Luc Deschenes

The Junior Hockey News – Luc Deschenes – 14 year old considers filing for QMJHL draft entry #top .wrapper .container h1 { color: #004080; }

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Deschenes an early bloomer – 14 year old considers filing for QMJHL draft entry!

Word out of Fredericton is that the family of 14-year-old defenceman Luc Deschenes is considering filing an application to enter the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft a year early.

Deschenes, who won’t turn 15 until May 2012, is a bantam-aged defenceman with the Fredericton Darcy Simon Canadiens of the New Brunswick/P.E.I. Major Midget Hockey League. Last year, he made the Canada Games team as a 13-year-old, playing with mainly 15-year-olds. He was then referred to as a double-underager.

If Deschenes goes ahead with his application, don’t expect it to be rubber-stamped, though. Anything but.

Only two players in all of Canada have had such a wish granted, John Tavares in 2005 and Aaron Ekblad this year. It has become known as the Exceptional Player category.

It has never happened in the QMJHL but a pair of notable individuals have tried.

Marcel Patenaude, now the QMJHL’s executive vice-president, was the general manager of the Halifax Mooseheads for nine years before rejoining the league’s head office three years ago. Back in 2002, he had requested that a youngster by the name of Sidney Crosby be permitted to join the league as a 14-year-old. That application was rejected.

Then, in 2005, the agent for Patrice Cormier of Cap-Pele requested an exception to the rule for his client. It, too, was denied. The next year he was taken fifth overall by the Rimouski Oceanic.

In order to be eligible for the 2012 QMJHL draft, a player must be born in 1996. If Deschenes’ potential application is denied, don’t expect to see him around New Brunswick next season. The thinking of those closest to him is that he needs more of a challenge and will either end up at a boarding school in Ontario or the United States.

His mother, Monica Stokes, confirmed that the family is exploring its options, including the Exceptional Player route.

Former Sea Dogs coach and general manager Jacques Beaulieu – now the head coach and general manager of the Sarnia Sting of the OHL – is familiar with both Tavares and Ekblad. He was an assistant coach with the London Knights when Tavares broke in with the Oshawa Generals in 2005 and didn’t disappoint. He had 45 goals and 77 points in 65 games with the Generals and was the first player taken overall by the New York Islanders in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft.

At 15, Ekblad is a top-four defenceman with the Barrie Colts this season.

"Both players, Tavares and Ekblad, were definitely ready to play major junior," Beaulieu said. "Ekblad is playing lots of minutes and doesn’t look out of place. The CHL just needs to make sure that these guys are ready to play and that they are being used."

The Western Hockey League does not recognize an ‘Exceptional Player’ category but WHL director of communications Cory Flett said in an email that it is important to "keep in mind the WHL drafts players a year younger than the OHL and QMJHL does, following their 14-year-old year of bantam."

"My advice to the family is that if this young man is dominating at a higher age group now, he should go in the draft and commence his road to a successful NHL career," Beaulieu said.

Whether Deschenes is dominating at the major midget level is a topic for debate.

On Saturday at the Lord Beaverbrook Rink in Saint John, the 5-foot-11, 197-pounder didn’t deliver any bone-crushing hits or any end-to-end rushes but he didn’t look a bit out of place either. In fact, he looked almost too relaxed at times. He might have been hampered, too, by a knee brace made necessary by an early season injury.

Some who have seen plenty of Deschenes believe he’s the ‘Next One’.

According to the website, The Scouting News, there is no question he’s ready for the next step. One testimonial to his talent talks of his place with a worldly scope.

‘1997 born Fredericton defenseman Luc Deschenes is an extraordinary talent and possibly the best 97 born player in the world for his age according to one scouting guru, who has seen a lot of 97 players across Canada and USA this year and none could hold a candle to Deschenes, who could have been picked top 20 at the 2011 QMJHL draft had it been his year.’

Another reads, in part: ‘the NHL will come calling one day for this superlative defenseman …’

Kevin Pottle, the longtime Fredericton midget coach, answered directly when asked if Deschenes was ready to make the jump a year early.

"No," he said flatly on Monday. "He’s not ready, there’s no question. He’s a very strong prospect and in my view, if this was his draft year, there is no question he would be drafted and drafted quite early, absolutely no question at all. But there is still a lot for him to learn, a lot of growth and development.

"He has a combination of size, strength and skill that makes him a very appealing prospect but that being said, there are still areas of his game that need to improve," Pottle said. "We’re challenging him to improve and impose his myself on the game, manage the game and manage himself. I often equate a defenceman to a quarterback…speed it up, slow it down, take it left, take it right.

"He really has to work at imposing himself on the game…get out of your comfort zone. He does it at times but he has to do it on a consistent basis.

"He’s been able to play at the level he’s played, being dominant because physically he’s so much stronger than everybody else. But as he moves up, that’s not necessarily going to be the case. Each level you move up, it’s less and less about performing basic skills than it is being able to think and understanding the game. It’s more and more about the head."

Halifax Mooseheads’ assistant coach Jim Midgley is careful not to get too far ahead of himself when it comes to anointing Deschenes as ‘The Next One’.

Midgley, a former Sea Dogs assistant, coached Deschenes at the Canada Games in Halifax last February.

"I’m not going to lie, he was probably a half a step to a step behind but he was a 13-year-old kid," Midgley said. "I thought he got better as the tournament went on. I think physically, he’s strong enough to do it."

Midgley said the buzz around the scouting circles regarding Deschenes has quieted down this year compared to all the hype that surrounded him at the Canada Games.

"When we did our one-on-one interviews, we asked him if he felt he belonged and there was no hesitation. He said, ‘Yeah’. It wasn’t cocky, it was confident. He didn’t think he was better than anyone else and he was very coachable."

Whether Deschenes lives up to the comparisons of another Luc from New Brunswick – the late Luc Bourdon of Shippagan who was well on his way to an outstanding NHL career when a motorcycle accident took his life in 2008 – or he goes down as another can’t-miss child prodigy who did miss – does the name Tiger Wiseman ring a bell? – only time will tell.

PETER MCGUIRE

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