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QMJHL preparing for first online draft in history

Centre Justin Gill was the Charlottetown Islanders’ second pick of the 2019 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft in Quebec City. He was welcomed to the franchise by head coach and general manager Jim Hulton, right, and associate coach and assistant general manager Guy Girouard.
Centre Justin Gill was the Charlottetown Islanders’ second pick of the 2019 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League draft in Quebec City. He was welcomed to the franchise by head coach and general manager Jim Hulton, right, and associate coach and assistant general manager Guy Girouard. - Contributed
CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) has learned lessons from the draft lottery debacle as it prepares to welcome the next generation of talented players to the circuit this weekend.

The league is unable to have an in-person draft this year for the first time in its history due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic.

The first round will be held live on the league’s YouTube channel on Friday night while fans can see the names of the players who are drafted in Rounds 2-14 on the league website on Saturday.

The league tried to host its draft lottery on the YouTube channel about a month ago but had to abandon it early on due to technical difficulties that included a bad internet connection.

League spokesman Maxime Blouin, who is in charge of the draft, said it has partnered with Audiovisuel Collins to produce the first round and will be doing it from a studio in Granby, Que., where there is a better internet connection.

“We didn't have the experience to do a live show,” he said Monday night. “Maybe the league was too ambitious, and we learned from that and we decided to hire a company to help us.”

Collins has been involved in the draft in previous years and understands how it operates.

“With the company that we chose and their experience, I am confident that everything is going to be very smooth,” Blouin said.

The QMJHL held a test last week and another was planned for Tuesday night to ensure Friday’s first round goes off without a hitch. If something does go wrong with the YouTube livestream Friday, the league will be able to continue with the draft by posting the names on its website.

Some QMJHL officials will be at the league’s head office Friday using the same systems that are in place for a normal draft to manage the hockey operations side. Some of the league’s 18 teams will be communicating with their scouting staffs during the draft via Zoom while some franchises have rented large rooms in hotels to enable them to gather while maintaining social-distancing regulations.

The league is preparing to do Zoom interviews with the top few picks Friday night and post them to their Facebook page.

Because the league hasn’t done online drafts in the past, it is unclear how many people may be watching. The Ontario league has had about 5,500 watching live in the past.

“I think we can hit that on Friday night as well,” Blouin said. “I think fans, players and families are very excited to watch this event.”

While he understands the reasons for the format change this year, Blouin said he is a fan of the in-person draft.

“It’s the perfect way to welcome our next prospects into the league,” he said. “Having it on the internet, makes it a little bit more impersonal.”

The in-person draft also provides an opportunity for players to meet the staff of their new team and some of their future teammates.

“We’ve been working hard for the last few months to have everything set up to make sure the players have the best experience they can have even if it’s online,” he said.


Need to know

A look at this weekend’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) draft.

When – The first round goes Friday night while Rounds 2-14 take place on Saturday.

Where – The draft is occurring online this year for the first time in the league’s 50-year history due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic.

Online – The first round will be broadcast live on the QMJHL YouTube channel beginning Friday at 7:30 p.m. Fans can follow the picks in Rounds 2-14 Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. on the league’s website or social media channels. Both times are Atlantic.

Did you know? The trade window opens today.

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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