In terms of 2021 NHL Draft needs, the New Jersey Devils should be on the hunt for two main groups of players: defensemen and goal scorers. For today’s Draft Profile, we will be taking a look at a particularly aggressive goal scorer from the QMJHL. If you like grit, you might like this guy.
Who is Zachary L’Heureux?
Born on May 13, 2003 in Montreal, Quebec, Zachary L’Heureux has spent his last two seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In 2019-20, L’Heureux played for the Moncton Wildcats before being traded to the Halifax Mooseheads during the extended offseason. L’Heureux did not allow the change to affect his development, nearly matching his 2019-20 goal total in 22 fewer games.
As you might notice from a quick glance at L’Heureux’s statistics, he is not afraid of taking penalties. In Major Juniors, L’Heureux has 147 penalty minutes in 88 games. At least some of this is from fighting, as Hockey Fights lists him as getting into two regular season fights in 2020-21 and four in 2019-20. So with his fights taken out of the equation of his penalty minutes, L’Heureux still takes so many penalties that he has more PIMs in Juniors than games played by a wide margin. Smaht Scouting stated in their review of L’Heureux that he was suspended four times in 2021.
As for what he does when he is not in the penalty box, Zachary L’Heureux is apparently more of a one-way player despite his reputation as a defensively capable forward in the QMJHL. He receives penalty killing duties, but struggles with consistently creating defensive zone exits while on the ice. He is not ungifted in transition, though, as his ability to enter the offensive zone and get dangerous shots on goal is among the best in the 2021 Draft. From Mitch Brown, here are his percentile scores in the past year:
Where L’Heureux is Ranked:
What Others Have to Say About Him:
Ben Kerr at Last Word on Sports writes glowingly about L’Heureux’s goal scoring ability. While this praise does not carry over so much into his playmaking, this is what the Devils are looking for:
L’Heureux is a pure goal scorer. He has an excellent wrist shot and a quick release. He also has a good snapshot, slap shot and one-timer. His shots are accurate and powerful. L’Heureux is not afraid to play in the dirty areas of the ice, relishing the battles in front of the net.
However, there are some limitations on L’Heureux’s ability to create goals for himself. When evaluating his skating, Kerr notes a “very good lower-body strength…a low centre of gravity” but regards his straight-line speed as average at best. If L’Heureux wants to get shots on goal in the NHL, he’s going to have to improve his speed or become an excellent puck protector.
Steve Kournianos is not particularly high on L’Heureux, viewing him solidly as a second-round prospect due to some “inconsistencies” in his game. Kournianos writes about L’Heureux in his May ranking:
Another enigmatic prospect who once was on our preseason top-32. There’s a lot of chatter about L’Heureux’s on-ice discipline issues following multiple suspensions, but we care a lot more about his complete insignificance against a strong Charlottetown squad (6 points in 15 games) versus his total domination of lowly Cape Breton (28 points in 13 games). Fiery and talented with the puck, L’Heureux’s inconsistencies need to be rectified.
In Dobber Prospects’ March ranking of the 2021 Draft Prospects, Brayden Olafson gave the rundown on Zachary L’Heureux. Olafson mostly focuses on the edge L’Heureux has in his game, though he notes his skating inefficiencies.
Stylistically, L’Heureux telegraphs between James Van Riemsdyk and Tom Wilson player types on a shift-by-shift basis, thrilling with his creativity and never-say-die mentality one minute, and demolishing a defenseman on the forecheck the next. His alluring intricacy and strength with the puck is a skill that for now, mitigates his lack of elite footspeed. At the end of the day, the unhinged nature of L’Heureux’s game could be both a blessing and a curse for the team who selects him.
Now, this is probably where people may be split on Zachary L’Heureux. I strongly hold that the NHL does not need more Tom Wilsons. However, L’Heureux can be convinced, as Miles Wood seems to have been, that he is better off on the ice than in the penalty box, the Devils need physically capable forwards like him.
L’Heureux on Video:
This video is another shift-by-shift record from Devils in the Details. This is one of L’Heureux’s games against Cape Breton, which Steve Kournianos regarded as rather weak competition that L’Heureux feasted on.
L’Heureux has an early penalty kill shift at 0:35, and his swipe at the puck knocks it back into the corner. However, despite his hustle, L’Heureux is unable to elongate the Cape Breton breakout beyond the initial swipe at the puck. At 1:50, L’Heureux takes a loose puck at the blueline and has a clear lane to his teammate on an odd-man rush. However, his teammate is unable to bury the shot.
On the power play at 2:13, L’Heureux takes his spot on the goal line and the netfront. Halifax, however, had trouble getting good looks early in the power play, and had to collect a clearing by Cape Breton. L’Heureux attempts to center the puck from the goal line at 3:38, but was unable to get it through the three opposition players in the passing lane. At 4:15, L’Heureux loses the puck on the wall and allows Cape Breton to make a clearing attempt, which went out of play. The faceoff returns to the Halifax offensive zone, and L’Heureux creates chaos in the crease with a wraparound attempt.
During the penalty kill starting at 5:18, L’Heureux employs the one-knee down block on two shot attempts, successfully blocking one and clearing the puck down the ice. At 6:40, L’Heureux gets a prime scoring chance at even strength and collects his own rebound off the save – but his rebound attempt goes wide. Ten seconds later, L’Heureux protects the puck with a Cape Breton forward on his back as he turns from the boards to the center of the offensive zone, and his shot attempt forces the Cape Breton goaltender to deal with a tricky puck.
Back on the penalty kill at 8:51, L’Heureux is caught reaching with his stick too much and is too flat footed to stop a Cape Breton forward from receiving a pass and getting to the front of the net for a shot attempt. L’Heureux then loses his stick in the neutral zone at 9:10, and does not retrieve a stick so he can try to block passes with his legs. He fails to do so, but no harm is done as the goalie freezes the puck.
On the power play at 16:15, L’Heureux is at the netfront when Halifax scores on a slap shot. Then, at 16:30, L’Heureux takes the puck from the faceoff dot as the centers were tied up, and he throws up a backhand at the goal. This creates a rebound goal for Halifax and an assist for L’Heureux. At 19:53, L’Heureux finally shows off his hitting ability…by boarding a Cape Breton defender into the corner. At 22:32, on the power play, L’Heureux evades two checkers as his deke attempt ends up being a pass to his teammate, who finishes the drive to the net and scores. He then appears to be awarded a buzzer-beating empty net goal at 23:55, but the video ends before you can definitively see if the goal stood.
Now, here’s a compilation of several clips from this season for L’Heureux in Halifax.
My Final Thoughts
I am decidedly mixed in my opinion on Zachary L’Heureux. Had the Devils not given away their 2021 Second Round Draft Pick for already-discarded forward Nikita Gusev (I’m still mad at Ruff/Fitz for how they handled him this year), I would have viewed L’Heureux as being a good early second round option. However, the Devils do not have the luxury of picking at the end of the first and the start of the second.
Most of my issues with L’Heureux stem from his skating. I do not think he has the speed or first step necessary to be a top line forward in the NHL. But this affects his defensive ability just as much as his offensive output. When I watched L’Heureux on the penalty kill, I noticed he hardly ever brought pressure to the puck carrier, and it seems like his close-out speed is subpar. In the NHL, his lack of acceleration and speed will kill him defensively, as his positioning is only decent and he mostly relied on shot blocking on the penalty kill in the shift tape I watched. I would prefer to see him improve his foot speed so he can dish out more hits like this:
Zachary L’Heureux (#2021NHLDraft) is an intriguing player.
L’Heureux is a strong forward who has good puck skills and isn’t afraid to get physical. Here he lays a big hip check and then generates a nice offensive chance. Not bad for a rookie (who led the #QMJHL in rookie points) pic.twitter.com/o7DoKttlZE
— Tony Ferrari (@theTonyFerrari) May 10, 2020
And while L’Heureux attempts to make up for his below average skating with strength on the puck, he either does not have nearly enough strength to stay on his feet consistently or cannot combine his strength with stickhandling to protect the puck. These problems will only get worse in the NHL. If he does not vastly improve his skating, L’Heureux is going to have to work on his hands so he can work through checks better. The one thing L’Heureux does have going for him skating-wise is his edgework and agility when he is already in full motion – so I think he is at least capable of developing the stickhandling necessary to be a successful slow-ish power forward.
And on that note, while his power play position at the goal line made me think of Pat Maroon, he does not possess the passing ability to play that spot. I would rather have seen him in the faceoff circles where he could be a triggerman, considering his reputation for his wrist shot. L’Heureux makes excellent plays from time to time, but struggles with congestion-like defense by opposition. The more people he has to beat, the more likely he is to lose the puck on due to his lack of tight-space moves. However, when he can rely on simple puck protection, L’Heureux is golden.
This is not to say, though, that L’Heureux will not occasionally just go right through a defender and make you wonder (“how did he even do that?”) as the goal light comes on. And a look at some of his rookie QMJHL season highlights shows he might just struggle with consistency. But therein lies the point – until he expands his bag of tricks, opposition will be able to adjust to him over time. I would not be upset with picking L’Heureux with the Islanders’ First Rounder, but it highly depends on if anyone better falls from the lottery. I understand why he was formerly ranked so high, but I am a bit wary of his defensive and skating ability – so he would be an interesting pick to say the least.
What do you think about Zachary L’Heureux? Do you think he will be an effective power forward in the NHL? How do you feel about his disciplinary issues? Do you think his skating is something to worry about? How do you feel about his defensive reputation compared to his video record? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.