QUEBEC CITY — Gabriel Gagne acknowledges that he played with a chip on his shoulder this past season.
“I was really disappointed after being cut by the (Quebec) midget AAA team,” he said. “It gave me extra motivation to have a good season. It made me work twice as hard to prove myself and show that I should be playing at that level.
“I was happy with the season I had. I improved my overall game and got lots of ice time in the Quebec midget espoirs league (which is one step below midget AAA). I think I showed that I should’ve been playing midget AAA.”
The Moncton Wildcats made Gagne their top pick in the 2012 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft on Saturday in Quebec City. They selected the 6-foot-2, 158-pound forward in the second round, 26th overall.
The native of St. Jerome, Que. had 36 points, including 24 goals, in 28 games this season. He also had 86 penalty minutes. He was the first Quebec midget espoirs player chosen in the draft.
He was the 58th best prospect available according to the QMJHL Central Scouting rankings.
“I was ranked in the fourth round of the draft so it was a nice surprise to be selected in the second round,” he said. “I know it’s tough to break into (the QMJHL) as a 16-year-old, but my goal is to make the team next season.
“I’m going to work hard to make sure I’m ready when I come to Moncton for training camp. I’ve heard the Wildcats are a very good organization and they treat their players really well.”
Gagne answered quickly when asked if there’s a National Hockey League player that he would compare himself to in terms of style.
“I try to play like (Columbus Blue Jackets right winger) Rich Nash, a big player with skills,” he said. “I’m a goal scorer and I try to use my size to my advantage. I’m working on continuing to add strength and improve my acceleration.”
Moncton head scout Peter Nevin compared Gagne to former Wildcats star right winger Steve Bernier, who now plays in the NHL for the New Jersey Devils.
“He’s a better skater and has more size than Steve Bernier had at the same age,” said Nevin. “He’s a big power right winger. He plays a style similar to (Anaheim Ducks right winger) Corey Perry.
“He’s got size, he can put the puck in the net and he will play physical. He will be a great player in major junior and a potential pro. He’s more a goal scorer than a playmaker. We’re a team that needs to add offence and size and he has both of these qualities.”
Moncton scout Christian Deblois offered an analysis of Gagne.
“He’s a Steve Bernier type of player, but probably not as physical as Bernier was at the same age,” he said. “Another comparison for him would be (Acadie-Bathurst Titan centre) Matthew Bissonnette. He’s a natural goal scorer. He’s certainly someone to watch in training camp.
“He’s a character player. He can play physical, but he also has very good hockey sense and good vision around the net. I was surprised when the midget AAA team cut him because he certainly could’ve played at that level. He probably would’ve had similar stats in midget AAA.”
Moncton selected Prince Edward Island midget AAA defenceman Tanner McCabe and Nova Scotia midget AAA forward Josh Pugsley in the third round. Both will try to crack the Wildcats as 16-year-olds next season.
“McCabe is a big, physical defenceman who moves the puck well,” said Nevin. “He’s mainly a stay-at-home defenceman. He sees the ice very well. He will develop into a solid top three defenceman in this league.”
Pugsley was the top rookie scorer in the Nova Scotia Midget AAA Hockey League this season with 62 points, including 22 goals, in 33 games. He’s 5-foot-8 and 142 pounds, but the Wildcats scouting staff say he plays bigger than his size.
“He’s a player that I’ve known for a long time and I’ve seen him play a lot of games,” said Moncton head coach and director of hockey operations Danny Flynn. “He’s got skill, very good hockey sense and he’s got spit to his game.
“He reminds me in many ways to (former Wildcats left winger) Brad Marchand. He needs to fill out physically, but he’s got a chance to be a good offensive player in this league.”
Moncton claimed two forwards in the fourth round — Stephen Johnson of Moncton midget AAA and Liam Hynes of Toronto midget AAA. Johnson will be a 17-year-old next season and Hynes, a Newfoundlander, will be age 16.
“Liam Hynes is a clone of (Saint John Sea Dogs star forward) Zack Phillips at the same age,” said Nevin. “He’s that type of player — a goal scorer, set-up guy, great vision and great hands.
“He’s a little bit slow afoot. Not quick, but smart. The stride that he may lose he makes up for it with his hockey sense.”
Moncton took Nova Scotia midget AAA defenceman Alexander Mann and Quebec midget espoirs forward Zachary Beaudoin in the fifth round. Both will be 16-year-olds next season.
“Alexander Mann is similar to the way (Wildcats defenceman) James Melindy was at the same age,” said Nevin. “He’s a character guy with leadership abilities. He has good vision and good hockey sense.
“Zachary Beaudoin is a centre who has great ability to finish around the net. He’s a skilled guy who needs to fill out physically.”
Moncton landed Quebec midget espoirs defenceman Julien Proulx, 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, and American forward Conor Garland in the sixth round. Proulx is described as a big, physical defenceman with good hockey sense and offensive potential.
Moncton chose Saint John midget AAA forwards Matt Gray and Mark Simpson in the eighth and ninth rounds.
QMJHL Central Scouting ranked Simpson as the top New Brunswicker in the draft. It listed him as the 57th best prospect available, something that would’ve made him a fourth-round pick.
Moncton claimed American defenceman Anthony Florentino and Quebec midget AAA forward Lewis Zerter in the 10th round. Both are planning to go the U.S. college hockey route.
The Wildcats completed the draft by taking Saskatchewan midget AAA forward Thomas Stavert in the 11th round and defenceman Jean-Philippe Provencher in the 13th round. Provencher is 6-foot-6 and 237 pounds.
“Stavert is a very good player who’s similar to (former Wildcats left winger) Marek Hrivik in terms of style,” said Nevin. “He had a very good second half of the season and shows lots of promise.”