2014-15 QMJHL Preview: Remparts, Oceanic could be class of the league

By Kevin Forbes
Nicolas Roy - Chicoutimi Sagueneens

Photo: Chicoutimi Sagueneens forward and 2015 prospect Nicolas Roy could be the top selection out of the QMJHL for the NHL Draft (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

 

On September 10th, when the Val-d’Or Foreurs begin their President’s Cup defense and the QMJHL‘s season begins, they will be a very different squad from the team that represented the league last spring at the Memorial Cup. Gone will be CHL Player of the Year Anthony Mantha and starting netminder Antoine Bibeau, with both making the jump to pro hockey. Forward Louick Marcotte and defenceman Ryan Graves have been traded away and team captain Samuel Henley and defensemen Guillaume Gelinas and Randy Gazzola have also moved on.

That is the nature of junior hockey: growth, development and, inevitably, departure. The constant overhaul of rosters is not exclusive to the defending champions. As players gain experience and core age groups are architected and nurtured, the fortunes of junior teams rise and fall with regularity. While it may be hard to imagine the Foreurs being able to challenge once again for the league title after saying goodbye to so much talent, there are other teams waiting in the wings for their opportunity.

The 2014-15 season will see the QMJHL host the Memorial Cup tournament once again, and so before the puck is even dropped, the Quebec Remparts have already punched their ticket to the CHL championship next May.

There’s plenty of hope for a strong class of draft-eligible players heading to the NHL Draft as well. Forwards like Nicolas Roy, Daniel Sprong and Evgeny Svechnikov as well as defenseman Jeremy Roy may all end up as first round draft selections next summer.

Here’s a look at how the QMJHL is shaping up for the upcoming year.

Acadie-Bathurst Titan
2013-14 result: 14th overall in the league, 4th in the Maritimes Division. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Acadie-Bathurst enters the season with a new logo on the front of their sweaters and plenty of new names on the back. Veteran net minder Jacob Brennan is back, as is most of last season’s defensive corps, including draft-eligible Guillaume Brisebois. But it is up front where the team has seen plenty of changes. Off-season trades have brought in veteran forwards Andrew Ryan, Raphael Corriveau and Bronson Beaton. They’ll be joined by rookie imports Egor Popov and Juraj Mily and returning leading scorer Christophe Boivin. It remains to be seen whether all these tweaks will lead to change where it matters most: in the standings.

Baie-Comeau Drakkar
2013-14 result: 1st overall in the league, 1st in the East Division. Eliminated in President’s Cup final.

After consecutive appearances in the President’s Cup final but no championship to show for it, Baie-Comeau will face the future under a new coach. Eric Veilleux has moved on to an opportunity in pro hockey, complicating the chances for the Drakkar to continue their dominance. On the ice, Baie-Comeau will have plenty of returning talent, even after saying goodbye to forwards Charles Hudon and Felix Girard. Valentin Zykov and Jeremy Gregoire form a strong duo up front and draft-eligible Nicolas Meloche as well as San Jose Sharks prospect Alexis Vanier will both be looking to build off their strong seasons last year on the blue line. Philippe Cadorette is more than capable between the pipes.

Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
2013-14 result: 5th overall in the league, 2nd in the West Division. Eliminated in third round of playoffs.

This appears to be a season of change for the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Head coach J.F. Houle has left for a position in pro hockey and the team spent much of the off-season moving veteran talent as they look toward the future. There could be further changes coming in the first half of the season among Blainville-Boisbriand’s overage players. Between forwards Danick Martel, Nikita Jevpalovs and Marcus Hinds as well as defensemen Dominic Talbot-Tassi and Daniel Walcott, the team has five players for two spots. Walcott could make the jump to pro and Jevpalovs might be pushed out if import selection David Kase arrives, but that still leaves changes to be made. Other than the veterans, there’s a lot of youth on this roster, including a pair of goaltenders who have 17 games of experience between them. The Armada made it deep into the playoffs last spring but it will be a few years before they make a similar run again.

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
2013-14 result: 9th overall in the league, 2nd in the Maritimes Division. Eliminated in first round of the playoffs.

Even though top scorer Cameron Darcy isn’t returning, the Screaming Eagles appear poised to improve and be the top team in the Maritimes Division this year. A young team that is maturing quickly, returning forwards like veterans Charles-Eric Legare and Kyle Farrell as well as NHL prospects Julien Pelletier and Clark Bishop will welcome talented draft-eligible Evgeny Svechnikov. He’s expected to form a dynamic duo with fellow import player Maxim Lazarev. Draft-eligibles Loik Leveille and Jason Bell lead a young defensive corps, but recently acquired veteran goaltender Francois Brassard will take care of most mistakes on the defensive side of things.

Charlottetown Islanders
2013-14 result: 15th overall in the league, 5th in the Maritimes Division. Eliminated in first round of the playoffs.

After a promising 2012-13 season, there were high hopes for the newly named Charlottetown Islanders in 2013-14. Instead, the team took a slight step back. To their credit, they refused to stand pat and made plenty of moves to ensure their young team is well positioned to take the next step this year. At the forefront are two star draft-eligible players, forward Daniel Sprong and defenseman David Henley, who are both building off impressive rookie seasons. Mason MacDonald, acquired halfway through last season, will carry the load between the pipes. Forwards like Kameron Kielly, Alexandre Goulet, rookie Mitchell Balmas and import players Filip Chlapik and Filip Rydstrom are also key pieces of a core unit that is developing quickly, as is defenseman Luc Deschenes.

Chicoutimi Sagueneens
2013-14 result: 13th overall in the league, 5th in the East Division. Eliminated in first round of the playoffs.

With a draft eligible, 6’4″, 200-pound forward as their centrepiece, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens will be getting a lot of attention from scouts this season. Nicolas Roy had a strong start to his QMJHL career last year, so all eyes will be on him as he looks to take the next step in his development and Chicoutimi looks to improve. He’ll be aided by current NHL prospects like Laurent Dauphin and recently acquired Gabryel Boudreau. Fellow draft-eligibles Jeremy Bouchard and William Gignac as well as 2016-eligible defenseman Frederic Allard fill out the young lineup.

Drummondville Voltigeurs
2013-14 result: 6th overall in the league, 3rd in the West Division. Eliminated in second round of the playoffs.

Opting to be extremely active during last season’s winter trade period, the Drummondville Voltigeurs weren’t as fortunate as they hoped in the post season and now must pay the price for being a buyer last year. Returning overage forwards Christophe Lalancette and Jerome Verrier are dangerous offensive weapons, but there isn’t much depth behind them, even if import Georgs Golovkovs takes the next step forward in his second season. The defense is a similar situation with overager Charles-David Beaudoin and import Sergei Boikov carrying the load. In the crease, Louis-Philip Guindon will be busy. Drummondville had two first round picks this summer in forward Mathieu Sevigny and defenseman Benjamin Gagne, but it still looks to be a long year in Drummondville.

Gatineau Olympiques
2013-14 result: 8th overall in the league, 4th in the West Division. Eliminated in second round of the playoffs.

It’s a good rule of thumb to never count out Benoit Groulx and the Gatineau Olympiques. The veteran QMJHL coach always seems to have a trick or two up his sleeve and many teams have been caught off guard by the Olympiques’ game preparation and resilience. The upcoming season should be no exception. Veteran Louick Marcotte arrives fresh off his championship season in Val-d’Or and he’ll join NHL prospects Vaclav Karabacek and Alexis Pepin to provide plenty of offensive punch. The defense features plenty of veteran talent, but the star is draft-eligible Alexandre Carrier. New Jersey Devils prospect Anthony Brodeur will get the first shot at filling the starting goaltending duties.

Halifax Mooseheads
2013-14 result: 2nd overall in the league, 1st in the Maritimes Division. Eliminated in third round of the playoffs.

The Halifax Mooseheads lucked out last year when the Tampa Bay Lightning decided that Jonathan Drouin needed another year of junior hockey. Drouin is gone now but the team is still hoping for similar fortune entering into this season. Nikolaj Ehlers, recently signed to an entry-level contract by the Winnipeg Jets after the club drafted him in the first round earlier this summer, is saying all the right things about hoping to crack the Jets lineup. Fortunately for Halifax, most expect the “Dashing Dane” to be one of the most dangerous players in the QMJHL once again this season. Halifax has lost a lot of their depth over the past two years and so it may be up to goaltender Zach Fucale to dictate how successful they are this year. The Montreal Canadiens‘ prospect will no doubt see an increase in action and will also be looking to rebound after a disappointing end to last season.

Moncton Wildcats
2013-14 result: 12th overall in the league, 3rd in the Maritimes Division. Eliminated in first round of the playoffs.

A pair of Russian players will set the pace for the Moncton Wildcats this season. Although the duo of Ivan Barbashev and Vladimir Tkachev only played together for the final third of last season, their combination of talent and chemistry makes them an exciting pair to watch, unless, of course, you’re tasked with stopping them. Supporting the Russians is a trio of Americans in diminutive scorer Conor Garland, promising rookie Liam Murphy and newly acquired draft-eligible, Cameron Askew, as well as the team’s top scorer last season, veteran Christophe Lalonde. The defensive side of the coin is solid with veterans like defenders Jacob Sweeney and Garrett Johnston as well as netminder Alex Dubeau. Rookie defenseman Zachary Malatesta, also from south of the border, impressed during pre-season play.

Quebec Remparts
2013-14 result: 7th overall in the league, 3rd in the East Division. Eliminated in first round of the playoffs.

The pain of being eliminated in the first round last spring must be somewhat lessened by the comfort of knowing that the Remparts are already guaranteed a spot at the 2016 Memorial Cup as the tournament host. The team has made plenty of moves this summer to further bolster their lineup as they look to win their third Memorial Cup in team history. Forwards Marc-Olivier Roy and Taylor Burke join a lineup already studded with potent weapons in Anthony Duclair and Adam Erne and further supplemented by new import player Dmytro Timashov, eligible for this year’s draft. They also own the rights to Vladislav Kamenev, although the Predators draft pick appears to be staying in Russia for now. On the blue line, Cody Donaghey is now joined by Ryan Graves and Nikolas Brouillard. Finally, between the pipes, draft-eligible Callum Booth is expected to carry the starting duties, but newly acquired veteran Eric Brassard will be there if he falters. Quebec appears to be the team to beat this season.

Rimouski Oceanic
2013-14 result: 4th overall in the league, 2nd in the East Division. Eliminated in second round of the playoffs.

If the Quebec Remparts are the team to beat in 2014-15, then the Rimouski Oceanic are the closest challengers to that throne. Considering Baie-Comeau also shares their division, the East will be worth watching all season long. An already deep forward corps featuring Anthony Deluca, Michael Joly, Alexis Loiseau and Frederik Gauthier will be further supplemented with the addition of Christopher Clapperton and Vincent Dunn. The Oceanic blue line is equally deep with Samuel Morin, Jan Kostalek and Loic Leduc doing the heavy lifting. Philippe Desrosiers is one of the top goaltenders in the league and his new backup, Olivier Tremblay, is a promising young talent waiting in the wings.

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
2013-14 result: 10th overall in the league, 5th in the West Division. Eliminated in second round of the playoffs.

The 2014-15 season marks the beginning of the rebuild for Rouyn-Noranda. NHL drafted forwards Francis Perron (Ottawa) and Julien Nantel (Colorado) will be tasked with carrying most of the offensive load to start the season with draft-eligible import player Denis Malgin rumoured to be joining the team at the mid-season mark. On the blue line, draft-eligibles Jeremy Lauzon and Philippe Myers as well as rookie Jacob Neveu and first year import player Danil Dolgushkin represent the future for the Huskies, but the team will need them to take on big responsibilities as soon as possible. Minnesota Wild prospect Alexandre Belanger will be relied upon heavily between the pipes.

Saint John Sea Dogs
2013-14 result: 17th overall in the league, 6th in the Maritimes Division. Missed playoffs.

They are knee deep in a youth movement in Saint John and holding nothing back as they work to regain their winning ways. Missing the playoffs last season, they ended up with the 1st overall pick in the league, thus defenseman Luke Green will join a talented but young defensive unit led by Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Olivier Leblanc and draft-eligible Thomas Chabot. Jakub Zboril, a rookie import player also eligible for this year’s draft as well as Adam Bateman, a former OHL first rounder, rounds out the defensive core. Up front, Green’s twin brother Matthew (selected 21 picks after his brother) will join draft-eligible Nathan Noel, returning veteran Matthew Highmore and import player Juraj Siska. Siska was scheduled to make his league debut last season, but injuries prevented that. Veteran netminder Sebastien Auger should see plenty of action behind this young team.

Shawinigan Cataractes
2013-14 result: 16th overall in the league, 6th in the East Division. Eliminated in first round of the playoffs.

Another team in the process of rebuilding, the Shawinigan Cataractes have a young roster and a big question to answer when it comes to their import players. German Marvin Cupper is a goaltender entering his overage season who will be relied on heavily to keep the games close. Dennis Yan is a Russian-American forward selected during this summer’s CHL Import Draft and eligible for next summer’s draft. Russian Ilya Zinoviev is a returning forward, but he might find himself as the odd man out. Behind the imports, Shawinigan’s team is led by draft-eligible Anthony Beauvillier up front and Minnesota prospect Dylan Labbe on defense. Much will be expected from first round draft picks Samuel Girard and Gabriel Sylvestre, both starting the rookie season on the blue line.

Sherbrooke Phoenix
2013-14 result: 18th overall in the league, 6th in the West Division. Missed playoffs.

This will be Sherbrooke’s third season in the league and they are still finding their way, but a framework for success is beginning to emerge. Forward Daniel Audette has been with the club since the beginning and is now a Montreal Canadiens prospect. He could challenge for the league scoring title this year. Defenseman Jeremy Roy had a strong rookie season last year and could be a first round draft pick into the NHL next summer. Between the pipes, Evan Fitzpatrick was drafted fourth overall into the QMJHL this summer and will be given every chance to succeed. The Phoenix won’t be rising to the top of the league standings this year, but they have plenty of exciting young talent to keep an eye on.

Val-d’Or Foreurs
2013-14 result: 3rd overall in the league, 1st in the West Division. President’s Cup champions.

The Foreurs have their work cut out for them if they hope to repeat as QMJHL champions. As mentioned, a significant amount of talent has departed from their roster over the off-season and so it will be up to players who formerly filled supporting roles to step up and take the lead in 2014-15. At the top of that list is forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel, a prospect for the Philadelphia Flyers. Finishing sixth overall in team scoring last year, he is the top returning player and should expect his responsibilities to skyrocket this year. He’ll be supported by draft-eligible Anthony Richard and 2016-eligible Julien Gauthier. On the blue line, rookie Gabriel Bilodeau and import player Daniel Krenzelok (also entering his first year) represent the future, while between the pipes, Edmonton Oilers prospect Keven Bouchard will be leaned on heavily in his second year.

Victoriaville Tigres
2013-14 result: 11th overall in the league, 4th in the East Division. Eliminated in first round of the playoffs.

A first round playoff exit last spring led to a complicated front office shake-up for the Tigres. Head coach Yanick Jean was fired and was shortly followed out the door by Jerome Mesonero, the team’s general manager. In a surprising turn of events, Jean was soon back with the Tigres, this time as their new general manager. Despite the musical chairs in management, there’s only been minimal change with the on-ice product. Full seasons from NHL prospects Yan-Pavel Laplante (acquired in a mid-season trade), Tommy Veilleux (injured for most of last season) and Samuel Blais (joined team in second half) could lead to improvement without needing new faces. Veteran Brandon Whitney is scheduled to return between the pipes after a scary injury to his larynx last January waylaid his season. With four picks in the first 30 of the QMJHL Entry Draft, the influx of youth is coming, while some of that veteran talent may also be moved out to expedite that process.

Follow Kevin Forbes on Twitter via @kforbesy