Just three years removed from both a QMJHL and a Memorial Cup championship, the Halifax Mooseheads finished second-last in the 2015-16 regular season.
Their 21 wins and 50 points resulted in a failure to make the postseason, along with the last-place Baie-Comeau Drakkar, but they came away from their down year with something to be happy about — they won the first overall pick in the 2016 QMJHL Draft.
The Mooseheads have the unique opportunity to bring Nova Scotian defender Jared McIsaac home with their top pick.
Ranked second just behind Benoit-Olivier Groulx — the son of long-time Gatineau Olympiques and newly-hired Syracuse Crunch head coach Benoit Groulx — the gap between the top two prospects in the ‘Q’ draft is extremely narrow.
Basically, it’s all up to Halifax general manager Cam Russell as to which prospect he’d rather take: a franchise defender in McIsaac or a franchise center in Groulx.
McIsaac, a two-way defender and alternate captain for the Cole Harbour Major Midgets (NSMMHL), scored 36 points (14G, 22A) in 33 games this season and added nine points (3G, 6A) in as many postseason games. He was named the league’s top defenseman just a year after earning the rookie defender award in 2014-15. Needless to say, he’s pretty exceptional.
That’s why when word got out that current Saint John Sea Dogs center Joseph Veleno was intending to apply for exceptional status last year as a 15-year-old, it was suggested that the very exceptional McIsaac would as well. Coming off a remarkable rookie season in minor hockey in which he played mostly against older players, McIsaac was primed for doing the same in major junior.
But while Veleno was the first-ever under-aged player to become eligible for the QMJHL draft (and to go first overall), it was never reported that McIsaac applied; thus, the Truro native returned to the NSMMHL where he became a star worthy of the first selection in the 2016 draft.
It’s always a gamble to select a defenseman with the first overall pick in any draft, be it at the junior or professional level, due to the fact that it is more difficult to translate one’s defensive game to the next level; so it may be suggested that the Mooseheads can’t go wrong in picking the offensive dynamo Groulx.
That doesn’t mean the team won’t go for the defender at Saturday’s draft, though, as evidenced by the Halifax GM going on record after the draft lottery win saying that the club is interested in him:
“We like Jared McIsaac and there are a few really good players that are at the top,” Russell said. “We don’t have our minds made up and we’ll make sure we do our homework — and hopefully we make the right decision.”
Several scouts agree that despite Groulx being ranked above McIsaac, the latter is the more logical choice for the Mooseheads.
“I think the top two players are (indeed) the top two players,” said International Scouting Services insider and Atlantic Canadian head scout Chris Mooring. “Myself, I’d probably take McIsaac over Groulx, just because they don’t come along very often — the type of player that McIsaac is.
“There’s no weakness in his game, at all. He plays physical. He’s got great offensive tools. He’s very good defensively. He’s a two-way defenceman to build around. You win with guys like that.”
With a new head coach in Andre Tourigny and an entirely new direction, the Mooseheads hope to start winning again. They started the 2015-16 season with top players like Timo Meier, Danny Moynihan and Cody Donaghey, all of which they traded away throughout the year in the interest of rebuilding.
But with talented young forwards like Otto Somppi and Maxime Fortier (among others), it makes sense for the Mooseheads to add a future star defender to an otherwise thin blue-line.