Name: Jakob Pelletier
Team: Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
Position: Left wing
Stats: 65 games played, 39 goals, 50 assists, 89 points, 24 PIMs, +27 plus/minus rating
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 27th (North American Skaters)
Comparable NHL player: Mats Zuccarello
If there’s one lesson that’s been made crystal clear over and over and over again through the past decade of NHL entry drafts, it’s to not sleep too much on small players with skill.
Now, there’s no doubt that smaller players face a disadvantage in hockey. They get pushed off of pucks more easily, they don’t have as much reach on their stick and they’re not able to naturally cover as much ice with their skating because their strides are shorter.
However, a lack of size is not a disqualification. If a player has the skill, the smarts, and the work ethic, that’s all that they need to succeed in the NHL.
Luckily for Moncton Wildcats left winger Jakob Pelletier, no three attributes describe his game better than skill, smarts, and work ethic.
Hockey has always come pretty easily for the 5-foot-9 winger from Quebec City, who was a phenom in his home province from a very young age and was chosen third overall in the 2017 QMJHL draft. He has natural hockey sense and a feel for the puck, the kind that you simply cannot teach.
What makes Pelletier so special, though, is how he approaches the sport and the work that he puts in. Some players have the natural sense and the skill, and then coast a little too much because of how easily the game comes to them — but not Pelletier. He’s aggressive without the puck, churning his feet and chasing down whoever has it, even if it means going into dirty areas. He’s also tough to strip the puck from when he does have it, twisting and turning along the boards or pushing hard to get just enough speed to gain separation from opposing defenders. He’s pretty fearless for a guy his size, carrying the puck into traffic to generate a scoring chance even if he takes some physical punishment for doing so.
With his hockey sense and his intensity, it’s no surprise that Pelletier kills penalties, something that will probably carry over into the NHL as well. He’s definitely going to become a coach’s favorite because of how hard he works and his knowledge of knowing what to do in all situations.
When someone talks about a guy “playing hard” or “being hard to play against,” many people often assume this is directly related to big, strong players, but that’s not always the case. Smaller guys can “play hard” as well, and Pelletier is a prime example of that. It should also be mentioned that he does this without crossing the line and playing dirty, like someone such as Brad Marchand does.
But for all that Pelletier does well, though, you do come away wondering a little bit about his offensive upside. His skating, puck skill, playmaking, and shooting are all very good — but none of them are at an elite level. He’s a jack-of-all-trades sort of forward, which definitely has value, yet his lack of specialization might limit just how much usage he gets in the NHL. There’s no doubt that he’ll be a very good second-line forward (or an elite third-liner on a deep roster) when he reaches his peak, but will he be a top-line guy? That’s difficult to say confidently.
While it’s a little odd to think of a 5-foot-9 forward as a “safe” pick, that description certainly fits Pelletier. What you see now is a very good approximation of what you’ll get out of him when he’s fully developed. You don’t need to worry much about his development because you know that he’s going to put the necessary work in. That being said, there is also still a chance that he does surprise you down the road and reach a higher level than expected.
For the Dallas Stars and their pick at 18th overall, Pelletier would help fill a need in the organization’s prospect pool. They don’t have many forward prospects who can think the game, control the puck and make plays like he can, which would make him a nice complement to all the power forwards already on hand. As good as Pelletier is, however, there will be at least a few other prospects still available at No. 18 who will likely have higher upsides.
The Stars showed how much they value character when they picked Ty Dellandrea 13th overall in 2018 — will we see that same kind of priority again in 2019?