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Prep Watch: French flavor

Fifteen-year-old Jean-Francois Plante has a bright future ahead of him.

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Fifteen-year-old Jean-Francois Plante has a bright future ahead of him.

When the first round of the NHL draft went by last summer with nary a Quebec League player invited up to the stage, more than a few eyebrows were raised. After all, some of the sport’s most prolific goal-scorers have hailed from the province, not to mention many of the goalkeepers whose names enter the “greatest of all-time” conversation.

When a Quebec Leaguer was finally taken 34th overall by St. Louis, it wasn’t even a provincial native, but maritime goalie Jake Allen. The snub may have just been an anomaly because it’s fair to say the talent pool in French Canada hasn’t gone dry. Not with players such as Jean-Francois Plante on the way.

The 5-foot-11, 180-pound center currently stands fifth among rookies in Quebec midget triple-A scoring with 12 goals and 23 points in 26 games. A member of the Magog Cantonniers, Plante is third in team scoring and has converted four of his 12 goals on the power play.

“He is a highly-skilled player,” said Cantonniers coach Martin Bernard. “He can do a lot of things with the puck; he has vision and he can skate well.”

The coach is also quite aware of the youngster’s effect on his teammates off the ice. Despite being just 15 years old on a team that features 17-year-olds, Plante has become a popular player in the dressing room.

“He’s fun to hang out with,” Bernard said. “All the players on the road trips, everyone wants to go in the hotel room with Jean-Francois.”

Bernard likens Plante to another former teen star from Quebec, the Senators’ Antoine Vermette, a fast skater who developed his game fully with the Victoriaville Tigres of the QMJHL.

“Antoine really learned to play the game with Victoriaville,” Bernard noted.

However, Plante has set his sights on a mentor with a higher offensive ceiling.

“I really like Pavel Datsyuk,” he said. “He has a great sense of hockey and he finds a way to put the puck in the net. He always goes where the puck is going to be.”

Magog is located approximately one hour from Montreal and a half-hour from the American border. Sitting on Lake Memphremagog, the region is situated among beautiful lakes and forests and has become a tourist destination in recent years. One such visitor who decided to stay longer was former Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Felix Potvin, who bought a house near the lake several years ago.

Potvin soon began helping out with the Cantonniers as a goalie coach, but has since expanded his role to aid the team’s entire defensive scheme. Plante gave the assistant coach high marks, but said he doesn’t talk to Potvin about his NHL career.

As for the big stage, Plante and his teammates are gearing up for next week’s Telus Challenge, an all-Quebec tournament with a heavy scouting presence.

“It’s a good window for the 15-year-olds for the Quebec League to see them,” Bernard said.

While Plante hasn’t committed to future hockey plans yet, he is one of the top-rated prospects for next year’s QMJHL draft and playing in his home province is certainly on the radar. The pivot isn’t worried about recent draft woes for the league, either.

“It’s a nice league,” Plante said. “I don’t worry about it – it was only one year. In the future, maybe it will be the best year for Quebec.”

With Plante on board, that year could be coming up rather soon.

Prep Watch, which features minor hockey players destined to become big names in major junior or the NCAA, appears every Thursday, only on thehockeynews.com.

For more great prospect profiles and news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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