He's on his second QMJHL team in less than a year and has been drafted first overall twice in the same time span. It's been a strange start to his junior career but defenceman Dillon Fournier is determined to show that he's able to overcome obstacles and is a player that NHL teams should be looking hard at in advance of the 2012 NHL entry draft.
Fournier was a guest on The Pipeline Show last night as part of our regular segment where we spotlight a player eligible for the next NHL Draft.
He was selected 1st overall by the Lewiston Maineiacs in the 2010 QMJHL entry draft and went on to record 14 points as a rookie last year. It's a season that Fournier says he won't soon forget.
"Last year I couldn't have asked for a better situation as a rookie coming in," Fournier told us, "There were a lot of familiar faces on the team, guys that I grew up with, my brother was there as well and it was probably the best year of hockey in my life. It was a great, great time."
Unfortunately, the Maineiacs are no more as the team folded over the summer and the players were placed into a league-wide dispersal draft. It was news that hit many on the team hard and Fournier says he has a great amount of respect for the fan base in Maine.
"First of all, our fans were unbelievable. I know we didn't have that many but the people who did show up and were faces that we'd see all the time, they were truly great fans of the organization," said the 17-year-old, "I remember that I was sitting with my brother when we found out and we talked to the other guys on the team and none of us could believe it. Next year, that was supposed to be our year, the team had been building toward that year coming up and we felt that we had a great chance of going all the way and stuff. All the boys were really disappointed about it."
As things over the off season played out, Fournier saw his rights picked up immediately by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, the last place team in 2010-11 that only managed to win a total of 12 games all season long. Going from the Maineiacs, a club that reached the semi-finals in the playoffs, to the cellar-dwelling Huskies was an idea that took some time to get used.
"At first, I'll be honest, I was a little hesitant just because they were coming off a losing season," Fournier admitted, "But then I started hearing good things about the organization, the coaching staff and about the players that they were a young and rebuilding team but that the group of guys are very good. So I came in with an open mind about it and was looking forward to getting to camp and meeting every body and seeing how it was here in Rouyn."
As a 1st overall pick, twice, there are obvious expectations placed on Fournier. He needs to be an impact player on the ice but should probably be a leader off of it as well. I asked him if being the new guy in the room meant he was laying low for awhile or if the opposite was true.
"I came in with a big smile, said hello to every body and that's just my personality. Coming into a different team some people might be shy and people won't know how to take it," Fournier said, "In hockey, whether it's your junior career or later on, eventually you're going to have to meet new people and be on a different team. it's just part of hockey."
Being based in Alberta, the opportunities to watch players in the QMJHL are very limited. I asked the Montreal native if he could give us a sense of what his role on the team was and what type of player Huskies fans should expect to see.
"I play a very defensive game that leads to offence; I'm a very fluid skater, I make good outlet passes and stuff like that, moving the puck up quick. The better I am on defence usually leads to more offence," He described. "In Rouyn we're a young team, not a lot of experience, so I'm getting an opportunity on the power play this year and on the PK so right now I'm playing in all situations and I'm happy to see that the coach has confidence in me that way."
Noting that his power play opportunities will be greater this year, I asked Fournier if he thought he might have some latent offensive talent that he hasn't tapped into yet as a junior.
"I'd like to think so because I'm very comfortable, very relaxed with the puck but if there's one part of my game that needs to most work it would be my shot, said Fournier, "I think as I improve as a hockey player the points will come and I hope some offensive skill as well."
Stefan Fournier is a 19-year-old forward who now plays with the Victoriaville Tigers. The two brothers have already met on the ice in this new season, what ended up to be a 4-3 overtime victory at home for the Tigres.
"It was fun, It's something that we never had the chance to do," said the younger brother, "You grown up playing shinny or playing just for fun and it's competition but now it's fun to take that competition into a game that really matters, you know? It was a great experience and it's gotten me excited for the games that are still to come."
With Dillon being a blueliner and Stefan a winger, I asked if the two met a few times during that contest in the heat of the battle.
"Yeah once or twice," Dillon chuckled, "Once, he's a big boy so he was in front of the net on the power play and he gave me a little cross check and I fell and he started laughing."
It hasn't all be smiles for Fournier though. This past summer when the top 1994 born players from across Canada were assembled in Calgary for the Ivan Hlinka tryouts, Fournier's name wasn't on the list. Here he was, a guy drafted 1st overall in his league but not on the short list to represent his country in the marquee scouting event.
"When I found out I was a little disappointed but Hockey Canada... it's a privilege so just because you miss one tournament, now you have to perform well in your season and then see what happens," he said knowing it's not his last chance at wearing the Maple Leaf one day, "Hopefully, there's the U20's too so... I'm not that disappointed but I'm not going to lie, for that one day when I found out I was upset about it but I had to put it behind me because I had a new team and a new season coming up. That's where my focus is now."
I asked Kevin Prendergast on the show last night for his thoughts on Fournier and why he specifically didn't get the call.
"What worked against him coming into the [U18] camp in the summer, Guy, was that even though he's 6'1 he's only about 165 lbs and we had a number of those guys so we had to settle on the ones we felt had the best chance of making the team," said Hockey Canada's head scout, "He's one of probably five or six kids that we left off of the camp [invite list] but could have gone over and played on the team, it's just one of those years for defencemen in Canada where it's just extraordinary as far as depth goes."
It is a incredibly deep pool of defencemen in this age group that Canada has produced so Prendergast's explanation is not just lip service. Still, Fournier says the listings that show him at 6'1 and 160lbs are pretty outdated.
"I'm 6'2 and about 180 lbs now," he said saying that he's added about 20 lbs over the last 14 months or so. "I'm still very lean and tall so it's been natural weight that you put on just by getting older."
I asked if not getting the call from Hockey Canada in the summer was going to be motivation for him for this season which also happens to be his NHL Draft year.
"Oh yeah, [it's a] big motivator," he confirmed, "You want to go prove to Hockey Canada and prove to everybody that you're able to play [at that level]."
The Montréal product says although he cheers for the Canadiens, his favourite NHL team is actually the Detroit Red Wings. He cites Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Steve Yszerman as his childhood hockey idols.
I asked a couple of independent scouts for their brief synopsis on Dillon Fournier.
"Very well rounded, two-way defender who is a reliable and effective puck mover," said Ross MacLean from ISS, "Good instincts and reactions on both sides of the puck. Great pro potential."
I asked MacLean for his thoughts on Fournier not getting invited to the August U18 camp.
"He flies under the radar a bit, he doesn't stand out that often," he explained, "He was a bit of a jump for 1st overall but is certainly another elite '94 born D-man."
Mark Edwards from HockeyProspect.com was brief and to the point: "Smart, good skater... needs to be more aggressive."
So far I haven't seen a ranking that has him pegged as a potential 1st rounder but perhaps Dillon Fournier is a player that we should be keeping an eye on as the 2011-12 season moves on.