At the 2011 QMJHL Draft, Halifax Mooseheads general manager Cam Russell traded up from fourth overall to second to be able to select Jonathan Drouin, a sure-fire franchise player for the organization that so desperately needed one.
The winger would soon have to share the spotlight, though, when Russell made a mid-summer deal to acquire the first overall selection in the draft, Nova Scotia native Nathan MacKinnon, from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar.
Halifax was in a unique situation where they had not one, but two franchise players heading into the 2011-12 season, and the two developed tremendous chemistry both on and off the ice. They were crucial to the Mooseheads’ storybook Memorial Cup run just two years later.
Only a month after winning junior hockey’s ultimate prize, MacKinnon and Drouin went first and third overall respectively in the 2013 NHL Draft.
The success clearly left a huge impression on the Halifax fan-base, as well as their General Manager, because this past Saturday, the Mooseheads community celebrated as Russell – who had already held the first overall pick – pulled off a massive trade to acquire the second overall pick shortly after making the first selection.
He gave up the teams’ seventh, 16th and 24th overall picks this year as well as their first-round pick in 2017, so he paid quite the hefty price.
But Russell walked away with the top two prospects in the draft, Benoit-Olivier Groulx and Jared McIsaac, first and second overall, respectively. And it was well worth it, as the pair will seek to do what the Mooseheads’ previous dynamic duo did in 2013 – bring a Memorial Cup back to Nova Scotia.
Groulx, the son of former Gatineau Olympiques/curent Syracuse Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx, scored 51 points (21G, 30A) in 41 games for Gatineau L’Intrepide during the 2015-16 regular season, adding seven points (3G, 4A) in 10 postseason games.
At 6’1″ and 176 lbs., the 16-year-old has been touted as the most junior-ready prospect in the draft class for quite some time.
And now, he gets to make his dream come true exactly where he had hoped he would.
“When I was in the rink before the draft, I was like ‘Oh my God, if Halifax picks me, that would be an awesome moment for me and my family,'” Groulx told Metronews.ca. “We always want(ed)… since the beginning, to be in an English market (and) that’s what we received, so we’re really happy.
“I’m really proud I went first overall in the QMJHL but I think I have a lot of work to do during the summer, to be prepared for the upcoming season.”
While Groulx will likely put up big numbers in his rookie season with the Mooseheads, McIsaac may take a bit longer to get accustomed to the major junior game. No mater how good, defensemen usually need a little more time to translate their game to the next level, whether it be a jump from major midget to major junior or from major junior to professional.
But at 6’2″ and 209 lbs., the excellent two-way defender had a fantastic year with the Cole Harbour Major Midgets; he scored 36 points (14G, 22A) in 33 regular-season games, adding nine points (3G, 6A) in as many playoff games. And having been considered for exceptional status last year, one can only imagine that he will be ready for big responsibilities in the ‘Q’ this year.
“Obviously, I wanted to go to my hometown,” McIsaac told Metronews.ca. “I have no words to describe it. It’s truly amazing. When Halifax (said) my name on the stage, I was really happy. My father was (really) crying; my mother, too. It’s a very humbling feeling. We’re both itching to get started in August.”
Before the trade, speculation was that Halifax would bolster its recently-depleted offense (they traded away several key forwards during the 2015-16 season in the interest of rebuilding) by selecting a new top center.
Others pegged McIsaac as the first overall selection, citing the fact that they could not possibly pass up on such an exceptional, reliable defender.
But, as we would soon find out, the debate was all for naught – both became Mooseheads on Saturday, and Halifax was the clear winner at the draft.
Once again, the club has the top two selections in the QMJHL draft ready to begin their respective Halifax Mooseheads careers. One is a native Nova Scotian, the other is from Quebec.
They are both star players in their own right, and with leadership qualities and incredible skill-sets, they will likely develop great chemistry in the coming months.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?