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INSIDE THE Q: QMJHL takes another step towards eliminating fighting

Members of the Halifax Mooseheads and Moncton Wildcats battle during a January, 2019 QMJHL game at the Scotiabank Centre. (Ryan Taplin/Staff)
Members of the Halifax Mooseheads and Moncton Wildcats battle during a January, 2019 QMJHL game at the Scotiabank Centre. (Ryan Taplin/Staff)

It certainly feels like fighting is on its last legs in the QMJHL.

The league approved new penalties on Wednesday that will see combatants receive an extra 10-minute misconduct to go with the standard five-minute major. That will make most guys think twice about dropping the gloves because nobody wants to spend a quarter of the game in the box. It's especially meaningful from a team perspective because no one will want to lose a key player for that long.

The league also significantly tightened up suspension rules. Someone who fights more than three times during a season will now have to sit out one game for every subsequent fight. Not many guys are going to want to go down that path. Make no mistake, this is a massive deterrent to anyone who is considering squaring off.

So what does that mean to the big picture? I don't think any of us need to rehash the tired talking points of the fighting debate - players policing the game, concussions, machismo and so on. It's a well-worn path that doesn't need any more traffic because it rarely leads to any agreement.

But if we're talking about the bottom line - the Q appears to be phasing fighting out and the momentum won't get turned around. We aren't going back to so-called 'old time hockey' ever again, at least not at this level.

So let's just skip ahead to what the future looks like. Most of all it means the league will resemble the NCAA more than ever now. They don't fight in American college hockey and I've never heard much of a groundswell to phase it into the game.

The players and coaches all seem to like the rules, the level of violence is not considered an issue and there are plenty of fans who enjoy the product. It's all proof playing the game with that set of rules for this age group can work, assuming the adults who run the league commit to calling it by the book and creating a safe environment players can count on.

So like it or not, this is what the game will look like for people who participate in and watch QMJHL hockey. The power brokers around the league appear to be on the same page that the time has come to transition and adapt to something new, although the truth is we've been headed this way for the past few years anyway.

STRONG DRAFT RESULTS EXPECTED FOR Q ON TUESDAY

It might surprise some to learn the 2020 NHL draft is just a few days away.

Because we're living through such an unprecedented period in society, sports calendars are practically upside down right now so the NHL couldn't have its traditional late June weekend draft gathering. Instead, this year's draft will not be held in person and will be on a Tuesday with very little fanfare. It should still make for a great television and online event, with a solid crop of prospects from the Q.

Depending on which scouts you talk to, there are as many as six players who could go in the first round - consensus first overall pick Alexis Lafreniere of the Rimouski Oceanic, Chicoutimi Sagueneens forwards Dawson Mercer and Hendrix Lapierre, Saint John Sea Dogs defenceman Jeremie Poirier, Halifax Mooseheads captain Justin Barron and Shawinigan Cataractes centre Mavrik Bourque. Some even have Bourque's teammate Vasily Ponomarev as a long shot to sneak into the top 31.

With the exception of Lafreniere, none of those players are projected as strong bets to go in the top 10 and there is a wide variety of opinion on Poirier, Barron and Bourque so it's tough to say with much certainty whether they'll land in the first round. It's also true Lapierre is a bit of a wildcard because of his injury history.

He started the 2019-20 season as a top 10 prospect but missed most of the year with a concussion. It was later diagnosed as a neck issue so now scouts are reassessing how they feel about him and the new information. He could sneak back into the top end if someone is convinced his health woes are behind him or he could slide if there is doubt.

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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