By SN Staff
The QMJHL’s 2015-16 regular season begins tonight with the President’s Cup champion Rimouski Oceanic hosting the highly touted Shawinigan Cataractes.
Here are our predictions for the season ahead.
1. Sherbrooke - Led by Jeremy Roy (SJ), Alexis Vanier (SJ) and Carl Neill (VAN), the Phoenix have one of the league’s best defensive units. Daniel Audette (MTL), Julien Pelletier (CLB), Kay Schweri and Guillaume Gauthier are all proven goal scorers. Evan Fitzpatrick (17) is a fine young goaltender and has veteran Alexandre Legace to support him.
2. Val-d'Or - The Foreurs have both offense and size clearly in their favour. Four of last year's 'top 40' point getters - Anthony Beauregard, Anthony Richard (NAS), Nicolas Aube-Kubel (PHI) and big Julien Gauthier (2016 eligible) - play in the valley of gold. Led by former Sea Dog Jack vanBoekel at 6'7", the Foreurs have 12 players 6'2" or taller. Etienne Montpetit and 2015 first round draft choice Dereck Baribeau are promising in goal. However, their defence, headed by Olivier Galipeau, could determine where Val-d'Or finishes in the end.
3. Rouyn-Noranda - There is plenty to be excited about in Rouyn-Noranda this year. They are a solid team top to bottom. However, with only two 20-year-olds and four 19-year-olds on the opening roster, experience may be the team's only notable concern. Francis Perron (OTT), Julien Nantel (COL), J-C Beaudin (COL) and new import Martins Dzierkals (TOR) should provide an offensive spark. Jeremy Lauzon (BOS) and Phillippe Myers lead a solid core on defence in front of a fine duo in net - Samuel Harvey and Jeremy Belisle.
4. Gatineau - You can never say never when Benoit Groulx is in charge. With veterans Yan-Pavel Laplante (PHO), Yakov Trenin (NAS) and Tommy Veilleux (NAS) upfront and a solid defence lead by Alexandre Carrier (NAS) and Elie Berube, the biggest question could be "can free agent goalie Bo Taylor (from Ontario) stop enough pucks to allow Gatineau to push for the top?"
5. Blainville-Boisbriand - Many reporters - including yours truly - expected the Armada to struggle last year in the start of a reload. But led by three outstanding 20-year-olds (Martel, Jevpalovs & Walcott), BBA made a valiant run. Samuel Montembault (FLA) may well be one of the top 2-3 goaltenders in the QMJHL and pesky Philippe Sanche has shown an excellent ability to score. However, one has to wonder if Joel Bouchard can pull all the right strings again.
6. Drummondville - The Voltigeurs are clearly in rebuild mode but, by going all in a couple of years ago in a failed run for the President’s Cup, the cupboards are somewhat lacking. With veterans Justin Guenette and Sergei Boikov (COL) on defense, Drummondville will try to keep their goals against down. Joey Ratelle is the most recognizable name upfront - but could be gone after the Christmas break. Unfortunately, it looks like it could be a tough year in Drummondville.
1. Sherbrooke Phoenix - Simply put the Phoenix appear ready to take the next step and make a serious run at a championship. They’ve lost forwards Cam Darcy, Tim Weiser and David Storto but managed to replace them with Guillaume Gauthier, Julien Pelletier and new import player Jan Dufek. The defense is very solid, led by Jeremy Roy and Carl Neill, and former fourth overall pick Evan Fitzpatrick should be ready to take the reigns in net this season. That being said, this division will be very tough for all the teams trying to reach the top three seeds.
2. Val-d’Or Foreurs - The Foreurs have a high octane offense with key players returning in Anthony Richard, Anthony Beauregard, Nicolas Aube-Kubel. and Julien Gauthier. Goal scoring won’t be an issue for this team. The area of concern might be defense. With the departure of Jeremie Fraser they will likely lean on former first round pick Olivier Galipeau and overage veteran Carl Tremblay. Goaltending should belong to Etienne Montpetit but he should get a push having this year’s fifth overall pick, Dereck Baribeau, nipping at his heals - but it’s Montpetit’s job to lose at this point.
3. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies - The Huskies are a team that’s close but not quite there yet. They have some dangerous offensive weapons led by Francis Perron and Julien Nantel. On defense they are a little young - although they will have Boston Bruins second round pick Jeremy Lauzon and veteran Allan Caron - the bulk of their defense are between the ages of 17 and 18. Samuel Harvey had a good start to his rookie campaign last year but will need to find that form again for the Huskies to be successful.
4. Gatineau Olympiques - An interesting team in a very tough division - so much so that just because I have them fourth they could easily still win the division. It’s really that tough in the West. In fact, I think they are still a top 10 team in the league. Leading the way for the Olympiques should be the dynamic Russian duo of Vitalii Abramov and Yakov Trenin. On defense they have underrated defender Alexandre Carrier as well as Elie Berube; however, I’m a little concerned about the overall depth on defense. Goaltending is a major concern with two rookie netminders in Bo Taylor and Mathieu Bellemare.
5. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada - Joel Bouchard is a very good coach and he’ll have his work cut out for him trying to play out of this division. The Armada will be in tough this year after losing both of their 100 plus point producers last year in Danick Martel and Nikita Jevpalovs. The load will fall on the shoulders of Philippe Sanche, who could become a prime target at the trade deadline given the lack of depth in overage players across the league. To make matters worse, the Armada also lost their best defenseman in Daniel Walcott. Florida Panthers third round draft pick Samuel Montembeault is going to be getting plenty of work manning the pipes for the Armada this season.
6. Drummondville Voltigeurs - The Volts could miss the playoffs for a second straight year largely due to the strength of their division. The silver lining is they still have their first round pick in 2016 and it’s shaping up to be a very good draft. Offensively they will rely on Joey Ratelle and Alex Barre-Boulet - although Ratelle should become trade bait this Christmas. Overage defender Justin Guenette and Sergei Boikov should see a ton of ice time while Nicolas Lachance will be a starter for the first time in his junior career and will have his work cut out for him.
1. Shawinigan - After going all in to host, and ultimately win, the 2012 Memorial Cup, Shawinigan GM Martin Mondou committed to a full blown rebuild starting in 2012-13. By drafting fine talent and making a few excellent trades, the Cataractes are set to be a threat for the next 2-3 seasons. Players to watch include Anthony Beauvillier (NYI), Denis Yan (TB) and defenceman Samuel Girard (2016 eligible). Shawinigan has an interesting battle brewing in net with three highly touted young goaltenders (Foulem, Samuel & Denisov). Shawinigan is still one of the youngest teams in the league, so a lack of experience may be the Cat's only issue.
2. Rimouski - The reigning President’s Cup champions may appear to be headed for a rebuild. But with an excellent core on defence led by Simon Bourque (MTL), Andrew Picco and Evan Scott - a proven winner in goal - Louis-Philip Guindoin, and battle tested veteran forwards (such as Michael Joly and Anthony Chapados), the Oceanic may just have enough left in the tank to give Shawinigan and Victoriaville a true battle in the east. So, Rimouski is my dark horse for the 2015-16 season.
3. Victoriaville - With a 'top six' forward group that includes Gabriel Gagne (OTT), Samuel Blais (STL), Pascal Laberge (2014 No. 2 overall pick) and Maxime Comtois (2015 No. 3 overall pick) and a solid goaltending duo of Chase Marchand and Olivier Tremblay, there is plenty to like about this young group of Tigres. However, the team's defence could ultimately determine if Victoriaville can break into the upper tier of teams this season.
4. Quebec - The 2015 Memorial Cup hosts have seen a large number of players move on. With one of the league’s marquee goaltenders in Callum Booth (CAR), a veteran defence anchored by Matt Murphy, Nicolas Broulliard and Raphael Maheux, the biggest question could be "can Dmytro Timashov (TOR), Massimo Carozza and a group of young forwards score enough goals to remain in the middle of the pack?" (Note: Halifax Mooseheads fans hope not). The other burning question could be "will Philippe Boucher perform a complete sell off at Christmas time?"
5. Baie-Comeau - The Drakkar were led by a group of top-flight veterans last season (i.e. Gregoire, Ciampini, Gamelin and St-Cyr). While Nicolas Meloche (COL) and Guillaume Beaudry remain on defence - and Keven Bouchard (EDM) hopes a change of scenery improves his professional stock - Vaclav Karabacek (BUF), Jasmin Boutet and the other forwards likely will not be able to fill the scoring void left by the departed veterans.
6. Chicoutimi - Despite seeing powerhouse teams in Rimouski and Quebec loading up last Christmas, new GM Yanick Jean decided to roll the dice with a group which included eleven 19 year-olds. Nicolas Roy (CAR), Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau (SJ) and import Dmitry Zhukenov (VAN) provide fire power upfront and Julio Billia is a fine goaltender. But a defence with three 16 year-olds (Krief, MacIsaac & Grouleau) is in for a challenging season.
1. Shawinigan Cataractes - This should be a walk in the park type year for Shawinigan. They are easily the top team in the East and it shouldn’t even be close. The Cataractes should challenge for the top seed overall and possibly the President’s Cup. Shawinigan has everything covered. They have plenty of offense, they are solid on defense and the only possible area of concern might be goaltending against some of the teams outside their own division.
2. Victoriaville Tigres - The best of the rest, the Tigres should provide the biggest challenge for Shawinigan and will lean on Samuel Blais, Gabriel Gagne and Mathieu Ayotte to provide the bulk of their offense. They also have promising young guns Pascal Laberge and Maxime Comtois up front. Import Filip Pyrochta will have to be a stud on defense. Goaltending could be an area of concern. After releasing overage goaltender Chase Marchand, they will rely on a pair of 18-year-olds in Olivier Tremblay and James Povall. I’m not sold on the Tigres’ goaltending.
3. Rimouski Oceanic - The Oceanic begin the rebuild phase but still have one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the QMJHL in Michael Joly. It gets a little thin up front after Joly and expectations are that he will be dealt over the Christmas trade period. Simon Bourque and Guillaume MacSween will get big minutes for the Oceanic with the departure of Samuel Morin and Jan Kostalek. One area that should help the Oceanic is their goaltending with Louis-Philip Guindon back between the pipes.
4. Quebec Remparts - The second half of the President’s Cup final, the Remparts also face a rebuilding phase. Given the amount of draft picks they gave up - Quebec waited until the fourth round of the 2015 draft to make their first pick – it could be a bit more painful than Rimouski’s. That being said, we are talking about the Quebec Remparts, so they should be able to make the most of their draft picks. The Remparts will hope that Dymtro Timashov returns amid rumours of him considering to play in Sweden. On defense they will look to Nikolas Broulliard should he return from NHL camp with the Toronto Maple Leafs. The bright spot will certainly be young Callum Booth guarding the net.
5. Chicoutimi Sagueneens - The rebuilding Sags will go through some growing pains this season and will rely heavily on former first overall pick Nicolas Roy and 18-year-old rear guard Frederic Allard. The Sags will be starting four rookies on defense and the older two are only 18 years old. Once promising prospect Julio Billia will look to show he can elevate his game and he’ll certainly get the opportunity. Billia’s backup this season is Xavier Potvin, the son of former NHLer Felix Potvin.
6. Baie-Comeau Drakkar - The Drakkar will be without their top 4 scorers from a year ago so they will be looking to Vaclav Karabacek to lead the charge offensively. Without much in the way of a supporting cast, goals will be hard to come by for the rebuilding Viking ship. The Drakkar do have one of the league’s top defenders in Nicolas Meloche and he’s proven that he can handle the big minutes. Expect Baie-Comeau to get many offers for their talented defender. It should be an interesting battle between Keven Bouchard and rookie Evgeny Kiselev in net.
1. Charlottetown - It's fair to say that Team Canada candidate Mason McDonald (CGY) could be the best junior goaltender in the CHL. Having McDonald combined with a solid defence that includes Dexter Weber, David Henley and former Sea Dogs Will Thompson and Alex McQuaid, the Islanders could be hard to score against. 'Goals for' should not be a problem for snipers such as Daniel Sprong (PIT), Filip Chlapik (OTT), Alexandre Goulet, Kameron Keilly and another former Sea Dog - Oliver Cooper.
2. Cape Breton - The Screaming Eagles are led by four of the QMJHL's top offensive performers in imports Evgeny Svechnikov (Det) and Maxim Lazarev, along with Clark Bishop (CAR) and budding superstar Pierre-Luc Dubois (2016 eligible). Cape Breton also has arguably one of the league's best defence cores with former Sea Dog Olivier Leblanc (CLB), Loik Leveille and Alexandre Gosselin. However, some question Cape Breton's depth and strength in goal. There are bad feelings among some Eagles fans as a result of Alex Ranger's decision to go pro in the ECHL and Shane Bowers' (2015 No. 4 overall pick) decision to head to the USHL (Waterloo).
3. Saint John - With a league leading seven NHL drafted players (D Jakub Zboril (BOS), D Thomas Chabot (OTT), C Samuel Dove-McFalls (PHI), RW Mathieu Joseph (TB), LW Boko Imama (TB), RW Spencer Smallman (CAR) and LW Adam Marsh (DET)) plus a couple of NHL camp invitees (C Nathan Noel and D Jason Bell) plus two highly rated 2016 eligible defencemen (Luke Green and Oliver Felixson) plus the QMJHL's first "exceptional status" 15- year-old player (C Joe Veleno)... the Sea Dogs could be the deepest team in the QMJHL. A lack of playoff experience and a minor question mark in goal are concerns. However, the coaching staff of Danny Flynn, Paul Boutilier and Jeff Cowan all know what it takes to be successful and get to the next level.
4. Moncton - The Wildcats are always tough and Mr. Robert Irving wants to win every year. Moncton currently has the highest average age in the QMJHL with only four players under the age of 18 on their initial roster. Led by scoring champion Conor Garland (ARI), Cameron Askew, free agent twins Kelly and Kevin Klima and a supporting cast of hard working, opportunistic forwards, the Wildcats could surprise everyone and win the division once again. However, Moncton's defence, led by Garrett Johnston and Zachary Malatesta, along with veteran goalie Zachary Fortin, may very well determine where the Wildcats land in the standings this season.
5. Halifax - After an impressive run, including the 2013 Memorial Cup victory, the Mooseheads are in the early stages of retooling. Halifax now has one of the youngest lineups and it could get even younger depending on what GM Cam Russell does during the Christmas trading period. The Mooseheads clearly have some high-end players, such as RW Timo Meier (SJ), D Cody Donaghey (TOR), brothers Danny and Connor Moynihan, D Cavan Fitzgerald and goaltender Eric Brassard. With Dom Ducharme behind the bench, Halifax is in great hands and could surprise once again.
6. Acadie-Bathurst - After years of being stuck in the middle to lower end of the standings, a new ownership group determined (roughly two years ago) that a full blown rebuild was in the best interest of the franchise. They are led by veterans C Mark Simpson and D Guillaume Brisebois (VAN). They also have exciting young prospects Jordan Maher (2014 No. 6 overall pick), Antoine Morand (2015 No. 2 overall pick), Vladimir Kuznetzov (2015 No. 1 in CHL Import Draft) and Egor Popov. The future is indeed bright for the Titan. Acadie-Bathurst is facing a loaded division this season but they should make it into the playoffs - and could sneak past one or two division rivals if things fail into place.
1. Cape Breton Screaming Eagles - The Eagles have an excellent defense group which is among the best in the entire league. Expect the Eagles to add another forward for their top six after losing Alexandre Ranger to the ECHL and Shane Bowers to the USHL. There are some concerns over their goaltending as the once promising Alexandre Belanger has yet to elevate his game to the next level. I like the Eagles chances to go very deep and they have the assets to make a big splash at the trade deadline.
2. Charlottetown Islanders - Interestingly enough, Charlottetown has the opposite concerns when comparing to Cape Breton. The Islanders have the firepower up front and quite possibly the top goaltender in the CHL. My concern for the Islanders rests with their blueline, which is still relatively young for a team that has targeted this season as the year to contend for a championship.
3. Saint John Sea Dogs - The Sea Dogs could easily challenge for a top spot if they can find consistent goal scoring. Saint John has quite possibly the most depth among forwards and defense in the QMJHL but still lack that go to guy like a Huberdeau or Hoffman. Goaltending is still a question mark but overage goaltender Marc-Antoine Turcotte had a stellar pre-season and will look to carry that success into the regular season. It could be an “exceptional” season as the Sea Dogs are definitely a team on the rise.
4. Moncton Wildcats - The Wildcats are an interesting team this year. They seem to be a squad that will be looking to rebuild but they are also one of the older teams in the Maritimes Division. My expectation is that the league’s leading scorer a year ago, Conor Garland, will be traded during the Christmas trade period - but with the Wildcats, they might just decide to go for it (tough to gauge their intentions). Darren Rumble is a quality coach and they have a decent supporting cast. There are some concerns around goaltending but Zach Fortin had an excellent pre-season, showing there is some potential there for the Wildcats.
5. Halifax Mooseheads - The time has come for the Mooseheads to revamp their lineup as the cycle of great teams comes to an end. I fully expect the Mooseheads to trade Timo Meier should he return from the San Jose Sharks this season. Also expect several other veteran players to be dealt during the next trade period. The Mooseheads also have Danny Moynihan and have added a few talented rookies up front through the import and entry drafts (Sompii, Durandeau, and Putinitsev). Goaltending is still solid with Eric Brassard manning the pipes while defensively expect them to lean heavily on Cavan Fitzgerald.
6. Acadie-Bathurst Titan - The Titan could be better than the Mooseheads post trade period. The problem for the Titan is they are in a very tough division this season. Bathurst has started to make some solid draft picks and are certainly trending in the right direction. They are still very young though and will take their lumps this year. But, with a very good young nucleus up front with Antoine Morand and Jordan Maher, the future is looking very promising.
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