Heading into the Quebec League’s annual draft, the Baie-Comeau Drakkar had the first overall selection and defenseman Michael Matheson was seen as the top prospect.
But when the dust settled, it was the Lewiston Maineiacs at the podium first, announcing the selection of blueliner Dillon Fournier. In the process, the Maineiacs traded star goaltender Olivier Roy to Acadie-Bathurst and moved up to No. 1 in a deal with Baie-Comeau.
“It was a crazy week, not much sleep,” said Lewiston GM Roger Shannon. “But you feel pretty good pulling the trigger. I was 100 percent confident Dillon wasn’t going past No. 3.”
So to get the player he most coveted (Matheson’s stock plunged due to the possibility of him heading to the NCAA), Shannon did what he had to do and Fournier is the reward.
“He skates well, he’s big, he leans a little more towards defense than offense, which is hard to find these days,” Shannon noted. “He really tweaked our interest.”
And while Fournier, a 6-foot-1, 160-pound native of Dorval, Que., will be leaving not only his home province, but also the country to play hockey, at least the 16-year-old will have a familiar face on the team; his older brother, Stefan, is also a Maineiac.
“We’ve never played together,” Dillon said. “And I’ve played hockey with some of the guys on the team from this area, so it will be an easy transition.”
Also making the transition smoother will be the addition of former Quebec Nordiques defenseman Steven Finn to the Lewiston staff. Finn, whose son, Samuel, plays for the Maineiacs, will work with the team’s defense corps and give them the mentorship of a former NHLer who also played in the Q.
“I was having breakfast in Lewiston and the owner approached me,” Finn recalled. “He said, ‘You spend weekends in Lewiston, why don’t you step on the ice and teach the defense what you know?’ ”
Finn was intrigued. So what can the new mind contribute?
“The biggest part will be mental,” Finn said. “It’s a long season, lots of travel and a tougher league – these kids are used to being on the ice all the time in midget.”
And while adjusting to major junior hockey is difficult, Fournier has high expectations for himself.
“My game only gets better with more ice time and responsibility,” he said. “I’m going to come in and work hard, and try to earn my place.”
Fournier, who cites Chicago’s Norris-nominated Duncan Keith as a role model, is part of a rebuilding Lewiston franchise that has churned out NHL talents such as David Perron and Jonathan Bernier recently. Shannon knew he had the best goalie in the league with Roy, but wasn’t likely going to keep him through next year’s trade deadline, so he dealt Roy in part to give the Edmonton Oilers prospect the benefit of a season played all in one locale.
“We would have had a hundred conversations,” Shannon said of the deals made with the GMs of Baie-Comeau and Acadie-Bathurst. “And we all got what we wanted.”
Shannon sees a little bit of Dion Phaneuf in Fournier, particularly in the leadership department. Nevertheless, having Finn in the fold will help the youngster and his fellow blueliners immensely.
“We have a very young defense,” Shannon said. “Having Steven working with those kids, he’ll pick up their habits and talk to them on a 1-on-1 basis. The first overall pick is a big investment and you need to protect that investment.”
Fournier, who would still like to round out his game and play more physical, at least comes in with the knowledge that he was the player the Maineiacs wanted all along.
“I knew Lewiston was interested,” Fournier said. “But No. 1? That was a surprise.”
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