The 2020 NHL Entry Draft is coming up, and this year’s draft class has the potential to be one of the best in recent memory. For the entire month of May, we will be profiling each of the top prospects available in the draft — many of whom could be candidates to be selected by the Minnesota Wild. Follow along as we dive deep into the strengths and weaknesses of each notable player eligible to be drafted.
While the 2020 NHL Entry Draft may be one of the deepest draft classes in recent history, very few of the eligible blue-chip prospects are defensemen. Alexis Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield, Tim Stutzle, Marco Rossi and Cole Perfetti — all forwards — could be the first five prospects selected, and aside from Jamie Drysdale, one could argue that there are no other defensemen worthy of being selected in the top 10.
More than likely, it’s toward the middle of the first round that teams desperate for help on the back end will start nabbing defensemen. Jake Sanderson, Kaiden Guhle and Justin Barron, for example, all figure to be taken at some point in the middle-to-late first round. But one defensive prospect that has a lot of people talking is Saint John Sea Dogs blueliner Jeremie Poirier.
Poirier, a native of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield in southwestern Quebec, is being lauded as one of the most gifted offensive defensemen in the 2020 class. Few players (forwards included) are more fun to watch with the puck on their stick than Poirier, and after his 2019-20 campaign, it’s hard not to be enamored with the 17-year-old’s raw talent.
2019-20 season review
Poirier certainly had his fair share of growing pains as a rookie in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2018-19. In 61 games, he collected a grand total of six goals and 21 points. As flawed as the plus-minus statistic is, he finished his rookie campaign with an absolutely atrocious minus-41 rating, which was the sixth-worst of all QMJHL defensemen in 2018-19.
As a second-year player for the Sea Dogs, though, Poirier took a major leap forward, becoming one of the more electrifying players in the league. In 64 games, Poirier registered a league-best 20 goals for a defenseman and 53 points, which ranked second out of all QMJHL blueliners behind only his teammate William Villeneuve.
While Poirier did improve significantly in his second season, however, he remains an extremely divisive prospect due to his deficiencies in the defensive zone. Like his rookie season, Poirier was on the ice for a huge number of goals against, and it’s clear that his play away from the puck needs some serious work before he can play on an NHL roster.
Let’s start with the positives. With the puck on his stick, Poirier is flat out magical. Averaging close to a point per game as a 17-year-old in the QMJHL isn’t easy, but Poirier pulled it off in style. He made ridiculous plays that brought fans out of their seats on a nightly basis, and much of this is thanks to his elite puck skills. His hands are sickening — in a good way. It was almost routine to see him make a dazzling end-to-end rush that resulted in a quality scoring opportunity. The Sea Dogs even used him in shootouts pretty regularly.
While Poirier still has a good amount of developing to do, you can already see a little bit of Shea Theodore in his game. More so than any other defenseman in this year’s draft, Poirier is capable of creating something out of absolutely nothing.
Though Poirier’s puck skills are what set him apart, he also possesses a very good shot. His wrister is deadly, and he can score from anywhere on the ice. His ability to consistently get pucks through traffic is impressive, and it appears he knows it. In 2019-20, he led all QMJHL defensemen by a country mile in shots on goal with 261 on the season. In fact, only five skaters in the league — including the consensus No. 1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere — fired more shots on goal than Poirier this past season.
For better or worse, Poirier loves to shoot the puck. This can be an issue, however, as he sometimes ignores clear passing lanes in order to beat the goalie himself.
Without a doubt, Poirier is a special talent in the offensive zone. But with any player as offensively gifted as Poirier is, there come some ugly gaffes. Poirier was especially susceptible to these last season. He would try too often to create plays on his own, which frequently led to ugly turnovers and unnecessary goals against.
Surprisingly, Poirier’s overconfidence is but a minor issue in comparison to his play away from the puck. Defensively, he is a total mess. The amount of times he was beaten on the rush last season was staggering. While he does have an active stick, Poirier often stops moving his feet when an opposing attacker picks up speed. He regularly fails to challenge rushers at the blue line, which gives the opposition additional time and space to create a scoring chance. Poirier’s skating is solid, but due to his poor gap control and complete lack of defensive awareness, he sometimes looks like a pylon when guarding against the rush.
And this is just junior hockey. In the NHL, this type of play in the defensive zone is flat out unacceptable.
It’s hard to tell what the future holds for Jeremie Poirier. On one hand, he’s one of the most talented prospects in the 2020 class. His puck skills are absurd, and he has the abilities offensively to register a ton of points in the NHL. However, his play in the defensive zone simply cannot be overlooked. He has a ton of growing to do in that area, and if he is unable to play more of a two-way game, it’s possible he could struggle to make an NHL roster. Some believe he could be more of a fit as a forward in the pros, but a shift to a completely different position may be a bit too extreme. Poirier can be a good defenseman in the NHL, but it will take years of development.