By Kirk Luedeke
Adam Erne looks to be on the verge of breaking a two-year drought that has seen nary a New England native selected in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft.
The North Branford, Conn., native is a legitimate power forward prospect with size, skill and the kind of physical dimension NHL clubs covet. He’s played in several significant hockey programs in a relatively short amount of time, but the ability to adapt and translate his potential into impressive production is why Erne headlines what is a relatively thin crop overall for the region.
Erne left the Nutmeg State at age 13 for the sun of Southern California and the L.A. Selects hockey program and then the Indiana Ice of the USHL at 15. Now, in his second Quebec Major Junior Hockey League campaign, he is making a run at top-10 consideration for the next NHL Entry Draft, on path to become the first New England native selected in the opening round since Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.) and Charlie Coyle (East Weymouth, Mass.) in 2010.
“It’s definitely nice to have a year in the ‘Q’ under your belt,” Erne told New England Hockey Journal from Quebec City recently. “You know what to expect from your coaches, from your teammates, from the competition, and it’s been good for my confidence in terms of knowing what to expect and playing my game.”
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound right winger is coming off a 28-goal, 55-point rookie campaign with the Patrick Roy-owned Quebec Remparts franchise. His 18 goals and 42 points in just 33 games at the mid-December mark placed him second on the club in scoring behind Buffalo Sabres first-rounder in 2012 Mikhail Grigorenko (50).
Described by one NHL scout as having “a bull in a china shop” mentality, Erne also has shown a polished skill set, raising his value to an all-time high as the calendar flips to 2013.
“He was solid in Quebec a year ago, but I thought his intensity was up and down,” the scout said. “You could see that he was still figuring it out and adjusting to the pace. This year, he’s been far more assertive, consistent and has really come on as a scorer. You look at how he played in the (Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament) and he picked it up from there and has really stepped it up in all facets of the game.”
To the uninitiated, Erne is built in the typical power forward mold. He has a powerful stride, relishes contact and going into the “dirty” areas of the ice, and he is willing to fight for position in front of the net. He has quick hands and the ability to finish, as evidenced by his 46 goals in 97 Quebec league games to date.
“On rushes I like to use my speed to take the puck wide or drive hard to the net,” said Erne. “I think I’m at my best in the corners where I can get to loose pucks or using my strength to set up out in the slot and get shots on the net.”
Although Erne is a nicely well-rounded player in his development, he does see room for improvement.
“I like to be a two-way player,” he said. “I know there’s things I can do to improve my defensive game, and I’m learning what I can from my coaches. I think my skating — my first few steps — is something I need to keep working on.”
If moving to Quebec posed a cultural challenge for Erne, the 17-year-old who turns 18 on April 20 was prepared for it because of his somewhat nomadic existence of the past four years.
“It’s been really good,” he said of the hockey experience in a hub of French-Canadian culture. “I moved from home to live in L.A. at 13, and was in Indiana at 15. Everyone here has been great to me and a lot of people speak English, too. It’s a great city, and I think it’s been really good for me to learn another language and come out of my comfort zone a bit.”
Erne was originally committed to Boston University, but shifted gears and opted instead for the major junior challenge. Should he be selected in the first round, Erne would become the first New England-born QMJHL player to be taken in the first 30 picks. Stoneham, Mass., native Joey Ryan went 48th overall in 2006, also from the Remparts.
“I’m definitely excited,” he said when asked about taking that first symbolic step toward a professional hockey career. “You do think about (the NHL draft) as much as you don’t want to because you’re trying to play the season and keep winning hockey games, but it’s so close. I can’t help but think about all the people who have helped me get to this point and how great of an experience it will be when it happens.”
In the meantime, Erne is just one player among a strong and deep crop of prospects coming out of the QMJHL this season. Whether talking about the Halifax dynamic trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and goaltender Zachary Fucale, or Erne’s own Remparts teammate Anthony Duclair, or burly Val d’Or winger Anthony Mantha, the Quebec league is sure to grab a large portion of the draft spotlight in 2013.
“I think it’s great for the QMJHL,” Erne said. “It’s a terrific league with so many good players. If I can be mentioned along with those guys, I’m probably doing something right. It’s definitely something to be proud of.”
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.