With the 2018 NHL Draft in the review mirror, it’s time to get to know the newest draftees of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Yesterday, Geo gave us a thorough rundown of defenseman Dmitri Semykin, who was selected in the third round. Today we look at second-round pick forward Gabriel Fortier.
Fortier was drafted 59th overall, and the Lightning used their highest pick of the day to nab him. At the time, both Geo and loserpoints felt that Fortier fit in well with the Lightning’s overall organizational goals. Geo pointed out Fortier’s good hockey sense, and compared his potential to Mathieu Joseph. loserpoints, while a little disappointed the Bolts didn’t reach for a forward with more proven high end scoring ability, pointed out that Fortier’s high hockey IQ and high effort at his position is textbook Lightning draft plan.
Habs Eyes on the Prize broke down the rankings for Fortier prior to the draft. He went higher than most had him at:
- Future Considerations: #89
- Hockey Prospect: #67
- ISS: #89
- Craig Button: #60
- Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #52
- NHL Central Scouting: #49 (North American skaters)
In November 2017, when Fortier was in the QMJHL with with Baie Comeau Drakkar, he was interviewed by John Moore. He discussed many things, but most of all he talked about living in the moment and not worrying about what the future holds, which is a positive mentality for a young player to have. He also discussed his speed and his work ethic. He described himself as a two-way player, one who values both offense and defense.
Of note is that Fortier missed most of his rookie season in the QMJHL due to a shoulder injury. Although health questions haven’t followed him like they did Slater Koekkoek, who missed a good chunk of time after he was drafted by the Lightning because of shoulder injuries and surgeries, it might be something to keep an eye on as Fortier develops.
Coach Martin Bernard, who was also interviewed by Moore, praised Fortier’s summer training to get himself back into game shape:
He did pretty well since the beginning of the season. He was well prepared. All summer long he worked on his physical shape, so he came in with a good mindset. Now we can that he can play healthy, so that’s going to make a huge difference for the rest of the season...His first tool is his speed, he skates very fast...he’s a great kid, well prepared, eats well, sleeps well. He wants to be a good hockey player, so he does everything right to achieve his dream...He’s got the energy to play at the next level.
When watching highlights of Fortier’s 2017-18 season, it seems like he’s a player who isn’t afraid to go to the net to score. Although his above-average skating ability was often praised by scouts prior to the draft, he doesn’t just rely on that ability to nab potential breakaway chances. His ability to read plays and demonstrate that high hockey IQ was also obvious, as many of the goals he scored showed a knack for shooting right where the other team’s defenders weren’t.
Fortier’s strong forecheck and compete level could make him a valuable asset to a penalty kill unit. In fact, HEOTP points out that Fortier’s shorthanded play from this past season was among the best of all forwards in the QMJHL that were draft eligible:
He had two goals while shorthanded, but also finished second among all QMJHL forwards in shots while shorthanded.
He gets knocked for his shot, but it is something that some scouts have noted an improvement in and if he can continue to improve it, it will help him capitalize on the opportunities his speed and hockey sense give him. He’s a type of players that coaches can lean on, putting him on the ice in all situations.
One thing that always seems to knock Fortier is his size. He’s 5’10, 190 lbs. However, the Lightning have certainly never been afraid of giving smaller-than-average hockey players a chance to show what they can do in spite of their size. Tyler Johnson is 5’8, 183; Yanni Gourde is 5’9, 172. So, one almost expects that the Lightning staff took a look at Fortier’s size and just shrugged. They already know what smaller guys with skill/speed/determination can do.
Achariya posted her transcript of Fortier Draft Combine interview last week. Although it didn’t spread as much light onto Fortier himself and seemed to mostly focus on his relationship with his family - including fellow hockey player Maxime Fortier - it did give us a peak into the confidence he has in himself:
I’m a fast skater. I always play my 100%. I do well defensively and offensively, so I’m a complete player.
In terms of production, Fortier put up good if not great numbers in the QMJHL this year. This chart is from prospect-stats.com and shows how he compares to other players in his league. Being in the green area means he performed like a top line forward. The red would be a bottom line forward.
His scoring put him barely in the top quarter of players in the QMJHL. While that doesn’t suggest that he’ll be a big time scorer in the NHL, it does suggest he has plenty of skill to play in the bottom six and maybe even bump up to the middle six if he can continue to work on his shot as mentioned above.
We can also use prospect-stats.com to look at his shot locations this year.
Encouragingly, he does most of his work from dangerous areas. He spends most of his time in the slot area, particularly in the low slot. Getting to those areas is more difficult in the NHL, but the Lightning already have two players in Gourde and Brayden Point who’ve proved that players of smaller stature can still be dangerous around the net.
One additional thing to note is that the Lightning generate most of their offense from the slot. Some teams take lots of point shots. Some teams work from the circles. The Lightning’s team shot charts are distinctly focused on the slot. Only the scouts know if this something that they look for in prospects but from this chart, Fortier’s offensive game sure seems to fit in perfectly with how the Lightning like to run their offense.
In summary, Fortier is a player who ticks every box in terms of the makeup and style of player the Lightning have targeted recently. He might not have the upside of some of the players who were drafted around him, but he has the potential to be a key part of the Lightning’s future forward group.