Drafted second overall in the 2014 QMJHL draft, Pascal Laberge never reached the potential the Gatineau Olympiques initially saw in him. The centre put up just four goals and six assists in 27 games with the team before being traded to the Victoriaville Tigres partway through his rookie season. He performed a bit better in his new surroundings, with six goals and 15 assists in 31 games to end the year.
With a chance to turn things around in his second year, he started off at a slightly better pace though still not at the level expected of him, partially due to dealing with some serious medical issues in his family during the off-season. He had a meeting with his coach, Bruce Richardson, to discuss his situation, and it was decided that Laberge would switch to wing from his normal centre position to focus purely on the offensive aspects of the game, and move away from the defensive responsibilities he'd struggled under in his QMJHL career to that point. He began to turn things around after that discussion in early December.
His run was halted when he broke his hand, and his return delayed when he broke the same hand before the recovery was complete. The scouts were impressed enough from his limited sample to give him a spot in the CHL Top Prospects game, and from there his season took off.
Birthplace: Châteauguay, Quebec
Position: Right Wing
Placed on a line with Pierre-Luc Dubois, Laberge scored the first two goals of the game for Team Orr, and set up Dubois for the game-winner. For his efforts, Laberge was named the player of the game, and saw his draft stock rise after the showcase.
Not content to have that game be his only major impression of the season, Laberge took the confidence he'd gained from the exhibition event back to Victoriaville. The result was a 1.5-points-per-game scoring rate over the remainder of the season. He finished with 68 points in the 56 games he was able to play (more than double the production he'd achieved in 58 games the previous season), adding five more in five playoff games for Victoriaville.
He went from being a player who seemed to be letting the play guide him around the ice to one who dictated how it would unfold in the second half of the year. While not a power-forward type, weighing it at just 174 pounds, he started to assert himself more physically in puck battles along the boards, gaining more time with the puck to use his lauded offensive skills.
He's regarded as one of the most unpredictable playmakers in the draft, with a good shot, quick dekes, and the ability to make hard, accurate passes in his toolbox, and has the skating ability and vision to put them to good use. He uses that awareness to find the quiet areas to get open for a pass.
It's one thing to out-battle defencemen in the junior ranks, and quite another to do so in the NHL, making the biggest concern about Laberge's game how well his offensive style will translate to the professional level.
While the majority of his 23 goals were scored at even strength, he put up half of his assists on the power play; his 22 helpers ranking as the 14th-highest power-play total in the QMJHL.
Curtis Joe, Elite Prospects (2014)
Pascal Laberge is a tough and spirited two-way forward with a high level of hockey sense. Hunts for turnovers and causes havoc whenever he is on the ice. Uses his size well to shield the puck, exert physical force, and win board battles. Has a good set of goal-scorer's hands, but tends to use them more to pass than anything. All-in-all, an efficient, yet exciting, two-way forward with potential to develop into a playmaking goal scorer.
Future Considerations (June, 2016)
Since moving from centre to the wing, he has started to be a more consistent offensive player. Explosive skater, good hands and smart player who can anticipate the play. Started to drive the play a bit more. Could end up in a top-six, goal-scoring role with his offensive skill and shot.
Jérôme Bérubé, Hockey Prospect Black Book (June, 2016)
Much better on the wing than at centre, but he still remains a frustrating player on the ice in terms of his decision-making, most notably in passing situations.
ISS Hockey (June, 2016)
Laberge’s two years in the QMJHL have been a roller coaster ride, both on and off the ice, and it shows in the development of this former second-overall pick in the QMJHL Draft. His play in the second half of this season and the playoffs has been his best and most consistent. Good size, competitive winger. He has a good shot and good hands. He's a good skater but didn't show a lot of speed. He plays the game in the quiet areas of the ice, with limited to no physical or defensive presence, but always seems to be around the puck. He has very good vision and passing ability. Does not carry the puck through the neutral zone, but elects for smart, hard, and quick short passes to advance the puck.
Future Considerations: 23rd
ISS Hockey: 30th
Central Scouting service: 28th (North American skaters)
Hockey Prospect Black Book: 48th
DraftBuzz Hockey: 19th
The Draft Analyst: 19th
Some outlets have Laberge going in the middle third of the draft, while others place him nearer to the end. Not impressed with his four-point output during the Under-18 World Championship at the end of the season, Hockey Prospect dropped him to 48th in their final rankings from the 29th spot he occupied at the end of February.
Laberge is a skilled player, and a decent gamble when the talent begins to taper off toward to bottom half of the first round. For a team lacking top-end offensive players (like the Anaheim Ducks or St. Louis Blues), he could be a good use of a late first-round pick.
There's a chance he will still be on the board when the Montreal Canadiens' pick comes up at 39, but, being expected by many to add a similar type of player like Tyson Jost or Clayton Keller with their first selection, the Habs may choose to address another area of organizational weakness at that point, perhaps looking to add defencemen with their two second-round picks.
Laberge needs some development time before making the jump to the NHL, and will be an offence-first player even when that development is completed, so a team will need to be confident that they will be able to afford to give him the role he can thrive in if they are to call his name on the weekend of the draft.