After playing in Quebec for his entire career, French-Canadian prospect Raphael Bussieres believes he is ready to head south and make the jump to pro hockey.
Bussieres, a former second-round pick in 2012 (46th overall) has been playing in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) since he was 15 years old.
He has come a long way since being drafted by Moncton (later traded to Baie-Comeau) in the QMJHL. The first two years in juniors were hard on Bussieres, who was a young player on a struggling team.
“I didn’t make the playoffs the first two years,” Bussieres said. “We played in one [playoff] series the third year and this year made the Finals.”
“My first two years we didn’t have a good team, it was hard. We had a good bunch of guys, we got a new coach this year and we had a good season.”
In the 2010-11 season Baie-Comeau won just 12 games with a team that had several young players in full-time roles. Despite that, Bussieres finished as the Drakkar’s second leading scoring with 39 points (17-22=39) in 66 games.
In his second full season with the club in 2011-12, Bussieres had 44 points (21-23=44) and the team upset Victoriaville in the first round of the QMJHL playoffs. However, Baie-Comeau ran into the junior hockey juggernaut, the Saint John Sea Dogs, a team that featured Wild prospects Charlie Coyle and Zack Phillips.
That summer Bussieres was selected by the Wild in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft in Pittsburgh and returned to Baie-Comeau where he had a breakout season.
In 60 games for Drakkar, Bussieres put up 68 points (29-39=68), while adding an additional 16 points in 19 playoff games, helping advance the club to the finals.
“There were instances in Baie-Comeau where he was a dominant player,” Wild Director of Player Development, Brad Bombardir said. “There were also times where he wasn’t and that happens with these guys where they’re really good, but also inconsistent.
“Raphael needs to learn to do that everyday and every shift, he hasn’t gotten there yet, but we have total confidence he will because of the intangibles he brings.”
The 19-year-old played the most games in his career this season and credits attending Development Camp last summer to helping him both physically and mentally.
“[This past season] it was hard on the body; you have to take care of it. You have to eat well, sleep well and be a pro,” Bussieres said. “I’ve improved a lot [since last year]; my physical game, my speed and shooting.
“Last year was my first year in development camp so I’m more confident and have to concentrate on getting even bigger, faster and stronger.”
“He works extremely hard during the offseason to get in tremendous shape,” Bombardir said. “I went up there and watched him, right after the game he had his running shoes on to go to the gym down the hall and get a lift in. He’s very focused that way.”
Bussieres is developing into a leader, as well. He was named an assistant captain this past season for the Drakkar. That leadership carried over into this summer’s Wild Development Camp. Bussieres led by example, demonstrating drills to first-year prospects. He was also seen calling his line mates to him after shifts during the camp’s 3-on-3 games to talk strategy with them.
The 19-year-old has a reputation for a furious intensity on the ice. Bussieres admitted he loves playing hard and battling against opponents in the corners for loose pucks and, of course, he isn’t afraid to drop the gloves.
Last year in development camp he lost two teeth from a high stick. In the interview with WildTV after practice he grinned showing off his hockey smile and said he liked it.
In an exhibition prospect game against Wild 2012 first-rounder Mathew Dumba, Bussieres and his fellow Minnesota prosepct dropped the gloves. Asked about the incident, he smiles and talked about being roommates with Dumba around Christmas time when he was in the Twin Cities.
“We talked about that game. In the game and after off the ice it’s another thing,” Bussieres said. “We’re friends and we’re on the same team now. It’s part of my game, when I have to fight, I fight.
“I like to play like that. I’m on my game when I’m physical and creating chances for my teammates. It’s fun to play like that.”
Off the ice however Bussieres seems to be a joker with his teammates. He is easy to spot with his hockey hair, wide smile and loud laugh. His English has gotten noticeably better since being drafted by the Wild. He credits playing hockey with helping him improve his English, which he taught himself.
Bussieres signed an entry-level contract with the Wild in May. Although he can return to his junior team next season, he hopes that his hard work in the offseason can elevate his game to make the jump to the pros after training camp. When asked about the prospect of leaving Quebec for the first time and potentially adjusting to living in the States he was excited.
“I’ve lived my whole life and played juniors in Quebec, now my pro team is in the United States,” Bussieres said. “It’s fun. I learned my English from hockey. I want to play for the Wild or for Iowa. That’s my goal.”
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