After injuries limited his action with the QMJHL’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar in 2014-15, Jeremy Grégoire was able to dress for 62 games with the St. John’s IceCaps in his first professional season.
His defensive play was evident in his bottom-six role with the team throughout the year, being a reliable presence in his own end for a team with many young forwards more tuned to the offensive aspects of the game.
He made an impression in the junior ranks with his all-around ability, combining that defensive-zone prowess with good offensive numbers. In fact, in his final two years of junior, he scored above a point-per-game pace in both the regular and post-season.
That offence did not follow Grégoire to St. John’s for his first year, as he made very little impact on the scoreboard. His six goals and five assists ranked him 19th on the team. With the club desperate to outscore the poor defensive play that plagued their ill-fated run to the playoffs, it must have been a frustrating season for the rookie. He did get a scoring boost while playing with Mark MacMillan toward the end of the season, perhaps signalling an end to what may have just been an extended slump.
As a result of that poor offensive output, with a few promising prospects being added to the organization at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Grégoire dropped a few spots: from 20th last time out to a tie for the 25th and final spot (with Max Friberg) in 2016.
Rankings for Grégoire ranged from 18 to 33, though only six panelists placed him outside of the top 25.
Top 25 Under 25 history
He had seen a steady rise through the ranks as his QMJHL career progressed before last season’s fall. Officially a 21-year-old by the rules of this project, he has four more years to get that trend back on track.
Despite the poor season, there’s still a decent amount of confidence in the young forward, because he has the all-around ability to play whatever role his team needs.
He can play anywhere in the bottom six, and, if last year was as much of an anomaly as his junior point and shot totals suggest, will likely develop into a second-line-calibre offensive player in the AHL. He had a strong showing at development camp in July, scoring three goals on the opening day of the prospect scrimmages, so there is evidence that this year will go much better for the Sherbrooke, Quebec native.
At 6’0”, 194 pounds, Grégoire has a solid build and throws his mass around to dislodge the puck from opponents in all zones. He’s a hard-nosed player and has gotten a lot of his offence from right in front of the net.
The downside of that physical style is that he has spent a lot of time in the penalty box, but it’s largely because of his ferocity that he’s made it to the professional ranks. Last year, he played a more controlled game and had a low penalty-minutes-per-game total relative to his previous history.
The most concerning thing about Grégoire may be the way he responded to the difficult year in 2015-16. Realizing he wasn’t making the impression with his offence that he thought himself capable of, he turned to his fists to get attention from teammates and the coaching staff.
As is the case for most players who are ultimately hoping to make it as a bottom-six forward in the NHL, discipline is a vital trait for a player who sees limited time in a role designed to give the top offensive talents a break. Sitting in the box for five minutes as one of the few defensive forwards (which he will be this season in St. John’s) will be of no benefit to his team.
If he can find his offensive game, he’ll be one of the IceCaps most versatile forwards this fall. With several veterans, including captain Gabriel Dumont not returning, he has a chance to put the leadership skills he was rewarded for in Baie-Comeau to good use.
St. John’s will have a few forwards who will be relied upon for the major offensive production, but Grégoire can be a supplementary piece in the farm team’s bid for a first playoff appearance in six years.
His defensive play will be his most important asset to a team that has seen a lot of turnover this summer. With his ability to go up against the opposition’s top players, forwards like Nikita Scherbak, Michael McCarron, and Martin Réway can be given more favourable deployments to help develop their offensive games. If Grégoire can put up 25-30 points in that role, the team will be in very good position to qualify for the post-season.
As for his NHL career, he projects to be an energy/shutdown fourth-liner, or a third-line winger. Right now, the Montreal Canadiens are filled to the brim with that type of player, but the story could be very different in a few years’ time.
At just 20 years of age, there is lots of time for Grégoire to work on his few weaknesses, and I believe he has a very good chance of becoming a bottom-six NHLer.