Looking to take the final step

Seven months ago, Alexandre Grenier was a complete unknown to pretty much everybody living outside Saint-Jerome, Que.

While he's not yet a household name, the gifted Halifax Mooseheads winger has turned so many heads since January there's a decent chance he will be picked in the NHL entry draft in St. Paul, Minn., on Saturday.

"I never thought something like that was going to happen at the beginning of the season," said Grenier, a 19-year-old who started the campaign with the Saint-Jerome Panthers at the Quebec junior AAA level.

"I was just at the right place at the right time."

Grenier considers it a stroke of luck that he even played a game in the QMJHL.

The father of one of his Panthers teammates tipped off Quebec Remparts assistant general manager Jean Gagnon about the six-foot-five, 200-pound Grenier, who was challenging for the junior AAA scoring lead in December with 60 points in 33 games.

When the Remparts found themselves short-staffed over the holidays, Gagnon signed Grenier as a free agent to fill in temporarily.

"I remember arriving at my first practice and looking at the guys and going, 'What the heck is going on here?'" Grenier recalled. "Every pass was on the tape. I was practising twice, three times a week (in junior AAA) and in the Q it's every day. It's a big jump."

Yet Grenier made it look easy. Less than 17 minutes into his first game with the Remparts, he had his first assist - and by the end of the night, he had a goal and two helpers.

The Remparts had no choice but to keep Grenier, and he quickly evolved into a point-per-game player in 46 contests at the QMJHL level.

"When I got my chance, I tried to make the most of it," said Grenier, who the Remparts traded to the Mooseheads for draft picks earlier this month. "It worked out very well."

Grenier, who played midget AA instead of the more well-travelled AAA level, has never experienced this kind of attention. Not only was he never drafted by a QMJHL team, he didn't even get an invitation to a training camp as a walk-on.

He only got his chance in junior AAA as a late ninth-round pick because one of Saint-Jerome's scouts was one of his teachers at College Charles-Lemoyne - a "lucky break," according to Grenier.

He's making up for lost time now. Twelve NHL teams have interviewed him, no doubt perplexed at how a player with his towering frame and surprising scoring touch somehow slipped through the cracks.

"I don't know either," Grenier said. "I can't say why, but I'm here now - and I'm making the most of it."