Local products on the rise in the QMJHL

Fifteen Newfoundland-born players to play in the major junior circuit this season

Robin Short rshort@thetelegram.com
Published on September 11, 2012
After a busy summer which included being drafted 88th overall by the Phoenix Suns in the NHL Entry Draft, Goulds native James Melindy is back in Moncton, N.B. this season to anchor the Wildcats’ defense. — Photo courtesy Times & Transcript

Veteran James Melindy figures to be a top defenceman on what’s expected to be one of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s top teams this season, while rookie Clark Bishop is already making a mark at his first training camp, three months after he was selected third overall in the Quebec league midget draft.

Melindy and Bishop are two of 15 Newfoundlanders who should be playing major junior hockey in the Quebec circuit this season, up from 11 last season.

While high-scoring Acadie-Bathurst Titan teammates Zach O’Brien of St. John’s and Brandon Hynes of Norris Point could very well be duking it out for a scoring title this season, Melindy will be getting his share of attention in Moncton, where the Wildcats are expected to be a top five team this season after languishing through a 30-31-3-4 campaign last season.

Not to mention the fact Melindy was drafted in the third round, 88th overall, by the Phoenix Coyotes in June.

Kris Hodge, a rookie from C.B.S., will join Melindy on the Wildcats. Other rookies expected to make opening-night rosters in the QMJHL are Lucas Batt of Lewisporte (Victoriaville Tigres), Nathan Yetman of St. John’s (P.E.I. Rocket), Marcus Cuomo of St. John’s (Saint John Sea Dogs) and Cody Donaghey of St. John’s (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies).

Veterans returning to the league, besides Melindy and overagers O’Brien and Hynes, are Marcus Power of St. John’s (Rouyn-Noranda), Kurt Etchegary of St. John’s (Quebec Remparts), Aaron Hoyles of Gander (Blainville-Boisbriand Armada), Andrew Ryan of Paradise and Steve Gillard of St. John’s (Halifax Mooseheads) and Michael Abbott of St. John’s (Gatineau Olympiques).

It was a busy summer for Melindy, who attended the NHL Draft Combine in Toronto, a team draft combine hosted by the Montreal Canadiens and the NHL Draft in Pittsburgh. Following the draft, Melindy flew to Phoenix.

Melindy registered nine goals and 27 points in 61 games last season, finishing with a minus-seven rating and 74 penalty minutes.

He might have saved the best for last as the 18-year-old Goulds product had a strong playoff (short as it was, with only four games), scoring twice and adding an assist against the Mooseheads.

More telling to Melindy’s game was that he was on the ice every time young Halifax star Nathan McKinnon hopped the boards.

This season, Melindy will likely be used on the Wildcats’ first unit power play and penalty kill.

“The playoffs was where my game needed to be all season,” he said. “I haven’t talked with the coaching staff about their expectations in terms of numbers for me this season, and I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself because, in the back of my mind, I’ll only be frustrated if I don’t hit those numbers.

“But I do want to be more physical and harder to play against. In doing do, that will give me more confidence.”

Eagles coach a fan of Bishop

When the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles made Clark Bishop the third overall selection in the midget draft, he became the third Newfoundlander to go third (joining Colin Escott of St. John’s and Hynes).

The Eagles were sold on Bishop from the start, convinced the 16-year-old had pro wheels.

“He was a pleasure to watch at the (Draft) Combine,” said Cape Breton coach Ron Choules. “His skating is beyond reproach. What he has, you can’t teach. He made the scouts’ heads spin.

“He was the steal of the draft, even if he went third.”

Bishop was one of the St. John’s Privateers major midget team’s top players last season with 21 goals and 49 points in 33 games. Choules doesn’t envision that type of production yet from the youngster, but notes Bishop has offensive upside.

“His hands are okay, but he’s only 16,” he said. “I don’t see any problems with him becoming a good offensive player.

“I’m not saying he has cement hands, but he has to develop his upper body and get more strength.

“I will say one thing, you only need to tell him something once and he picks it up right away.”

Batt, Hodge is coming back east

After playing AAA midget hockey with the Notre Dame Argos in Wilcox, Sask., last season, Batt and Hodge are coming closer to home. Batt was selected in the second round, 37th overall, by the Tigres in June, while the Wildcats made Hodge the 28th overall selection in the 2011 QMJHL draft.

Batt wasn’t surprised he made Victoriaville as a 16-year-old, particularly since Tigres management told him last summer to enroll in school in the city and provided him with a billet.

The Argos rookie finished second in team scoring with 15 goals and 38 points with 94 penalty minutes in 42 Saskatchewan AAA Midget Hockey League games last season.

“The hockey’s a lot quicker here,”  he said. “The players are older and stronger.”

Plenty of scoring in Bathurst

There should be no shortage of goals with the Titan this season, and plenty of those will be coming off the sticks of Hynes and O’Brien.

O’Brien was second in league scoring last season with 50 goals and 51 assists, while Hynes finished seventh overall with 42 goals and 44 assists, despite missing eight games with a shoulder injury.

He was traded from the Tigres to the Titan during a trade at the draft.

So far in camp, though, the two Newfoundlanders have yet to skate on the same line.

“We always competed against each other, gone head-to-head in minor hockey championships,” Hynes said. “I’d be more than happy to play with him here.”

O’Brien, who played a game for the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps last season, was invited to the Winnipeg Jets’ development camp over the summer. Hynes had hoped to land something as well, but it appears the impending lockout has dashed any hopes of a free agent tryout.

“That put a damper on everything,” he said of the possible labour dispute.

And more ...

Michael Abbott, who toiled last season for the Rocket, was picked up by the Sherbrooke Phoenix in the QMJHL’s expansion draft, but was dealt to the Olympiques for a fourth-round draft pick in 2015 in August. He had a goal and seven assists for the Rocket last season ... Nathan Yetman has appeared in all four pre-season games for the Rocket ... Marcus Cuomo, a seventh round pick by the Sea Dogs in the June draft, cracked the Saint John roster due in large part to what he’s best known: hard work. In five pre-season games, Cuomo has two goals and an assist ... Marcus Power has a pair of goals and three assists in five games for the Huskies. Power had 24 points last season, his first full year in Rouyn-Noranda ...