There will be a lot of new and new-ish faces to watch around the Stockton Heat this season. Between Connor Zary, Ilya Solovyov, Yan Kuznetsov, and Johannes Kinnvall, and more, this year’s lineup is going to be significantly younger and have more to prove than in previous years. As it stands now, most of the eyes going into this season are on Zary, with some arguing he could make the jump to the Flames as early as the start of this season. However, after an incredible couple of seasons in the QMJHL, they should be zeroed in on Jakob Pelletier.
Who is Jakob Pelletier?
A left shot forward, Pelletier was selected 26th overall by the Flames in 2019. Able to play any of the three forward positions, Pelletier is most comfortable at centre or on the left wing. Since being drafted, he has consistently been one of the top point-producers in the Q. Take a look at his numbers below from EliteProspects over the last two seasons.
|2020-21||Val d’Or Foreurs||28||13||30||43||1.54|
These are absolutely astounding numbers to put up in the Q for any player. Pelletier finished 10th and 12th respectively in the entire league in points but finished 11th and seventh respectively in points-per-game. Among non-overage players (under 20), he finished third and seventh respectively. Not bad for the 5’9″ forward.
Taking a deeper dive, Pelletier’s underlying numbers are excellent. While he gets a lot of special teams’ time, Pelletier consistently puts up the majority of his points at even strength. On top of that, most of his points are primary points (goals or first assists) which shows his ability to drive play and create chances. 29 of his 43 points this season were primary points, which is a really good sign for a prospect.
As good as these numbers are, Pelletier them up while shooting just 9.6%. It is very common in junior hockey to see prospects put up whopping point totals while riding a shooting percentage upwards of 20%. This is obviously unsustainable, but if Pelletier can put up these types of numbers on a reasonably normal shooting percentage, it could indicate Pelletier has more to give.
What makes Pelletier special?
While Zary had the opportunity to play in Stockton last season prior to the WHL reopening, Pelletier instead had an incredible season with the Foreurs. As great as his numbers were, what really stood out was his phenomenal two-way play and his details. On the former, Pelletier finished second in the entire league in even-strength goals for percentage, meaning when he was on the ice, nearly 80% of the goals scored were for Val d’Or than against. In 28 games, he was only on the ice for 10 even-strength goals against. For reference, Zary was on the ice for the same number in 15 games, while Ryan Francis was on the ice for 40 against in 32 games.
What makes this special is that the one thing that coaches look for at the AHL level is strong two-way play. The game moves substantially faster at the professional level that if a prospect cannot go back and break up the rush or handle your own defensively, the odds of them making the NHL go down significantly. In fact, when The Win Column sat down with Matthew Phillips earlier this year, the one thing that he noted was that what set Glenn Gawdin ahead of the rest of the prospect pool was his responsibility with the puck and strong two-way play. As much as he struggled at the NHL level, Gawdin was the player that kept getting called up over anyone else from the group in Stockton.
Pelletier brings that awareness in spades. Despite being a smaller player, Pelletier is defensively very sound and matched up well against the players in the QMJHL as well as the best players in the World Juniors last season. In fact, one of the big reasons that he made the team over others who perhaps were more offensively gifted was his strong-two-way play. As we noted time and again through the tournament (here, here, and here), it was his defensive responsibility that made coaches trust him in tough situations, and the way that he rewarded coaches for their trust in him made a difference.
It is easy to be marveled by Pelletier’s numbers on the scoresheet alone. He finished among the top of the QMJHL in points last season, was arguably the best player on his team, and was among the best point-producers in his draft class per game played last season. However, what does not show up on the scoresheet is just how good his details are when he plays. Pelletier has a tenacious work ethic and can use his stick to his advantage without taking a penalty. Take a look at this play from the World Juniors
Right in front of the net, Pelletier lifts the Russian defenders’ stick and picks up the puck for a clean chance on net that just bounces off the post. This is just one small part of Pelletier’s game, but having hands like this and the intelligence to make a play like that and then be able to get a chance on net that tight in is what really sets him apart. These details exist in his game at all ends of the ice. Pelletier has such a high skill set that he could quickly rise through the ranks in Stockton this season.
How high can he rise?
The forward group in Stockton is projected to be quite good this season, with players like Phillips, Adam Ruzicka, Martin Pospisil, and potentially Gawdin being at the top of the depth chart. The next layer includes players like Justin Kirkland, Luke Philp, Mathias Emilio Pettersen, and Dmitry Zavgorodny, who will be looking to show that they belong with the former group. Pelletier will have a lot of competition for any minutes that he plays and will have to show that he can handle whatever is thrown at him.
Like most prospects, expect him to start in a depth role, likely on the third line in Stockton, with slightly sheltered minutes against other teams’ bottom-six guys. He will be facing off against bigger, older, and stronger players, and will be forced to show that he can handle that before getting any more minutes.
However, it is not unrealistic to expect Pelletier to push his way up the depth chart and work his way to the top group through the season. He is one of the most offensively gifted players in the Flames’ system currently and has incredible hands and skills that are likely too good for the bottom of the roster. He will likely also work his way into a special teams’ role, handling power play, and especially penalty kill minutes probably sooner than later.
It is also not out of the question for him to get a call-up to Calgary depending on his play. There are a few open jobs on the big team as things stand right now, but those will likely be given to either a veteran signee or an older prospect like Phillips or Gawdin. However, should there be an injury, particularly of a winger, Pelletier could be on the call-up list if he performs as well as he did in the past. An excellent skater with a tenacious style, Pelletier would suit Sutter-hockey to a tee.
While he does need to keep getting bigger, Pelletier has a lot of the underlying skills and style of play to make the jump to pro-hockey easier than most. He is the type of player who thrives under pressure, having played incredibly well at the World Juniors, where he was fourth in points for Team Canada, and in the Q’s playoffs, where he was third in points league-wide and could be a difference-maker in Stockton for sure.
One thing is certain: do not sleep on Jakob Pelletier.