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2020 NHL Draft prospect profile: Hendrix Lapierre will be one of the biggest gambles

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He’s one of the best playmakers in the draft. Will a team get to see that at the NHL level?

Andre Emond | LHJMQ

Hendrix Lapierre finished the 2018-19 season with a short but productive playoff run for the Chicoutimi Saguenéens — five points in four games — after nearly hitting the point-per-game mark in the regular season. In fact, that draft-minus-one season ranked second-best among QMJHL players at that stage of their development, his 0.94 points per game behind only Alexis Lafrenière (who nearly doubled him at 1.72). It was more than enough justification for Chicoutimi’s decision to select him with the first overall pick in the 2018 QMJHL draft.

He rejoined the team for the start of 2019-20, looking to hold a similar position behind Lafrenière on NHL Draft lists. But everything went wrong in that critical campaign.

Birthplace: Gatineau, Quebec
Date of birth: February 9, 2002
Shoots: Left
Position: Centre
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 181 lbs.
Draft-Year Team: Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)

He sustained several concussions in the opening months of the season, and the result was just 19 games played. By the middle of November, he was out long term with head and neck issues, and the abrupt end of the season in March prevented any comeback.

Even in that limited sample, he didn’t put himself over the hump of the point-per-game pace, coming in just under it once more. More concerning was a glaring goal total, just two markers in nearly a third of a season, that raised serious questions about his offensive game.

Elite Prospects

It was a surprising number given the performance he had in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup leading up to the new season. With Team Canada, he scored three goals in the tournament’s five games, adding eight assists as well. All eyes were on him when the season began, and he appeared to shrivel under the spotlight.

The goal-scoring issue stems from how poor his shot is. It’s a very slow release, and he holds his hands quite far apart on his stick. That not only prevents him from getting any power on his shot, but also keeps it quite low on the ice.

It’s such an ineffective tool that he usually just abandons it altogether, making passes to teammates instead. He’ll do that even with a clear shooting lane and a teammate being double-teamed, convinced that his own shot would be stopped.

Fortunately for him, that passing is exceptionally good. Even with the lane closed off, he can thread a pass to a teammate’s stick for a scoring chance. He was one of the best prospects at setting up shots in his 19-game sample, proving that his playmaking could compensate for his lack of goal-scoring.

His passes benefit form not just his accuracy, but that he can execute his plays at speed, in transition, and around opponents. Defencemen have a difficult time just keeping up with him when he’s in top gear, and that’s before he decides to show off his puck-handling skills to beat them.

He isn’t afraid to attack the middle of the ice, so while he isn’t much of a threat to score on his own, defenders can’’t just sit back and wait for him to attempt something from the perimeter. They need to challenge him in open ice to prevent a play coming from closer to their net.

Few defencemen have hand skills to match Lapierre’s, so he can beat them with a quick deke to one side or the other as they go for a pokecheck, or simply play the puck right through them as they try to maintain a gap. The best way to get the puck through multiple bodies is to pick your way past one of two of them to begin with.

Rankings

Elite Prospects: #30
Future Considerations: #27
Hockey Prospect: #27
McKeen’s Hockey: #20
McKenzie/TSN: #15
NHL Central Scouting: #13 (North American skaters)

He has the ability to stickhandle his way toward the net, but he does tend to rely on it too much in his transition game. He had a very poor completion rate for controlled entries in 2019-20, prevented from showing off his passing ability on the majority of the rushes he led.

Mitch Brown’s Tracking Project

On defence, he anticipates the play of opponents and patiently waits for his chance to strike rather than using brute force to create turnovers. He plays a disciplined game, relying on good positioning to be effective, and that earned him some time on the penalty kill. No scout is going to recommend him based on that play in his own end, however, judging him solely on how likely he is to become a top-six forward at the NHL level.

Based on last year’s totals, and the one-dimensional nature of his offence, many teams will likely say the chances of that coming to fruition are low, and pass on him entirely. Others will see the stick-handling, play-making base, and believe that foundation can be built upon. What would truly open up his offensive game is a more threatening shot, and that should be the area anyone in charge of his development — including him — targets as the most important.

Perhaps that’s what he spent the last 44 weeks working on as he recovered from his concussions and then waited at home during the pandemic. In the first game of the new QMJHL season on Friday night, he matched his goal total from last year, with a two-goal, two-assist performance.

The dearth of goals was one of the top concerns with his game, and why many outlets dropped him to a projection late in the first round. There isn’t much a prospect can do in a couple of games to raise his draft stock after scouts have pored over hundreds of hours of video and interviews, but Lapierre may be one of the few who can show enough improvement in their worst aspect to make a jump.

Will a hot start be a sign that the concussion issues are a thing of the past, and an indication of a turnaround? Or will scouts be wary of the excitement they felt at the international under-18 tournament last year only to never witness that level of play again? In a draft loaded with talented players at the top, discovering over the next several seasons that last year’s play was the true indication of his talent could be a disaster. If he does begin to put together a full bag of offensive tricks, one team’s gamble could pay off in a major way.