Name: Hendrix Lapierre
Team: Chicoutimi Saguenéens (QMJHL)
Stats: 19 games played, 2 goals, 15 assists, 17 points, 10 PIMs, +4 plus/minus rating
NHL Central Scouting ranking: 13th (North American skaters)
Comparable NHL players: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins / David Krejci
By the middle of August 2019, it looked like Hendrix Lapierre was primed and ready for an enormous 2019-20 season.
Back then, the playmaking center was coming off of an incredible performance at the 2019 Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he formed a deadly duo with fellow 2020 prospect Cole Perfetti and helped Canada to a silver medal with a whopping 11 points in five games. It wasn’t exactly an unexpected showing, either, as Lapierre had been a star player for a long time before then: he was selected 1st overall in the 2018 QMJHL Entry Draft, and then finished just shy of a point-per-game average in his rookie year in that league, with 45 points in 48 contests.
By November, however, not only was Lapierre’s season over, but his future in hockey altogether had been put into question.
The native of Gatineau, Quebec, suffered an injury on October 23rd that was believed to be a concussion. He missed two weeks of action and returned for six games, but then took another hard hit on November 21st that was believed to have caused another concussion. Add in a third concussion, which occurred in February 2019, to make three in less than a calendar year.
All of a sudden, things got scary. Lapierre was was dealing with daily debilitating headaches, and there’s no shortage of information out there these days about the long-term risks of repeated concussions in players.
But just when the situation was looking its darkest, a glimmer of hope emerged: the headaches that he was dealing with might not have been caused by concussions at all.
As TSN’s Mark Masters reported in April:
Symptoms persisted until mid-February when Lapierre realized his headaches were only happening for a brief time every morning. His agent and family looked to get more information.
Lapierre went for an MRI and X-ray and sought out three different specialists. The diagnosis was consistent from all three: Lapierre was actually dealing with a spinal injury. A few of his vertebrae were “twisted and stuck,” Lapierre said. He worked with a physiotherapist and chiropractor and the headaches soon disappeared.
Considering how hard it was to move the vertebrae, the belief from the specialists, Lapierre says, is the injury was sustained way back in February 2019 at the same time when he was first concussed.
While the experts can’t be 100 per cent certain, it’s possible that Lapierre only sustained one concussion and the other problems this season were the direct result of the vertebrae issue being re-aggravated.
“Being diagnosed with three concussions in 10 months was worrying for me, my family and my future in hockey,” Lapierre admits. “The new diagnosis is a really big relief and I feel confident going into next season that I’ll be able to have success. I’ve strengthened my neck a lot.”
Lapierre has officially been cleared to play since then and, were it not for COVID-19, would have returned in time for the opening round of the playoffs for his team, the Chicoutimi Saguenéens.
The big question for scouts now is: just how good is Lapierre in relation to his draft peers after missing so much time, and what can be expected from him moving forward?
Back in August, Lapierre was a seen as a strong contender to go in the Top 10 of the 2020 draft, and maybe even Top 5. TSN’s Craig Button at one point had him as high as 2nd overall. Nowadays he ranges on draft boards from 10th (Button again) to 15th (TSN / Bob McKenzie) to as low as 27th (Future Considerations and EliteProspects), which goes to show just how much uncertainty there still is about him.
What he brings on the ice is undeniably intriguing. His offensive vision, puck skills and playmaking are all among the best in this draft class. He’s such a rare threat because of his ability to gets puck firmly under his control, read the play a few seconds ahead and then feed precision passes through the smallest of holes. His hands also help him out a lot with zone exits and entries, keeping the puck a safe distance away from enemy sticks. Being able to accurately pass off the backhand is a difficult skill to master, but Lapierre can do it almost as well as he can pass on his forehand. There’s a lot of potential with him to be a true driver on the top unit of an NHL powerplay one day. You would like to see his shot be more of a weapon, but his release mechanics and his accuracy are good, so he might just need to build more muscle to get more power behind them.
Additionally, his overall hockey sense expands to all three zones. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to say that he’s an elite 200-foot player or elite without the puck in his own end, his natural feel for the game is so good that he’s usually in the right position to help pester or break up opposing chances.
From here, though, things get a little tricky.
Even before his season got sidetracked by injuries, Lapierre never quite took off like everyone expected him to. He produced just 17 points (only two of which were goals) in 19 games for the Saguenéens, and wasn’t quite the same game-breaker that he was at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Even though the Centre Georges-Vézina in Chicoutimi is a challenging rink to score in (it features the wider Olympic-sized ice, opposed to NHL-sized ice, which makes goals harder to come by), their star prospect didn’t seem to have taken a huge step forward from his rookie QMJHL season to his sophomore one in that 19-game span. It’s unfortunate that his year ended when it did, because it robbed scouts of the ability to see if it was just a slow start or the results of something more worrying.
Neither Lapierre’s size nor his skating are particularly high-end, and that combination can often be a cause for trouble moving up to the professional levels. There also should be some hesitation about his playing style and just how translatable it is, especially given what I just said about his physical tools. Lapierre loves to take on defenders one-on-one and stickhandle his way through them, which has always worked for him to this point because his hands are so special, but that doesn’t work nearly as well in the NHL. His skating isn’t quite good enough to routinely beat defenders wide, and his frame and overall body strength aren’t quite good enough to fight through checks.
— Rainvlo (@rainvlo) July 29, 2019
Despite the great news about his injuries from the past year, it’s hard to not wonder about how much physical punishment he’s going to take on a regular basis, and how well his body is going to be able to handle it. For comparison, someone like Jean-Luc Foudy has the wheels to escape physical defending, while someone like Tyson Foerster has the size and strength to bounce off of hits. How is Lapierre going to manage that kind of pressure? All of that being said, though, with just how smart he is you can’t fully count out the possibility of him adapting his game to make it more pro-style and adding a stronger element of elusiveness.
Is Lapierre still that same young phenom who will always be a cut above the vast majority of players his age? Or, is he someone who is peaking at an early age, possibly fueled by his injury history? The truth lies somewhere in the middle, but the answer of exactly where in that middle probably won’t be answered for years to come.
However, don’t be surprised if Lapierre goes high come draft day. If he indeed still is that same level of player that was seen in his rookie QMJHL season or the Hlinka tournament, then he could be one heck of a dynamite NHLer, and quite a steal if a team nabs him in the late teens or early 20s. There’s likely at least one or two teams that will be more than happy to take a big gamble on him.