Bussieres moves on from missed chance

BOISBRIAND, Quebec -- Raphael Bussieres seems like your typical junior hockey star as he answers a reporter's questions outside the visitors dressing room at the Centre d'Excellence Sports Rousseau, two hours before his Baie-Comeau club meets the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.

It's clear he's already media trained; after all, as a projected first-round selection in June's NHL Draft, he's been asked the same things over and over this season at each Quebec Major Junior Hockey League stop.

But when the conversation turns to last month's Subway Super Series, which pit the QMJHL all-stars against Russia's national junior squad, the clichés disappear and the fire in his eyes becomes apparent. Bussieres was forced to withdraw with a minor injury that occurred on the eve of the two-game set.

"I was pissed," Bussieres said. "Two days before."

Missing the event ended whatever chance the 6-foot-1, 180-pound left wing from Longueuil, just across the St. Lawrence river from downtown Montreal, had of making Team Canada for this month's World Junior Championship.

He was a long-shot anyway. Bussieres just turned 18 last month, and only one player younger than him, hulking Ottawa 67's defenseman Cody Ceci, was among the 41 players invited to Canada's pre-tourney training camp.

Still, scouts are buzzing about Bussieres. He was ranked third among Quebec league players on NHL Central Scouting's most recent watch list, behind Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Remparts and Halifax Moosehead's Martin Frk. With 27 points (11 goals, 16 assists) in 25 games, Bussieres clearly hasn't let any lingering disappointment affect his play.

"He has a great upside for sure," says Baie-Comeau coach Mario Poulliot. "He's really good with the puck. He has poise, he's good physically and he's a great skater. He's really active on his skates, has speed and agility. For us he's really important, because I base my system on puck-possession."

He's not all offense, though, at least not anymore.

"Last summer he worked out off the ice, improved his strength," says Poulliot, who compares Bussieres' style to Los Angeles King and Quebec league alum Simon Gagne. (Bussieres, meanwhile, says he patterns his game after Hab Max Pacioretty.) "Now he's playing with more consistency, and he's actually improved our defensive play."

Opponents have taken notice, too. At the NHL's Research and Development camp near Toronto last summer, Bussieres impressed blue-chip WHL blueliner Ryan Murray, who is expected to be among the top picks in June.

"We only played three games, so you didn't get too close of an eye on some guys, be he was definitely someone who stood out," Murray says. "He seemed like a really skilled player. I remember playing against him and he was always a threat."

Bussieres could be even more dangerous by being less unselfish and shooting more often, instead of first looking to pass, said Baie-Comeau general magager Steve Ahern.

Off the ice, Ahern says Bussieres has a quiet intensity.

"He's an assistant captain for us," the GM says. "He does his job, but he's not a showy guy. He's not loud. He's a good person for a team, a very good kid for the other players to look up to."

As for missing out on the chance to up his draft stock against Russia or at the World Juniors, Bussieres won't have time to dwell on it much longer. He'll get another chance to wow scouts at the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Feb. 1.

Says Ahern: "That will be the most important game of his career, I think."