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Junior coach on Flames prospect Pelletier: ‘He’s a perfect captain for us’

Daniel Renaud had never actually met this young man.

And yet on this mid-June day, as the head coach of the QMJHL’s Val-d’Or Foreurs prepared for his first face-to-face with Jakob Pelletier, his mind was made up.

Less than a week after landing the left-winger in a blockbuster trade, Renaud and Foreurs general manager Pascal Daoust headed to Quebec City to present Pelletier — a top forward prospect for the Calgary Flames — with his green and gold uniform.

In advance, their equipment manager had completed some special stitch-work.

“They had my jersey with them, and they had already put the ‘C’ on it,” Pelletier recalled. “So I guess I figured out then that I was going to be the captain. It’s a great honour. I take a huge pride in that.”

Several weeks into the new season, Renaud can already say with certainty they made a wise decision.

“All of the noise I was hearing about Jakob Pelletier was incredible leader, great energy guy, always positive,” Renaud said. “He has a lot of passion for the game, and it shows. He’s a perfect captain for us right now. Games, practices, in the gym … He’s a big, big workhorse. He just leads the way. To me, he’s the best captain I’ve had a chance to work with so far.”

That’s been especially apparent during an unplanned layoff.

The Foreurs played just four regular-season games — Pelletier had notched a goal and five assists for a team-leading six points — before the QMJHL called timeout in its Quebec-based divisions due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.

Teams have been permitted to practise, but Pelletier and his pals have not suited up for a game since Oct. 10.

The QMJHL announced Tuesday that the Foreurs will be among those squads back in action this weekend. They host the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies on Friday.

Even with that uncertainty looming, Renaud says that Pelletier — Calgary’s first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a definite part of the long-term plan at the Saddledome — has been arriving at the rink by about 7:45 a.m. each day, a full 45 minutes before the skaters are expected. As the coach put it, “I have never seen so much energy coming from a player.”

“He has that pro attitude, even though he’s only 19,” Renaud said of Pelletier, who spent the past three winters with the Moncton Wildcats and is the reigning winner of the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the QMJHL’s most sportsmanlike player. “Right now, we’re not working a lot on systems, so we are working on skill, technique and compete level in every practice. And he has been leading the way big-time. I wouldn’t want to go on a one-and-one battle with him in the corner, even though he’s not the biggest player. He works so hard. He just works like crazy. He goes in the corner, puts his body in front. Every single detail, every puck race, every battle … He wants to win. He’s desperate to win.

“I got the chance to coach here in Val-d’Or for only three weeks last season before COVID and the compete level of the group, in general, was … I’m going to be kind … just average,” Renaud added. “And it’s a lot of the same players now. But those players, just watching Jakob, have taken a huge step in the way they fight and want to win battles and work with the body and puck protection and everything. So he’s had a major impact on the entire group.”

The brass at the Saddledome will be thrilled with those reports.

They are keen on Pelletier’s speed, his tenacity and his hockey sense. They’re hopeful — and optimistic — that the 5-foot-10, 170-lb. buzzsaw will be on Team Canada’s roster for a bubbled edition of the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship.

Pelletier has been a consistent contributor in the Q, averaging upward of a point-per-game in each of his three full seasons. He racked up 32 goals and 50 helpers in just 57 outings during the truncated 2019-20 campaign.

And it’s always a positive when one of your prospects is tabbed for a leadership role at any level.

“I think he’s a really well-respected guy in that league because of how he carries himself — the way he prepares, the way he goes about his business,” said Flames general manager Brad Treliving of Pelletier, who also served as captain for the Wildcats last season. “He practises hard. He plays properly. He carries a coach’s message. He does it right, and he does it right consistently. So if you’re building a program there, he’s certainly a guy you’d want people to follow.

“And for us, anytime you can have your people in those situations … Part of our attraction, part of our evaluation of Jakob, is he has leadership ability. So when they can have those experiences where they are looked upon as leaders, where they’re given that responsibility, I think those are great growth areas. Those are great opportunities for them to lead and to learn as you go through those experiences, and I think it only helps in development not only as a player but as a guy who has responsibility. And that’s never a bad thing.”

Back in mid-June, as he readied for that first meet-and-greet with his new coach and GM, Pelletier wasn’t expecting to already find a ‘C’ stitched on his jersey.

Not that it changed anything.

“I think I just stay like the Jakob Pelletier that was in Moncton,” he reasoned. “It’s not like I’m a different person or different player from last year and the two years before. I mean, I just stayed the same guy, and I think they love that here. For me, it’s pretty fun to have the warm welcome like I had.”

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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