heureux the Missing Ingredient
I jumped on the chance to play Don Waddell in the mock draft; although I devote most of my coverage to the Seattle Kraken, I have followed the Hurricanes since they hired Rod Brind’Amour in 2018. On paper, they have the makeup of a Cup-contending team.
However, the Tampa Bay Lightning exposed Carolina’s inability to out-compete their opponents in the playoffs. The Hurricanes need to borrow from the Lightning’s playbook and either acquire or develop players with size and an edge. Tampa Bay did it in 2020 when they acquired Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman to play alongside agitator Yanni Gourde. Even the 2019 St Louis Blues and 2018 Washington Capitals succeeded by, in part, setting the tone physically.
L’Heureux could be the missing ingredient to the Hurricanes’ Cup-contending formula. He may need a couple of years to physically and mentally mature, but he already possesses the raw skills to intimidate his future NHL opponents. Besides, ‘Canes fans would gladly welcome L’Heureux as a member of the Bunch of Jerks.