Although Team QMJHL split their two games with Team Russia, Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Gabriel Fortier was consistently one of the Q’s best players. He only scored one goal, but it was his play away from the puck, and away from the scoresheet, that really set him apart from a lot of his teammates.
Fortier played on the left wing of the QMJHL’s top line. He was centered by Anaheim Ducks prospect Benoit-Olivier Groulx (who happens to be the son of Syracuse’s head coach Benoit Groulx) and flanked on the right-wing by Pittsburgh Penguins draftee Samuel Poulin.
Russia, led by their top line, stormed back from a two-goal deficit in the third period to win the game 4-3 in regulation. However, despite the result, I was extremely impressed by Fortier (although he was a little less noticeable when Russia mounted their comeback in the third). He scored the Q’s first goal, which tied the game at one.
He also had several other scoring chances that he created as a result of strong defensive reads:
Fortier was also a pivotal part of the Q’s penalty kill, as Russia was unable to capitalize on their man-advantage. He was one of the Q’s best players all night (although the player of the game award went to 2020 draft-eligible Dawson Mercer, who was also excellent), and was physically involved. Fortier’s speed and great defensive awareness allowed him to excel in this one, and if he wasn’t in the conversation to make Canada’s World Junior team after his solid showing at the WJSS, he definitely is after this one.
Fortier went pointless in this game, but that doesn’t mean he was ineffective (or unnoticeable). In fact, I thought he was one of the more dominant players on the ice — something always seemed to happen when he was out there. It was a fairly even match, with the game needing overtime to end.
Here are some Fortier highlights:
Fortier really had a solid second game, and he didn’t even land on the scoresheet. He was an excellent penalty killer, defensively sound, and used his speed and stick to pressure Russian players and force turnovers.
Normally, the head coach of the Canadian World Junior team watches this series from the press box. However, Dale Hunter was on the bench for both games (and plans to be there for the remaining four games, too). It was really encouraging to see Fortier have such a great showing in front of Canada’s bench boss.
So, if Gabriel Fortier is healthy and doesn’t make Canada’s World Junior team, we riot at dawn, right? Excellent performances at the WJSS and CR series. #GoBolts— ♀️Lauren Kelly ♀️ (@laurkelly24) November 6, 2019
There isn’t any doubt in my mind: barring injury, Fortier should make Team Canada. He’s proven himself at every turn, whether it was at the WJSS, in the last two games, or his start of the regular season. Not to mention that Fortier is the perfect, defensively-aware, depth player who can complement offensively-minded players well. Plus, he can also contribute offensively. He and Groulx could be a formidable duo in a bottom-six role for Canada.
I’m getting ahead of myself, because there’s still about a month until Canada announces its World Junior selection camp roster. But Fortier deserves to be there, and hopefully, he is.
Video credit to Sportsnet’s broadcasts.