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2021 NHL Draft prospect profile: Zachary L’Heureux, a bull in a china shop

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He’s a forward who loves to bring the physicality, but is there more to his game than aggression?

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When compiling research for this years NHL Draft, one name that continued to pop up in mock drafts, scouting reports, and on fan wishlists was Zachary L’Heureux of the Halifax Mooseheads. Despite standing 5’11”, L’Heureux plays the game like someone much larger in terms of on-ice aggression and physicality.

After trading for Josh Anderson, and adding some sandpaper in Joel Edumundson, it isn’t hard to see why Montreal would be interested in the local centreman. He brings a certain element that the prospect pool doesn’t have right now, but he also has the skills to separate himself from past failed power forward experiments.

Birthplace: Montreal, Quebec
Date of birth: May 15, 2003
Shoots: Left
Position: Centre
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 196 lbs.
Current Team: Halifax Mooseheads

L’Heureux entered the QMJHL ranks with a lot of hype around him, a third overall pick in the draft who was a standout for Team Quebec at the Canada Winter Games where he had posted 13 points in six games. His rookie season in the Q with the Moncton Wildcats was extremely impressive, piling up 53 points in 55 games, along with 70 penalty minutes. After the season was ended by the COVID-19 Pandemic, L’Heureux was sent to Halifax to complete a trade Moncton had made for Benoit-Olivier Groulx and Jared McIssac earlier in the previous season.

He continued to produce quite well with the Mooseheads, but the overall quality of his team could not match that of the one in Moncton the previous year. L’Heureux now had to be a front-and-centre piece of the lineup, as opposed to a strong supporting player.

Elite Prospects

So what has made L’Heureux such an eye-catcher in this year’s draft?

The biggest thing that pops up repeatedly is that he doesn’t shy away from any kind of confrontation. Whether it be one-on-one with the puck on his stick or attacking someone carrying the puck, he loves to engage physically at every opportunity.

There might be some trepidation around a prospect who is primarily known for physicality only, but to assuage some of those fears there is more to his game than just a mean streak. He has very good playmaking talents, coupled with some very good hands as well, and with his urgency to attack defenders it creates a formidable offensive weapon.

While L’Heureux has that bull-in-a-china-shop mentality, he is very good at recognizing his teammates as options and getting them the puck. He is particularly good at driving in one-on-one along the right side against a defender, dangling the puck through him, and then setting up shop behind the net. From there he’s very good at feeding pucks into the high danger areas for teammates. All that thanks to his vision and his surprisingly soft hands for such a wrecking ball of a player.

Mitch Brown’s prospect tracking poject

When he isn’t acting as a playmaker, L’Heureux is a very strong shot-generator, averaging around eight shot attempts per game. Particularly of note is that he favours his backhand a lot, which is a good sign for a budding power forward who likes to hard charge into the zone frequently.

That does come with a pair of caveats however. The first being that just because there are a lot of shot attempts doesn’t mean they are all dangerous chances. A lot like Samu Tuomaala whom we previewed earlier, honing his shot selection would be a massive boost.

The other caveat with his offensive game is that his shot is okay, but not great, and will need some refinement and work to project to the next level. He can handle the puck well, but his release can improve, and will have to as he advances to the next level of hockey and there is a lot less time for him to fire off his shots.

Rankings

Elite Prospects: #27
FCHockey: #45
McKeen’s: #31
HockeyProspect: #37
NHL Central Scouting: #30 (NA Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #28
TSN/Bob McKenzie: #25
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #40

Like many prospects, there are also some concerns about his skating ability, mainly his technical aspects. Scouts noted an improvement in the second half of the season, but his actual stride results in a lot of wasted energy. With some tunig he could become a more dangerous one-on-one player. He tends to barrel into some spots, and without the skating ability to separate from opponents or the agility to shake them, he can end up trapped in spots he would rather not be.

There are also mental lapses across the board. L’Heureux was suspended four different times in the QMJHL last season, which limited him to just 33 games. One of those infractions was spitting on an opponent, which isn’t a great showcase of character and, quite frankly, disgusting. His penalty minutes were more than you might want as well, especially for someone who is supposed to be a leader on the ice. While it’s great that he wants to engage physically, he will have to learn where to draw the line to avoid hurting his team.

There was hope that his offence would take another step forward this year, and while it was respectable, it wasn’t quite what many were expecting. He thrived against the bottom-feeding Cape Breton Eagles, but struggled mightily against the Charlottetown Islanders when his team needed him to show up the most. Channelling that consistency will be a huge thing for the feisty forward’s development.

Results from our mock draft poll

It’s obvious why a team would be interested in such a player. He has a competitive streak a mile long, and backs it up with a relentless physical game. He adds a great playmaking dimension with that attacking mindset, and when coupled with his love for attacking defenders creates a unique offensive profile.

The downsides are also there. He has a discipline problem and his offensive projection isn’t overly high unless he works on his shot, plus his skating mechanics need some tweaking. However, based on the results of our mock draft poll, the fanbase would love to hear L’Heureux’s name called when the Canadiens step up to make the 30th selection on Friday night.