Tue Jun 25 12:00pm EDT
Jérémy Grégoire's draft season illustrates how the path to success often moves in a very jagged line, rather than the straight one we would all prefer.
The 17-year-old forward admits he had a bottoming-out during the first half of his sophomore year in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League before being part of an intra-division trade which sent him from the Chicoutimi Saguenéens to the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. In his new surroundings, Grégoire meshed well with Drakkar coach Éric Veilleux and ended up playing an important role as a tough-minded forward with some offensive know-how, as he produced nine goals and 16 points in 18 post-season contests for the QMJHL runners-up.
"I went to Ivan Hlinka and it went pretty well," says Grégoire, who helped Canada win the annual August under-18 showcase tournament. "I played as a fourth-line centre, a checker, winning some faceoffs. That was a tough role that I'd never had but I accomplished it pretty well. Pre-season, I injured my knee and tried to come back from it too fast. I forgot that it's a 68-game season.
"When I came back, my knee wasn't good and I was being negative. It was kind of a vicious circle. After the trade, I just thought, 'okay, I'm starting at zero.' After that, it wasn't that bad. The coach, he knew how to manage me. I'm exactly like him when he was playing."
The 6-foot, 188-pound Grégoire was 79th among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking in April and likely projects to be a fourth or fifth-round choice at Sunday's draft in Newark. The Sherbrooke, Que., native, who had 19 goals and 32 points over 62 games with the Sags and the Drakkar, offers strong work ethic and is considered a natural goal scorer. Over the long term, his skating might dictate that he is more suited to being a wing instead of centre.
It's known whether scoring ability is hereditary. Grégoire's father, Jean-François Grégoire, was a 45-goal man in the QMJHL who was also a top scorer for the Moncton Aigles Bleu when they won the University Cup in 1995, just a few months before Jérémy was born.
The elder Grégoire, who's now bantam coach and works in player recruitment for the QMJHL, had a minor pro career took him to outposts such as Tulsa, Okla., and Abilene, Texas. That meant young Jérémy had a unique introduction to becoming fluently bilingual.
"It was a good age to be learning a new language," he laughs. "I had the country accent. I still have the cowboy hat they gave me but I don't wear it anymore, too small."
1. How much did playing for Éric Veilleux help your progress this season?
"We skated a lot under Éric, he's a pretty intense coach. I liked it a lot. He's a guy who's a lot like me. I fit in really well with Baie-Comeau's style. We had success and that was good for the team."
2. Which NHL player(s) do you study because you believe your style of play will be like his (or theirs) once you mature??
"I like [the Pittsburgh Penguins' Jarome] Iginla a lot, as a winger. I try to play a bit like him. He's a tough guy, makes his own space, will drop [the gloves] when someone bothers him, can score goals. When I'm a centre, maybe [the Boston Bruins'] Patrice Bergeron. He's a good two-way forward and he's French-Canadian too, so I watch him too."
3. Who was the toughest defenceman you faced in the league this season?
"[Detroit Red Wings second-rounder and Blainville-Boisbrand Armada's] Xavier Ouellet. When you're a winger on the backcheck, he can pass you by, almost like a fourth forward. One-on-one, tough. He played for Team Canada [at the world junior championship]. And maybe the German from Halifax, [graduating overage] Konrad Abeltshauser. He's a got a good reach. You can pass by him, but he can still reach out and poke-check you."
4. Where is your favourite road rink in the QMJHL?
"When I was playing in Chicoutimi it was Baie-Comeau and now that I play for Baie-Comeau it's probably Halifax [where the Drakkar played during the President's Cup final].
"I like some big rinks with a lot of people. It's not often you have the chance to play in front of 10,000 people. I like the Colisée too but in Halifax you hear a lot more of the atmosphere."
5. Athletes have to really strict about their nutrition. So what's your favourite junk food?
"I'm pretty by-the-book. I cheat once every two weeks. I like candy sometimes, like jujubes."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.