Defenceman Jeremie Poirier took the advice of the Saint John Sea Dogs coaching staff to shoot the puck more this season. And it's paying off.

The 17-year-old Poirier currently leads the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in goals and shots on net by a defenceman, and is averaging a point per game.

The production is coming at a perfect time, too, with Poirier being listed as a potential first-round pick at the 2020 NHL draft.

"Last year I was trying to look for a cute little pass, but this year I'm more focused on putting the puck on net, walking the blue line and shooting more pucks," said Poirier. "I've got way more goals already. When you shoot you never know what's going to happen."

Sea Dogs president and general manager Trevor Georgie added: "We were urging him last year to shoot more because he likes that perfect pass. His natural instinct is probably to distribute."

Poirier is one of five QMJHL players that was recently given a Grade A status by NHL Central Scouting, meaning his name should be called in the first round of June's draft in Montreal.

His size won't be an issue moving forward — he's already listed at six-foot and 196 pounds — and he doesn't shy away from additional pressure, which he showed again on Wednesday with the shootout winner in 4-3 victory against the Cape Breton Eagles.

"With my abilities and puck skills I'm a guy who can score in shootouts," said Poirier, who is 2 for 2 this season in the shootout.

"When the coach puts me in I just make my move and try to win it for the boys."

Poirier is logging heavy minutes this season with the Sea Dogs playing alongside William Villeneuve — another 2020 draft-eligible prospect — on Saint John's top pairing and also running the power play.

"Good size, he moves well, the other piece you can't undervalue is his confidence," said Georgie. "Zero arrogance, zero selfishness, just confidence in his ability."

Poirier also picked up an assist on Wednesday to give him nine goals and 27 points in 27 games. He also has 121 shots on goal, only two less than his entire rookie season in 2018-19.

"He's not just getting his points in garbage minutes or favourable situations. He plays a lot." said Georgie.

Georgie, who was named Sea Dogs GM in 2016, said it was an easy decision for Saint John to select Poirier No. 8 in the 2018 QMJHL draft after watching him succeed in the playoffs with the triple-A Chateauguay Grenadiers a season earlier.

"Why we drafted Jeremie was his ability to take over a game," said Georgie. "He has the skill set to do so.

"Looking at his tools, he has the best hands of any player that's come through (Saint John), NHL pick or not. He likes to carry the puck, dart into open space, very rarely will we see him panic on a play. He can usually skate the puck up almost at will."

Poirier, from Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Que., grew up an Erik Karlsson fan when he was a member of the Ottawa Senators. He said his current favourite player is Senators blue liner Thomas Chabot and he wants to emulate the former Sea Dog when he hits the ice.

Poirier spends his off-season out on the lake near his home. He considers boating and fishing to be his main hobbies away from the rink, saying that it's good "to relax and forget about hockey a little bit."

Georgie said Poirier has the type of attitude and work ethic that'll carry him to the next level.

"I firmly believe when games become bigger he'll continue to rise to the occasion," said Georgie.

Gilbert Delorme holds the QMJHL record for points in a season by a 17-year-old defenceman, finishing with 111 in 71 games in 1979-80.

Nineteen Canadian Hockey League players were listed as Grade-A prospects for the upcoming draft, with five coming from the Western Hockey League and the Ontario Hockey League leading the way with nine.

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This report was first published by The Canadian Press on Nov. 27, 2019.