QMJHL Stock Watch: Mathieu Cataford hitting a new gear with the Halifax Mooseheads
It's crunch time in the QMJHL. The second half of the season is when prospects can truly start to separate from their peers.
The hot early scorers have cooled down and the true league leaders are starting to emerge. They’re only enlarging their gap with the rest of their peers with the extra support of top trade deadline acquisitions around them.
With repeated great performances in the second half, draft-eligible ones can show scouts that they're surfing an upward curve in their development and bump their draft stock. This time of the season arguably matters even more for some of the younger members of the draft class, like Justin Poirier and Félix Lacerte, who haven’t been under the eyes of scouts in the QMJHL for as long. A late surge could get them drafted much higher than expected.
Stock Rising 📈
Mathieu Cataford, RW, Halifax Mooseheads (Vegas Golden Knights)
Last season, Mathieu Cataford scored 75 points in 68 games. This season, he could easily get there in just 50 games.
This isn't just the byproduct of Jordan Dumais' hot play either. Cataford played a large part of the campaign without the QMJHL all-star and he continues to pick up points without his contributions.
Cataford has simply pushed his play-driving skills to the next level. Stronger and more experienced, he’s playing an even grittier game than last season, driving through opponents to get to the net, protecting pucks on the wall, and making even more smart short-passing plays.
And his hockey sense continues to shine away from the puck. You see him sneak behind defenders and arrive at the net just as passes get there and tap them in.
Cataford still needs to hone his overall skills and mechanics to push his upside as an NHL prospect, but he’s on the right development track.
Justin Poirier, RW, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (2024 NHL Draft)
Poirier has 37 goals this season in 50 games. There are 18 left, and if he maintains the same pace — and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down — he could surpass the 50-goal mark. That’s extremely impressive for a draft-eligible prospect, especially such a young one. Poirier is playing his draft year through and through as a 17-year-old and will only turn 18 at the start of next season.
His shot is one of the very best in the draft. He can fire in-stride off the rush and off passes with a catch-and-release or a one-timer. But more than the mechanics, it’s his placement that makes him such a threatening shooter. He spots holes in the goalie’s coverage and he can thread the puck in them from anywhere in the offensive zone.
Poirier still needs to work on his playmaking. Some may also discard him based on his 5-foot-8 size, but the winger plays a surprisingly physical brand of hockey that may translate well to professional hockey. He deserves a long look in this second half, as the Baie-Comeau Drakkar gear up for the playoffs.
Stock Steady ↔️
Étienne Morin, LD, Moncton Wildcats (Calgary Flames)
Étienne Morin continues to be the offensive motor of the Moncton Wildcats this season. A shooter first and foremost, he creates by jumping from the blueline and finding lanes for his release. He can beat goalies cleanly but also fire in ways to enable tips and rebounds. He’s also capable of distributing passes well.
His production has slowed down slightly this season, but that may be because he has shifted part of his focus onto his defensive game. Morin plays with even more of a physical edge this season. He’s jumping from attacker to attacker near the net, boxing them out of the area and taking away their sticks. He’s paying more attention to rotations and seems better capable of holding off some of the league’s top offensive drivers.
In terms of projection, however, he’s about at the same point as he was in his draft year. He’s following the growth curve that we expect for a defenceman of his calibre. To solidify his NHL future, Morin still needs to add an extra gear to his skating and become an even better puck-mover.
Félix Lacerte, RW/C, Shawinigan Cataractes (2024 NHL Draft)
We probably underestimated Lacerte’s hockey sense coming into the season. With the Shawinigan Cataractes, he’s showing that he can control entire shifts with his deceptive abilities. He freezes defenders, drags them away, creates space for teammates, and pulls off some impressive plays, both with his forehand and backhand.
The rebuilding Cataractes aren’t offering him as much offensive support this season, but he’s still finding ways to write his name regularly on the scoresheet. He’s got 45 points in 41 games so far this season.
Playing with more pace would help his draft stock, but his playmaking skills may give him a place on our board and entice a team to use a pick on him in the middle rounds of the draft.
Stock Falling 📉
Dylan Mackinnon, RD, Halifax Mooseheads (Nashville Predators)
Dylan Mackinnon just had his most productive game of the season, with two assists in a 4-3 win over the Drummondville Voltigeurs. This may be the start of a better offensive stretch for him with the Mooseheads.
We never really expected the defenceman to become a top playmaker in the league. We put him on our board, at 108th overall, mainly because of his mobility and powerful game. Those qualities are still there in his game. Mackinnon crushes opponents and plays long minutes on the penalty kill. He could turn into an NHL insulator.
That being said, he’s on track to score less this season than he did last year, while playing about the same minutes with similar deployment. Numbers do matter, to an extent, even for defencemen. Those who end up having an NHL career tend to score at least a point every other game in junior. Maybe next year, if he gets some powerplay time, he could show his passing ability a bit more. Mackinnon’s conservative play tends to hide some of his skills.