Gabriel Fortier is a fun prospect to look at within the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. He’s young, and scores in junior like a machine. He fights for hard-to-get pieces of ice and got rewarded with a 35-goal season for Baie-Comeau Drakkar as their alternate captain. Now heading into his final age-19 season, Fortier seems poised to set the QMJHL on fire as their top player.
Fortier is right at the front of the rankings for players who haven’t already made the AHL and look to be poised for the NHL level (and Mitchell Stephens for some reason). The only player younger than and ahead of Fortier is Nolan Foote and that’s only because he’s got that fresh Feete smell.
The lowest rank Fortier got was at #18 by the readers. As for the masthead, Matt and Tracey put him #16 behind a couple AHLers whom they feel to be closer to sure things. I think as the season goes on, Fortier’s stock will rise. And once he gets on the Syracuse Crunch at the end of the season, he’s going to be something we should all be very excited about.
Before I get a little too far ahead of myself, that making a name for himself has already started in the form of getting on Hockey Canada’s radar and becoming a fierce presence in the QMJHL scoring ranks last season. Fortier is the highest drafted prospect on his junior team and will be among the oldest age group at the World Juniors. Hopefully those two facts push him onto the roster and give him that level of competition and recognition that so many players use to launch themselves into the next level. Anthony Cirelli is a recent example of that.
Fortier is a smaller player, but uses that frame effectively to power his way around the ice and cover a lot of ground at a high speed for a long period of time. This skill of his is especially effective on the penalty kill where Fortier has become somewhat of a specialist in the QMJHL and on Team Canada. He was on the top penalty kill unit during the World Juniors Summer Showcase in early August and scored three shorthanded goals last year.
Seriously, this kid is everywhere all at once. No brakes!
This was an amazing shift in Saturday from the Captain of the Baie Comeau Drakkar Gabriel Fortier during a 5 on 3 PK https://t.co/4mR66V2wIF— Steve McLean (@SteveMcLean888) September 24, 2018
Fortier isn’t just a worker bee in junior, he’s got some real talent that helps him gain possession for his team and create scoring chances for his teammates. Linemate Ivan Chekhovich was second in the Q in shots on goal (282) and eighth in scoring chances (154) as measured by the QMJHL. A lot of those plays were created by Fortier, who finished the regular season with 208 shots, 109 scoring chances, and 48 assists.
One thing I like a lot about Fortier is that he uses his skill in an effective way. It’s along the boards and in the middle of the chaos in front of the net rather than flashy plays in open ice. He’s using his skillset to do work and help apply pressure on the opponent.
Gabriel Fortier’s ability to strip players along the boards and create turnovers continues to impress me. #WJSS— ♀️Lauren Kelly ♀️ (@laurkelly24) August 2, 2019
What can I say about Fortier? The video speaks for itself. The kid doesn’t stop moving and he doesn’t stop trying. His transition to playing center seems to have worked out really well and he’s become one of the better two-way scorers in his league in the span of one season.
Fortier’s forcefulness in all three zones should really help his transition to the AHL, and hopefully from there into the NHL. Junior hockey can sometimes be a pure skill league with effort being inconsistent from top end players. That’s not the case in the AHL and the players who work hard and fight for every inch of space like a zombie rise to the top and realize their potential. I’m so glad Fortier already has this skill because it can be a headache to extract out of young players.
Gabriel Fortier just skated the equivalent of 400-feet on this penalty kill. #WJSS— ♀️Lauren Kelly ♀️ (@laurkelly24) July 31, 2019
As you can see from Fortier’s shot maps, the 19-year-old is far from a perimeter player. All his work comes in the middle of the ice and he got rewarded with a very strong season on the scoresheet. Constantly being in this area of the ice gets you noticed by coaches and I think the perception is starting to catch up to reality here with Fortier.
The 2018-2019 season saw a vast increase in production for Fortier in the QMJHL, as his point total spiked by 24 points for a total of 83 points in 68 games for Baie-Comeau. Fortier took on an expanded role this year for the Drakkar, moving in to center the first line with Ivan Chekhovich and Nathan Légaré on his wings while also being a key figure on Baie-Comeau’s power play. His line became among the most feared in the entirety in the QMJHL, and Fortier was a big part of his line’s dominance as he played the role of playmaker with the two high-powered goal-scorers on his wing, while also bringing two-way responsibility to balance out the line. The attributes that made Fortier worth a second round pick in 2018 were the same attributes that were on display every night in the QMJHL: pace, skill, and competitive edge. Fortier’s skill level remains good, albeit not great, and it’s easy to see his eventual projection as a top-nine forward at the NHL level. Brandon Holmes
Fortier’s best work, though, was his defensive play. He was effective in winning puck battles with stick work along the boards, used his size to push players off the puck, and was an excellent penalty killer. Fortier’s strongest game was against Sweden (which fittingly was probably Foote’s weakest performance). He forced turnover after turnover, which allowed him to generate offense like this.
Every time he was on the ice, if there was a puck to be fought for, Fortier was there. He always seemed to emerge from a battle or scrum with the puck. There was one particular play against Sweden (that I can’t find GIFs or video of) where Fortier knocked down a pass from mid-air with his stick in the neutral zone. If he hadn’t, Sweden probably would’ve been down the ice on an odd-man rush. On a penalty kill against Team USA, Fortier stripped Cole Caufield of a puck that definitely would have led to a scoring chance. He was a turnover machine, something the Canadian coaching staff recognized. Fortier was a likely long shot to make the selection camp roster, but he’s definitely forced his way into the conversation now.
#GoBolts Prospect Grades— ♀️Lauren Kelly ♀️ (@laurkelly24) August 2, 2019
- 2 point effort
- effective stickwork along the boards
- forced turnovers
- good defensive positioning
- excellent on the PK
- 1 assist
- 4 minute penalty
- a couple of good rushes
- shooting machine on the PP
This will be Fortier’s final year in the QMJHL. Right now, his team doesn’t look too strong around him, but maybe that’s because he’s the best player on his team. Nevertheless, the odds he spends a long playoff run in Quebec is a lot longer than the odds of him turning pro at some point in the spring. Hopefully, under Benoit Groulx, Fortier can jump right into a playoff lineup and begin to get acclimated to the AHL game on the fourth line. He’s the kind of player who doesn’t need lots of offensive touches to be effective so starting him on a fourth line checking seems like a no-brainer.
I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s hope Fortier has a strong start to the season that hopefully leads to a spot on the 2020 World Juniors roster. If he does make it, Lauren will surely have lots to share that will get us very excited for his time with the Syracuse Crunch.