After a disappointing last few seasons for the New Jersey Devils, the chance to draft some young players who could make an impact on the NHL squad is almost upon us. New Jersey will be drafting early in each round, and their first rounder will be higher than each choice since 1991 (excluding 2011 when they won the lottery to pick fourth; if they hadn't won, they were slated to choose eighth) giving the team a good chance to land an impact player in a draft full of talented prospects. As this draft is viewed as being deep, the Devils might be able to snag a player early in the second round; finishing the season ranked 36th on NHL.com's list of prospects, (Hey, guess who has that pick!) is Gabriel Gagne of the QMJHL's Victoriaville Tigres.
Who is Gabriel Gagne?
Born November 11th, 1996 in either Laval or Sainte-Adele (depending on who you ask I suppose; Elite Prospects says one thing but his QMJHL page says otherwise), Quebec, Canada, Gagne is almost NHL sized already at 6'5" and 183 pounds. He was a second round pick (#26 overall) of Victoriaville in the 2012 QMJHL draft, and made his debut for them in one regular season game of that 2012-13 season; he would also appear in one playoff game that season. His official rookie season of 2013-14 would see him score 16 goals and 37 points for the Tigres; here are his full stats courtesy of Elite Prospects:
One thing that stands out right away is his improvement from his freshman season to his sophomore; he scored 16 goals and more than doubled that total to finish the most recent season with 35 goals. He also potted his first two playoff goals across four games and added an assist as well. He made obvious strides in his game last season and still has some more growing to do, meaning that he has not reached his apex quite yet.
What Others Have Said About Gagne
Going right back to Elite Prospects, we have a scouting report on Gagne courtesy of Curtis Joe who compliments Gabriel on his shot, playmaking ability, forechecking, and defensive ability:
A tall and lanky center with superb offensive instincts and a good all-around game. Skates very well for his size, and his acceleration is remarkable; his lower body strength generates a lot of power with respect to his mobility. Possesses an absolutely wicked release to his shot, as well as good hands around the net. Has shown some signs of creativity in playmaking; when he plays his game simply, hard on the forecheck, getting into prime-time scoring areas, he can be a very difficult player to contain. Defensively active in his own end - uses his long reach to knock pucks off opponents' sticks, and isn't afraid to hound and hit; able to quickly transition from defense to offense and move the puck out using his speed. All-in-all, a big-bodied, number-generating forward that has the skill and size to be a force at both ends of the ice.
From this report, Gagne seems like he could be a complete package; his stats aren't terribly impressive yet, but he is still young and his numbers did go up from 2013-14 to 2014-15. The fact that he is competent both offensively and defensively means he would work nicely within New Jersey's system. The Devils can use all the shooting help they can get, especially on the right side; between that fact and his anticipated draft position, he should automatically be on the Devils' radar. Ross Bonander of The Hockey Writers also had some strong praise for Gagne, stating that while there were some perceived weaknesses in his game after his rookie season, he made impressive strides attempting to correct them this past year.
Historically goals may not be all that hard to come by in the Q, but Gagné's improvement over last season in this category accurately reflects the fact that he has made improvements in several facets of his game, and it certainly ought to grant him benefit of the doubt when considering whether or not he can continue to improve...That might be a wildly optimistic, glass-is-overflowing kind of outlook, but considering some of the criticism sent his way following his rookie season-in a nutshell that he was only any good when planted in front of the net on the power play-he's taken some impressive steps in his development into a more complete hockey player.
I like the fact that Gabriel wants to improve what outside observers classify as areas where he needs work. There's certainly at least one player from the past couple of seasons who seemed to have a crummy work ethic; it would be great if New Jersey ensured that they did not run into that problem again, especially with one of their draftees. Bonander also seems to think that Gagne will continue to improve and I'm hopeful as well that he would continue to grow (both in juniors and professionally) under the Devils' watchful eyes.
Over at ISS Hockey, they seemed to echo some of the earlier sentiments about Gagne while listing him as a rising prospect:
He's a big winger that works hard and competes. Skating is fine for his size with decent speed. Seems to be able to handle the puck but a better shooter then play maker. With added strength and size has a chance to develop into a quality power forward.
Again, he seems to be a great forward on the offensive end of the ice, and ISS even compliments his speed and skating for a player of his size. They do reiterate that he needs to gain some size and strength, but the fact there is simply that most if not all prospects need to add size and strength to make it in the big leagues and there's still plenty of time for Gabriel to do so.
A Little Video
To begin we, we have Gabriel Gagne's draft profile video that comes to us courtesy of the YouTube channel of John Moore from Sports and Moore. I have to say I really enjoy these videos because not only do you get to see the prospect on the ice, but you also get to hear from them and someone from their team as well:
I'm not sure if there just isn't too many individual highlights out there, or if the computer I'm working from just doesn't like me, but here is another prospect I'm covering where I can't find a goal video. I do like having players on a team that aren't tissue soft (like a good portion of the roster from this past season) and we do have some videos for Gagne showcasing some toughness. I could simply re-post the fight video I used when profiling Anthony Beauvillier between the two, but instead here's Gabriel squaring off with Olivier Desjardins of the Val d'Or Foreurs; it isn't much of a scrap, but it shows he's not afraid to stand up to players on opposing teams:
An Opinion of Sorts
As I alluded to earlier, I find it pretty funny that Gagne is currently ranked 36th by the NHL as that is where our Devils will be drafting in the second round. I know I was pretty high on Beauvillier a couple of weeks ago (so much so that I was ready for the Devils to try and trade up) but after doing my homework on Gagne, I feel Gabriel might be an even better choice early in the second round. While there are some flaws to his game, and some seem to think he needs to put on some more muscle to truly be NHL ready, the bottom line is that he fills so many areas of need for the Devils.
The pipeline is low on right wingers at the moment, and while Gagne does play some center, his QMJHL page has him listed as a right wing, so that's what I'm going to classify him as. I realize that New Jersey will probably want to target a center with #6, but aside from that right wing should be high on the list of priorities. I like the fact that many scouts/scouting sites were taking notice of Gagne improving his areas of weakness; there are many NHL players who won't even do that, so it's nice to see someone who wants to succeed at any cost.
With the way Elite Prospects was speaking of Gagne, I don't think it would take much longer for him to be NHL ready. The Devils have quite a few forward contracts coming off of their books between this and next summer; barring any unforeseen re-signings, Ryder, Havlat, Zubrus, and Ruutu will all be gone while Elias, Tootoo, Gionta, Bernier, Gomez and Clowe (LTIR) could all be out as well. With that many forwards departing or possibly departing, there will be a need for younger guys to step in sooner; Gagne strikes me as the type of player who would not only improve enough in 2015-16 to be ready for 2016-17, but also as a player who would not stop trying to get better after he made the team. If he was available, and I had to make the decision for the team, New Jersey would be taking Gabriel Gagne at #36.
What do you think of Gabriel Gagne as a prospect? Should he be the Devils prime target at the beginning of the second round? Is there anything that you don't like about his game that would make you hesitant of New Jersey drafting him? Would you prefer the Devils target a different player instead? If so, who? Leave any and all comments below and as usual, thank you for reading!