An in-season free agent signing, particularly of a junior player, is rare. However, when it comes to a player with the ability and pedigree of Maxime Fortier, it comes as no surprise. The QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads have announced that their captain has signed an entry-level deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. While Columbus has yet to make the official announcement, thus leaving the salary terms unknown for the time being, the contract will be for three years and should finally give Fortier the shot at the pros that he has earned.
Passed over in the NHL draft twice and having left Montreal Canadiens camp without a contract in each of the past two years, Fortier’s production in juniors has finally become too impressive to ignore, even in light of his size concerns and lack of any defensive game. Fortier, now in his fifth season with Halifax at the age of 20, erupted on to the scene in the QMJHL in 2015-16, when he doubled his point total from the previous season, notching 77 points in 68 games. That production increased again last season, jumping to 87 points in 68 games and a point-per-game performance in the playoffs. To begin the 2017-18 season, Fortier already has 27 points in 18 games, on pace for a whopping 102 points if he plays 68 games again. Perhaps even more impressive is that Fortier is a +12 thus far, a positive player for the first time in his junior career. Fortier is taking steps toward becoming a true NHL-caliber player and it would be no shock if the other 30 NHL teams are looking back in frustration at the many times they missed out on Fortier as he blossoms into a star in Columbus.
However, that future is still a ways away. Halifax was clear in their team release that Fortier will remain with the team for the remainder of the season, skating alongside top 2018 draft hopefuls Jared McIsaac, Filip Zadina, and Benoit-Olivier Groulx on a team that plans to contend for a QMJHL title. They also made mention that Fortier is likely to begin his pro career with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters and, considering his need to develop a more well-rounded game, especially against bigger, stronger competition, it seems likely that Fortier could spent ample time in the minors before making his NHL debut in a couple of years. Still, Fortier’s offensive prowess makes him a player to watch in seasons to come and potentially franchise-altering move by the Blue Jackets.