If you want to know how Tristan Luneau became a No. 1 pick into the QMJHL and a projected first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, you don’t have to look much further than the athletes in his immediate family.
His mother, Nadia, is a former figure skater and current skating coach. His father, Dominic, is a former hockey player and Canadian university football player who got his master’s degree and turned from defensive lineman into chemical engineer. His oldest brother, Samuel, followed his dad into a university football career and is described by his littlest brother as a “big dude who played the D line.” His second-oldest brother, Maxim, is a gymnast and rope performer who recently did a tour with Cirque du Soleil in China. His third brother, Tommy, who is closest in age to him, was drafted into the QMJHL with the 99th pick in the 2018 draft, briefly played for the Quebec Remparts, and is now training to be a police officer.
He got his talked-about obsession with getting better from his circus-performing big brother. He sees it in all of his family members, but says it’s Maxim who instilled it in him the most. When he watches videos of his brother swinging through the air, and climbing up and down ropes and straps, often carrying other performers with him while he executes his stunts, he marvels at the training and schooling that went into it.
“(Maxim) was dedicated and got successful at it, and that’s what dedication does. It’s pretty impressive but it’s kind of scary at the same time because it’s pretty dangerous,” Tristan said. “He has taught me dedication for sure. All my brothers did. They taught me to have passion and that you have to go after what you want and be dedicated to training and nutrition to get great performances.”
He learned to skate through his mom, who now teaches figure skaters and hockey players alike.
“She was my first coach,” Tristan said. “My mom has always come on the ice to do edges that I can translate to hockey. I never really tried to do figure skating, but I would have liked it. I got my edges from her for sure. She has taught me pretty much everything I know about skating.”
His success academically, and his passion for learning, come from his dad. He was the kind of kid who has always liked school, and excels like his dad did in math and science.
His competitiveness comes from being the youngest, and always trying to keep up, whether that was racing against his three big brothers to see who was the fastest, or battling for pucks with them in “hours and hours” spent on the outdoor rink they’d build in their Victoriaville, Que., backyard.
“It was really competitive. They all played hockey and they weren’t all as skilled as I became but it was fun growing up. Everything we did was a competition, right down to who was finishing their plate first,” Tristan said.
And bit by bit, they made him into who he became, both as a player and athlete and also a person.
Competing against his brothers helped him play a year ahead of his age group growing up, eventually turning him into the captain of the Trois-Rivieres Estacades under-18 AAA as a 15- and 16-year-old, and helped him to 30 points in 37 games to win Quebec’s top minor hockey league’s defenceman of the year award.
Together, they helped him on his way to being the No. 1 pick in the 2020 QMJHL Entry Draft and wearing an alternate captain’s “A” with Team Canada at the 2020 Youth Olympics.
Voici le but de Tristan Luneau pour procurer la victoire en tirs de barrage.
— Olympiques de Gatineau (@OlympiquesGAT) April 20, 2022
In 2020-21, the drive and determination they all instilled in him combined with his father’s smarts and his mother’s teachings helped him step right into the Gatineau Olympiques’ lineup and immediately become a top defenceman in the QMJHL. He posted 18 points in 31 games, logging big minutes in the COVID-19 shortened year, and adding another bit of hardware — the QMJHL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Award — to his growing list of accolades.
Now they’ve led him, via Gatineau from that backyard in Victoriaville, to Montreal for the 2022 NHL Draft.
After his rookie season helped him achieve an “A” rating by NHL Central Scouting (indicating a first-round selection), he now heads into the draft as the No. 24-ranked North American skater on their final list.
And he’s done it all during a season which began with a knee procedure but ended averaging a team-high 25:33 and posting six points in seven playoff games.
The first time Dominic De Blois, an agent with Will Sports Group (WSG), saw Tristan play, he came across him by chance.
De Blois was at a Bantam hockey tournament in Gatineau, where he is based out of, and in between games he’d wandered to another pad and had stumbled across a Minor Bantam game that was being played, when this one kid with a familiar last name on his jersey kept jumping out at him.
“Luneau. Luneau. Luneau. Where do I know that name from?” he thought to himself.
Eventually, it came to him. He knew the name Luneau because they’d invited Tommy out to Boston for one of the tournaments WSG used to run out there to give kids a look at the college hockey path.
So after the game was done, he called his partner, Jonathan Lachance, about this second Luneau.
“Hey, I remember you mentioned Tommy Luneau, the 2001 player, is he related to this kid because this kid is just lights out?” he said.
“Yeah, he is, and he’s a Peewee,” Lachance said.
“No, he’s a Bantam, I’m watching a Bantam game,” De Blois answered back.
“No, he’s ahead a year,” Lachance replied.
Struck by the fact that he was “the best player on the ice by a lot” as an underager, De Blois decided to introduce himself to the family.
From there, one thing led to another when he learned that they were looking for help with a move from Victoriaville to Trois-Rivieres so that Tommy and Tristan could play for its AAA teams. And when they learned that De Blois was already representing Mavrik Bourque (now a first-round pick of the Dallas Stars), who was from just outside of Victoriaville, had grown up playing with Tommy, and was also planning a move to join the Estacades, it made sense to further the conversation.
“It wasn’t a hard pitch or anything. I wasn’t like ‘I want to represent your 12-year-old son.’ But we started talking and at that time they needed someone to guide them because they were going to have to move or pay billets for the next several years between the two kids,” De Blois said. “And because (Nadia’s) a skating instructor, she had the flexibility and it made sense for them financially to make that move. It would have been crazy billeting two kids in AAA and going back and forth, on top of the thousands of dollars it costs for AAA.”
Years later, after growing close with the family, De Blois began to realize what others always have about the youngest Luneau: That Tristan is a byproduct of the people around him.
There’s some Tommy in him. They got to play together for one year, in 2018-19, when Tristan played his first of two seasons at the under-18 level as an 14-year-old and his big brother was his captain of the Estacades. The following year, when Tommy moved on, Tristan took over for him wearing the “C.”
There’s some of Dominic in him, as well.
“He’s a shy kid but he’s well-educated and well-spoken like his dad,” De Blois said on a recent phone call.
And there’s definitely some Maxim in him.
“He’s very similar to Maxim,” De Blois said. “They were pretty close growing up. He’s a sensitive kid, so he saw the military-like discipline in his brother. Max is an absolute specimen, a freak of nature, and disciplined to a crazy degree. He’s in the less than 1 percent of the world in what he does.”
Two summers ago, as he prepared for his rookie season in the QMJHL, others at WSG, led by Ian Pulver, began to see it too. That included clients Thomas Chabot and David Savard, whose pro group he was allowed to train with at Laval University in Quebec City that summer at just 16 years old (a rarity for a kid that age).
In their training sessions, Tristan always beat them to the rink to get his routine of stretches in. By mid-July, they were joking with him about chilling out and telling him to take more breathers.
“Those guys would tell me ‘This kid’s super intense,’” De Blois said. “He wanted to win every single race and battle. He’s just wired differently. He has one focus and he wants to get to the NHL. He does everything like a pro.”
The first time Olympiques general manager and head coach Louis Robitaille met Tristan it was — just like De Blois before him — through his brother, Tommy.
At the time, Robitaille was then the head coach of the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigers, the team that had drafted Tommy into the QMJHL. So when he was hired by Gatineau in April of 2020, and the QMJHL draft rolled around a couple of months later, he was already familiar with Tristan, Victoriaville’s up-and-coming star, and his family.
Drafting him with the No. 1 pick — and recruiting him away from his then-commitment to play NCAA hockey for the Wisconsin Badgers — became a no-brainer.
“I know the family really well and he’s well-surrounded. They’re all athletes and they’re coming from a bunch of different sports, which helped Tristan,” Robitaille said. “You put it all together and it’s a melting pot where it’s ‘I’m going to take this from my older brother who plays football, and this from the one who’s in gymnastics, and this from the figure skater.’”
Once he got him into Gatineau, he then saw immediately what guys like Chabot and Savard had that summer.
“Tristan’s a pro. He’s a pro. You don’t control what people think on the outside but he’s the classic kid who controls the controllables. He’s unbelievable at doing that,” Robitaille said. “Whatever he feels can benefit him and the team through his preparation, he will do it and he will do it on his own. He’s a very mature kid.”
After his rookie season, that maturity was put to the test when he had to decide whether or not to have a procedure done on a non-hockey knee injury that had bothered him since his youth.
When the Hlinka Gretzky Cup and the QMJHL season were both cancelled and pushed back in the span of a month, he met with De Blois, Gatineau medical staff, and his family to undergo some tests and debate going ahead with it. Though it wasn’t an MCL or ACL tear and they knew it wouldn’t result in a yearlong rehab process as a result, they also knew going ahead with it meant losing his summer (and the eventual U18 camp Hockey Canada held in place of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup) and delaying the start of his draft year.
Knowing they weren’t likely to get another window like this to do it, they ultimately decided to go ahead with it.
Though Tristan was able to out-pace his scheduled return by going the extra mile with his rehab process, it still stripped away his offseason, preventing him from returning to skate with the group in Quebec City and even keeping him from his habit of shooting pucks.
It also spilled through his entire preseason with the Olympiques and past their first three games of the regular season.
And when he finally got back, he was behind the curve physically. The result was a six-game pointless drought to start his draft year.
In time though, he worked harder than his peers in order to play catch-up. He became so engrossed in getting back to where he wanted to be that the Olympiques even gave him his own key to the rink. After Christmas, while the QMJHL went on an extended COVID-19 induced pause which saw play suspended for all of December and January, Tristan, much to his parents’ surprise, went as far as to return to Gatineau on Dec. 27, several weeks ahead of most of his peers, to train.
“He said ‘I’m going to take advantage of this while all the other guys are at home.’ That’s pretty unique,” De Blois said. “He’s right up there as far as discipline and commitment to the game. It was a challenging time for him not to be able to train like he does. But we knew, knowing how he is, that he would eventually catch up physically and get back to where he was. You root for a kid like that.”
When play eventually resumed in early February, Tristan had accomplished exactly what he’d set out to, rebuilding his 6-foot-3, 188-pound frame piece by piece.
“I was happy with the procedure and I recovered well. It’s an injury that was bothering me for a long time. (But) it took a long time to get back,” Tristan said. “It was kind of progressive where the first games were just getting the habits back and getting into game shape too because I hadn’t been on the ice for so long. And then from there, I think my game just kept growing.”
In the second half, better results followed, building through the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game (where he again wore a letter, donning an “A” for Team White in a 3-1 win) and beyond. After posting 15 points in 26 games in the first half (0.58 points per game), he posted 34 points in 44 games (0.77 points per game) in the second half to finish his draft year with 49 points (including 12 goals) in a combined 70 regular season and playoff games.
“When you’re a young athlete projected to go high in the draft, there’s always that pressure, that outside noise, and I knew early on in the year that he needed to get his rhythm back. But I’ll tell you, he was playing well and it was kind of a training camp. And then you look at his production in the second half of the year and it speaks for itself,” Robitaille said. “He knew he had time during that break to get his game up and his feeling on the ice and he didn’t want to leave anything out there and say ‘I should have done this or that.’ And that’s a credit to him.”
More than the production, though, what impressed Robitaille was how his No. 1 defenceman did it, by playing some of the toughest minutes in the QMJHL.
In the playoffs, that included scoring those six points in seven games while being tasked with shutting down overaged star Jeremy Michel and Hurricanes prospect Justin Robidas in the first round, and then Bourque and Oilers first-rounder Xavier Bourgault in the second round.
“He wanted to be efficient on both sides of the puck, he knew he was playing against key players, and people seem to forget that. He plays tough minutes. And he’s still producing offensively in those minutes. And what I like is the maturity to be good without the puck and with the puck. That’s why our team was able to have success this year was because we had a young guy like him succeeding in key minutes,” Robitaille said.
Robitaille credits Luneau’s hockey IQ and singular determination and focus for his ability to play those minutes.
“He does everything 100 percent, whether it’s preparation, skating, shooting, his battle level. And he’s a student of the game. And for me, he’s got a team-first mentality. He’s a guy who took away flashiness for efficiency to help his game but also to help his team. And he knows by doing those sacrifices, that he gives back some points and that people who come to see him and see flashiness don’t always see it. But he’s dialled in in everything he does,” Robitaille said. “And that’s why for me there’s no doubt that he’s going to have a long career and he’s going to be successful.
“It’s not every day that you have a kid who’s willing to take away his personal agenda for a team benefit. And we often forget that scouts want to see flashiness and then when they get to 19-20 years old they go ‘well take away the flashiness now for efficiency’ and they try to teach him that. But that’s going to make him a better player earlier in his career and ready sooner because he’s already doing the kind of stuff that coaches and GMs at the next level expect out of their players.”
As the year progressed, Tristan began to feel like himself again too.
“I see myself as a two-way defenceman and my best asset is my hockey IQ. I use that to create offence, be creative in the O-zone, be good in transition, and think outside the box to escape pressure or make a good play,” he said.
Down the stretch and into the playoffs, that play attracted scouts from around the NHL to see him play in droves.
He set them at ease, showing them all of the little things he pulled from his family and honed for himself.
“There was a lot of expectations — massive expectations — of him because of the way that he performed last year. And when it’s all said and done, I know the kid that we have and there’s no other player that works as hard as this kid in this age group. There’s just none. And that will be the separator with what it takes to get there,” De Blois finished. “(And) it didn’t just pop out of nowhere, this great second half. He worked. That’s where he gained his edge. And it all ties in with the brothers and the family discipline.”
With reporting in Kitchener, Ont., and Gatineau, Que.
(Photos: Luke Durda / CHL Images)