First impressions are generally important but results vary when it comes to a prospect playing their first season at a higher league. It depends on the league, which will determine the level of play. It depends on the team and the coaches, which will certainly determine how much or how little a player plays at said level. Of course, it depends most on the player. A strong first season can do a lot for their hopes of getting drafted high. A not-so-strong may relegate them to lower status and raise additional questions about their future. Forward Julien Nantel may fall into the latter category player as he finished his first season of major junior with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL.
Who is Julien Nantel?
As per his profile at Elite Prospects, Nantel stands at 6'0" and weighs 168 pounds. Before you bellow "To the gym with you!," his player page at the QMJHL site has him at 193 pounds. So he did get bigger during the season. The Laval, Quebec native got a taste of the QMJHL in 2012-13 but played his first full season in 2013-14 with Rouyn-Noranda. It's important to note that he's a really young prospect. He was born on September 6, 1996, so his first season was entirely when he was 17. As his numbers would indicate, he didn't exactly light the league on fire as a rookie.
Nantel's 34 points placed him tenth on his own team in scoring, the second highest scoring rookie on his team, and tied for fifteenth among rookie scoring. These are modest numbers. However, he played in the QMJHL and so there's more stats to look at. For whatever reason, the stat pages for the 'Q' is far more robust than the 'O' and the 'W.' They actually count shots. So let's look at the team's stats again. Nantel finished eighth on his team in shots with 141. This gives him a shooting percentage just under 10%. This could mean he had some bad luck, he needs to work on his shooting, he needs to shoot more, or he's just not much of a finisher. The QMJHL also counts dangerous shots, which I believe are analgous to scoring chances. In this category, Nantel comes across better. He was credited for 85, which isn't a high amount on its own. However, his percentage of dangerous shots to all shots was 60.28%. That's the fourth best percentage among all Huskies who played more than just a few games. It's also evidence that he may truly "get to the dangerous areas" for offense. It may provide some hope of an offensive game.
What Others Say About Julien Nantel
Let's begin at Elite Prospects, which has this short summary of the player:
Nantel is a solid skating two-way forward who will use his frame to protect the puck, has a scorers shot with quick release and knows where to go in the offensive zone to get that scoring chance. Consistency in his efforts needs to be improved.
Ah, the "two-way forward" designation. It sometimes seems like shorthand for a forward who doesn't score much to me, but in a bit you'll see it's an appropriate descriptor for Nantel. Anyway, I'm not sure how a guy shooting at about 10% has a scorer's shot but the blurb was cited in November 2013, so perhaps he was doing a bit better then? Knowing where to go in the zone, I can agree with knowing his percentage of dangerous shots to all shots. I'm a little curious as far as his consistency goes. Is it a function of his play or just it being his first season?
As the season moved on, Nantel got a few notices here and there. Kevin Forbes of Hockey's Future brought him up among prospects playing well in the QMJHL at the halfway mark of their season. Here's what Forbes wrote on January 10, 2014:
A speedy two-way forward, Julien Nantel has impressed in his first full season in the QMJHL. After staying in Midget AAA for most of last season and only appearing in four games with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (scoring a single goal), Nantel had an immediate impact with six points in his first eight games. Although he has cooled from that pace, the left-winger is proving to be a valuable addition to the Huskies lineup.
Seeing time in all situations, Nantel has seven goals and 21 points in 41 games this year. Able to make plays at full speed and use his skating ability to help his team at both ends of the ice, Nantel might not be a natural scorer, but his hockey sense and work ethic should guarantee he hears his name called on Draft Day.
From this, we learn that Nantel started hot but it was just that - a hot streak. He didn't produce much and while he's young and a rookie, it doesn't bode well for being a scorer at the next level. Still, he certainly displayed enough quality away from that. Additionally, Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News mentioned him in his February 4, 2014 edition of The Hot List. Here's what Kennedy had to say about him:
Though he didn’t make the team, Nantel reportedly impressed Canada’s Ivan Hlinka tournament coaches over the summer and scouts love his high energy, straight-ahead game. He’s a good skater who can kill penalties and on a deep Huskies team, he has four points in his past five games.
Kennedy brings up a key point and a positive takeaway. Nantel played on Rouyn-Noranda's penalty kill. Unfortunately, the QMJHL doesn't have ice time splits for players so it's unclear whether he played a lot or a little on it. But being on it as a rookie must mean he has some defensive game that may be noteworthy. I'd tread lightly given that the Huskies finished fourteenth out of eighteen in PK success rate last season, though. Regardless, Nantel being a good skater is another positive takeaway.
Between Forbes and Kennedy, it's clear he's a legitimate two-way forward. This should be defined as someone who can defend at least decently, as evidenced by being put on the PK, while contributing on offense, which Nantel didn't do a lot of in terms of production. That he can skate well while defending will get his name called. Just not very highly, though.
Lastly, Mike Repertorio has a description of Nantel at Pro Puck Prospects. Repertorio contributes to the NY Hockey Journal like Kirk Luedeke. Here's what he had to say about the Rouyn-Noranda forward towards the end of April:
Nantel is an explosive skater with a strong stride. Unleashing his accurate shot with a quick release, he knows how to get into the high percentage areas to get that shot off. If he can add some consistency to his offensive game, he will only become more of a threat.
However, Nantel fits the mold of a solid, two way forward. He’s got good size and is physically strong. Fighting for the puck in the corner, using his frame to protect it, he is more than capable. A hard worker, Nantel is solid in both ends of the ice.
I don't know about his accurate shot. Namely because I don't know how many attempts he took. But maybe there is something to his shot after all and it's a matter of actually using it more? Again, we know he does know how get to the high percentage areas. It's unsurprising that Repertorio called him strong as Nantel did bulk up during the season. It's beneficial for his play off the puck, I think.
An Opinion of Sorts
As I stated earlier, I believe the designation of a "two-way forward" for Nantel is appropriate. Again, he has played on the penalty kill for Rouyn-Noranda which suggests he can play at least decently on defense. He has contributed somewhat on offense while not being all that productive. In conjunction with getting stronger and being a good skater, Nantel appears to be a decent prospect.
I would think he'll go somewhere late in the second or early in the third round. He'd be far higher if he was more productive. Averaging half a point per game in his first season isn't impressive. Neither is averaging just over two shots per game. I will admit this is not knowing how Nantel was utilized with the Huskies that would certainly be a factor. Yet, as a player in junior gets older, grows into his body, and gets more experienced, increases in production are more or less expected as opposed to a sign of having skill for the next level. I'm not saying Nantel won't ever be a contributor at the next level. It would be nice to see that supposedly good shot used more often. But it's not an accident that many defensive forwards were more than just that at younger levels. Hence, he's not going to be highly touted.
Still, he is a relatively young prospect and I think he would be a good get in the third round for New Jersey if he's available. A speedy two-way forward in the pipeline isn't bad. And, who knows, he may blossom a bit. They may want to consider more offensive players at that spot. Yet, the dearth of forwards in the system means that most should be welcomed. I wouldn't complain too much unless someone far better was passed up. Will he be available by then? Maybe. It depends on how much scouts value what he's good ahead of his results so far.
Now that you've read all this, what's your opinion of Julien Nantel as a prospect? What do you make of his first season with Rouyn-Noranda? Did you catch him playing in the 'Q' this season? Would you want the Devils to draft him if he's available in the third round? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Julien Nantel in the comments. Thank you for reading.