Going into his draft year, Francis was sitting outside the draft discussion, having put up around a half point-per-game pace over his first two seasons in Cape Breton. However, in his draft year, Francis exploded onto the scene, putting up 72 points in 61 games. And while he did finish 17th in the QMJHL, there were questions around whether his production was due to his linemates or his own strengths. These were the questions that made him fall into the fifth round, where the Flames eventually selected him 143rd.
This season, Francis showed that his production was real, putting up 50 points in 32 games split between the Cape Breton Eagles and Saint John Sea Dogs. Let’s take a look at his season this year and what’s next for Francis.
Francis’ on-ice results
When you look at some players’ numbers over the course of the season, you can see exactly when they got hot and when the cooled down, but for Francis, he had a remarkably consistent season in spite of the ongoing pandemic. He put up 21 points in 15 games on a weaker Eagles team that was looking to rebuild. However, even when they shipped their longest serving player and alternate captain to the Sea Dogs, Francis continued to put up points at a similar rate on his new team. He played 17 games in New Brunswick, putting up 29 points in the regular season.
Where Francis really shone is in the postseason, putting up 10 points in six games, and while the Sea Dogs did not make it out of the New Brunswick play-in round, he was one of the team’s stars. He was so good in fact that he finished fourth among all players in the playoffs points-per-game.
And while he was snubbed for a spot on the QMJHL’s first and second all-star teams, he had an all-star calibre season, finishing sixth in league scoring. He was also second among all players not in their overage (20-year-old) seasons. This put him ahead of former first round picks Dawson Mercer, Jakob Pelletier, and Mavrik Bourque. Not bad for the man from Beaverbank Nova Scotia.
Francis’ strengths and weaknesses
Francis has always been talked about as a playmaker, the type of guy who can stickhandle with ease and then find his teammates with a great pass. His 34 assists this season show this quite clearly. Check out this incredible play he made earlier in the season in which he dekes out his defender than finds his teammate streaking towards the net for a beautiful goal.
However, this year he started to shoot the puck a lot more, and they just started finding their way to the back of the net. He shot just over 14% in all situations, and put 113 of them on net this season—many of them from high-danger areas. Although he is a smaller guy, standing 5’9″ and 173 pounds, he has no trouble muscling his way into the slot and the front of the net to generate chances. Looking at his heatmap from Pick224.com, you can see clearly where he gets his chances from and why he was obviously so successful in scoring goals.
What’s more is Francis played all situations this year, having success at 5v5, on the power play, and even on the penalty kill where he found the back of the net twice. Check out this incredible goal he scored while the Sea Dogs were down a man.
You can see so clearly how well he can read the game. His ability to understand where the play is second to none, and while he may not be talked about as an elite player, he has the skills of one who absolutely should be. Just look at his hands and speed through the neutral zone in this clip from his draft year. Francis has such incredible skills that have served him well through his junior hockey career.
Francis’ next steps
Evidently, Francis has outgrown the QMJHL. He is simply too good for the league to go back for his overage season. According to a post on his Instagram story, Francis is in Calgary currently, and will presumably be signing an entry-level deal with the Flames soon. Expect him to join Dustin Wolf, Connor Zary, and Jakob Pelletier in Stockton to start next season, and will compete with the Flames’ pro prospects for an NHL job down the road.
Francis’ trajectory is likely a little longer than some of the Flames’ other prospects, as it will likely take him some time to grow and develop his game for the pro level. That being said, he has the tools and drive to make it at the next level. He has been described as a Paul Byron-esque player, someone who will take a bit of time to develop before joining the pro ranks, but can be a strong two-way forward in the NHL. Having messing up on waiving Byron once, it would be cathartic to have a similar type player who also came from the QMJHL on the Flames roster in a few years.