Tampa Bay Lightning fans will have to wait just a little bit longer to see Gabriel Fortier in professional hockey full-time. Fortier had a four game stint with the Syracuse Crunch back in the spring of 2019 and was expected to turn pro this season, but the pandemic has thrown a wrench in his plans.
For now, the 20-year old has returned to the QMJHL for a fifth and final season, despite having signed a contract with the Lightning. Whether or not Fortier will head off to the AHL once that season begins remains to be seen, but he’s kicked off his final junior campaign with six goals and eight points in 13 games.
Fortier jumped two spots from last year’s rankings. Both the writers and readers had Fortier ranked 12th overall, but once the numbers were properly crunched, he finished at 13. However, there was a pretty large variation between how readers had Fortier ranked compared to the masthead.
Leadership is one of Fortier’s standout qualities as a hockey player. He earned the rare honor of captaining two separate CHL teams when he was awarded the C for the Moncton Wildcats this season. Fortier previously captained the Baie-Comeau Drakkar before he was dealt to Moncton last season, and wore an ‘A’ for the Drakkar both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.
With the QMJHL suspending play until the new year, it looks like Fortier is once again stuck in limbo like the majority of players in his position. However, he’s made very promising strides in his development over the last season, which could make his transition to the AHL a lot easier when he finally does make the jump.
Fortier averaged about 22 and a half minutes of ice time per game with both the Drakkar and Wildcats last season. Of those minutes, he spent about 2:10 playing shorthanded and 3:26 on the power play. He saw a jump in time spent on the man-advantage between last season and the season before that, likely a result of being bumped up to the first power play units.
As far as creating offense went, Fortier was usually found stapled to the goal crease, providing his teams a net front screen and often banging in loose pucks or rebounds past netminders. Fortier averaged 2.5 primary points per 60 minutes, and 57.28% of his team’s even-strength goals scored were with him on the ice.
Fortier improved on both puck battles and faceoffs in the last season. In 2018-19, he was winning approximately 50% of puck battles he engaged in. Last year, he upped that to 53%. Meanwhile, in the faceoff dot, Fortier’s efficiency improved drastically, from 47% in 2018-19 to 55% in 2019-20.
As far as actually generating offense, Fortier likes and prefers to crash the crease to score. He has a quick release on his wrist shot, but it isn’t particularly deceptive or heavy, and isn’t likely to fool many goaltenders. Fortier uses his speed to dash in alone or slip past defenders, but his shots towards the goal are one-dimensional and not particularly dangerous.
Passing will be Fortier’s biggest area for improvement as he heads off to professional hockey. A lot of his assists last season were the result of him being in front of the net battling for pucks, or digging pucks out of corners. When Fortier has the opportunity, he is able to one-time pucks fairly accurately and effectively, but he’s not always in those areas of the ice to be able to pull those passes off. Fortier will need to defer to his teammates more often, especially as he heads off to Syracuse. Individual efforts are more difficult to pull off in the AHL than they are in the Q.
But Fortier’s bread and butter, his strongest asset, is his defensive game. An excellent shorthanded player, Fortier uses both good puck control and an effective stick to break up passes and skate the puck out of harms way before dumping it down the ice.
Fortier’s speed makes him an effective puck rusher and penalty killer. He’ll take many quick, small steps to generate speed instead of using a long, powerful stride, which makes his acceleration choppy, but effective. Whether or not that translates well to the AHL remains to be seen, but there’s no denying that Fortier can fly down the ice.
It’s great that Fortier has been able to put up solid numbers in major junior, but we will probably see those numbers take a dip when finally gets to the AHL. Which means his defensive prowess will be what sets him apart from other players his age — and what will likely get him to the NHL.
Statistics and information from Elite Prospects, Pick224.com, and InStat Hockey.