The sports world is famously quick to judge young prospects – often it’s a trial by sidelong glance or knowing nod.
That’s particularly true of the hockey industry, where some descriptors are uttered with a curled lip, words like attitude case, lazy, soft.
They can amount to a scarlet letter, a taint of sorts. Montreal Canadiens prospect Olivier Archambault knows something about this.
Two years ago, the 18-year-old from Le Gardeur, Que., was the first overall pick in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League midget draft – ahead of luminaries such as reigning Memorial Cup most valuable player Jonathan Huberdeau of the Saint John Sea Dogs.
He had a decent campaign as a 16-year-old, but it wasn’t long before there were whispers from the Val d’Or Foreurs that Archambault’s attitude left a lot to be desired.
As is often the case, the accusations were formless and private – making them more damaging – and while Archambault’s not inclined to revisit the past in any detail, he readily admits his conduct hasn’t always been above reproach.
Still, it’s a label he’s keen to un-stick, even if he accepts that’s a largely impossible task.
“Like it or not, that stuff is going to happen, that’s hockey. It’s part of the job, it’s fine. People can have their opinion and it doesn’t bother me. It didn’t work out in Val d’Or, but that’s in the past now,” he said after a workout at the Canadiens’ rookie camp.
If Huberdeau ended up as a lottery pick in the last NHL draft, Archambault had to wait until the fourth round to hear the Habs call his name – a player many scouts projected as a first-rounder on the strength of his talent had slipped to 108th overall.
Only one former QMJHL top pick has been chosen lower in the NHL draft in the last decade. Seven were picked in the first round.
While it’s true that Archambault didn’t have a dominant draft year – he had 53 points to Huberdeau’s 105 – his stock also dropped because of his reputation.
“I don’t think there’s much doubt about that. He’s got a very hard shot, he’s an above-average passer, and his stick-handling and explosiveness are elite level. On talent, he’s a first rounder or high second rounder,” said a QMJHL scout who has tracked Archambault since he was in midget hockey.
In an organization thin on scoring prospects, Archambault is one of a select group of high-octane offensive players, along with Shawinigan Cataractes centre Michael Bournival and diminutive Vancouver Giants winger Brendan Gallagher.
All three were in action on Tuesday, as were recent top draft choices Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu, both defencemen.
Though more attention will be lavished on 2009 top pick Louis Leblanc and the likes of Gallagher, Bournival and Beaulieu, lesser-heralded forwards such as Archambault, young Russian Alexander Avtsin and Étienne Brodeur, who earned a try-out after scoring 53 goals last season in the QMJHL, could well have as big a medium-term impact.
Archambault spent the summer training in the Canadiens’ practice facility with fellow prospects Leblanc and Dany Massé, alongside several NHLers.
“I found it tough this summer, but I trained hard and I think I’ve improved, certainly physically. I’m faster, I’ve put on some weight, and I’m being careful to eat well,” he said. “It was really good, it allows us to see the NHL guys and see how they work and what it takes to get there.”
In the off-season, Val d’Or traded Archambault, a 5-foot-11, 185-pounder, to the Drummondville Voltigeurs.
He’s expected to play on a potentially dominant line with Sean Couturier, selected eighth by the Philadelphia Flyers in the draft last June, and the change of scenery has already had benefits.
“I feel good,” he said. “Hockey always seems easier when you feel good.”