Hendrix Lapierre’s path to a professional hockey career has never been the easiest.
At just 19 years old, he’s already played three adversity-filled seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. At points, he's thought his career might have been over.
In February 2019 he suffered a concussion, returned to the lineup later that season and set himself up as a potential high pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. But after a slow start, he was diagnosed with a second concussion. He returned to the lineup for his Chicoutimi Sagueneens, only to be diagnosed with a third concussion.
The problem? He didn’t suffer three separate concussions. It was one combined with a neck injury where vertebrae were out of place. While certainly not a minor injury, Lapierre felt lucky he hadn't sustained three concussions in a 10-month span. The Capitals felt lucky he fell to them at No. 22.
A team that once made a killing off later first-round draft picks (Evgeny Kuznetsov at No. 26 in 2010, Mike Green at No. 29 in 2004, John Carlson at No. 27 in 2008) believes it could have a similar story. After another coronavirus-shortened year in the QMJHL in 2020-21, Lapierre is now back at rookie camp in Arlington this weekend confident he’s healthy and ready to make an impact.
“Definitely more comfortable. When you get there the first time you don’t really know what to expect,” Lapierre said Sunday on the team’s second day of rookie camp. “You meet new people, there’s a lot of things going on at once. Now that I came for the second time, I know where things are, the hotel, the rinks, the schedule a little bit more. Definitely a little bit more comfortable. I think things are going well so far, so definitely the second experience helps a lot.”
Lapierre played 21 games for Chicoutimi last season and had 31 points. He ranked eighth in the QMJHL in points per game. But even that season was marred by COVID as he spent more time than he’d have liked quarantining throughout the season as he bounced between his junior team, Canada's World Junior national team training camp and a preseason stint with the Caps in January.
That meant a lot of times in hotel rooms instead of on the ice watching video on himself and doing whatever workouts he could anywhere there was space to make himself a better hockey player. He carried that program into the offseason, which is why Lapierre was so confident in his game while speaking to media.
“I think I’m getting closer to it every day,” Lapierre said. “I do everything in my power each and every day to be a better hockey player, whether it’s on-ice preparation, off-ice preparation. I think I had a really good summer in terms of training, nutrition, sleep, stuff like that. Definitely feel really good right now, lots of confidence. I think that’s a good thing, the mental side of things. Right now I feel confident in my abilities and just in my general play.”
Lapierre's goal is to make the Canadian World Junior team this season after being a long-shot as an 18-year-old. He wasn’t satisfied with his play at Canada's camp last December when he was among the first round of cuts. Little things about his game could be improved. It takes a lot to stand out amongst some of the best young hockey players in the world, which last year included Caps' top prospect Connor McMichael.
But World Juniors and the QMJHL can wait. For now, Lapierre is in Washington until the Capitals send him back. Rookie camp is an opportunity and so is any time he gets during training camp against the NHL players, who begin camp this week. As for what he hopes to show management?
“Just that I’m ready to play,” Lapierre said. “I had a big summer, I’m confident. I really want to prove that I’m not only a junior player right now, that I can play at the next level. I know it’s going to be tough. It’s the National Hockey League, there’s lots of really really good guys. But I have nothing to lose.”