QMJHL 2009-10 prospects preview

By Kevin Forbes

With the puck already dropped on the 2009-10 season, there is stability in the league structure. After doubling the number of divisions in the league prior to last season and with no less than two teams seriously considering relocation at the onset, this QMJHL season has begun with no major changes in the way the league is arranged.

The same can not be said for on the ice. As is often the case with junior hockey, the balance of power has once again begun to shift. The QMJHL hosted the 2009 Memorial Cup and now teams who sacrificed some of their future for a shot at the championship begin the long road to rebuilding, while others look to step into place as contenders.

Here is a look at the 18 QMJHL clubs and what they might expect from the 2009-10 season.

Telus West

Gatineau Olympiques
2008-09 season: Finished 1st in the Division, 7th in the league; Eliminated in the quarter-finals of the playoffs

A year removed from winning the QMJHL championship, the Gatineau Olympiques were unable to put up much of a defense for their title. With their former coach moving on to the AHL prior to the season’s start, the club struggled out of the gate, including a 13-game winless streak and had a sub-.500 record after the first half. Thanks to key contributions by Gatineau’s veteran players, the Olympiques turned it around in the second half to solidify their division title and make it to the second round of the playoffs.

The remnants of Gatineau’s 2008 championship squad continued to whither away entering into the 2009-10 season. Gatineau will enter the season without last year’s top scorer (Paul Byron), team captain (Jean-Philip Chabot) and two of their top defenders (Maxime Mallette and Alain Goulet). Among the names returning to the squad are forward Alexandre Quesenel (82 points in 63 games last season), defensemen Steven Delisle (CLB) and Hubert Labrie (DAL) and 2010 eligible goaltender Maxime Clermont. Expect another drop in the standings for Gatineau as they continue to retool after their championship run.

Montreal Junior

2008-09 season: Finished 2nd in the Division, 8th in the league; Eliminated in the quarter-finals of the playoffs

QMJHL hockey’s return to the Montreal area show it to be an early success. After three seasons in Newfoundland, the St. John’s Fog Devils became the Montreal Junior as the QMJHL tried to take advantage of the largest market within its borders. Bringing in Pascal Vincent from Cape Breton, the team quickly underwent a makeover to attract the local fans. Perhaps the most dramatic move was trading for Angelo Esposito (ATL), a native of Montreal who began to rebound after a handful of struggling seasons in Quebec. Unfortunately for both Esposito and the franchise, the forward suffered a knee in mid-February to end both his season and his QMJHL career.

Esposito isn’t the only impact player not returning to the Montreal lineup for 2009-10. The team will be without its four leading scorers from 2008-09, as Nick Layton, Matt Fillier and Esposito have all finished their junior careers, while Luke Adam, the team’s second leading scorer, was traded in the off-season to Cape Breton. Meanwhile, defensemen T.J. Brennan will be moving onto the pro ranks and blue liner Dmitri Kostromitin was dealt to Rouyn-Noranda. The riches of the Montreal franchise can be found between the pipes, where the team boasts not one, but two top-tier net minders in Jake Allen (STL) and Jean-Francois Berube. With the Junior looking to reload for the future, some expect that a player like Allen could be dealt before the season is over.

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

2008-09 season: Finished 3rd in the Division, 11th in the league; Eliminated in the first round of the playoffs

After finishing the 2007-08 season as the top seed in the QMJHL, the difference of a year came at a heavy cost for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. The team watched many of their veteran players move on and when the 2008-09 season came to an end, there was little resemblance to the team that lost just 20 games in 2007-08.

However, with some smart dealing and some talented youth ready to take larger roles in the organization, the Huskies look primed to rebound quickly in 2009-10. Led by Sergey Ostapchuk and Jean-Sebastien Berube up front, the squad welcomes Philippe Cornet from the Rimouski Oceanic. On the blue line, the efforts of Nicolas Deslauriers will be bolstered by the addition of Dmitri Kostromitin. The Huskies may be the best bet in the Telus East.

Val-d’Or Foreurs

2008-09 season: Finished 4th in the Division, 17th in the league

One of only two teams to not qualify for the playoffs under the new league rules, the Val-d’Or Foreurs missed the post season by a single point. Despite the efforts of Maxime Sauve, Samuel Morneau and Marco Scandella (DAL), the team struggled throughout the year. They had a 14-game winless streak in first month of the season and went 2-8 to close out the last 10 games of the season.

Hanging out in the league’s cellar does have its benefits, however, as the team has been able to add some talented young players to the lineup such as Olivier Archambault, the top pick in the 2009 QMJHL Draft and Jean-Francois Leblanc, the fourth overall pick in the same draft. They join Alex Noel (15th overall in 2008) and Gabriel Beaupre (22nd overall in 2008) in forming the nucleus of the team moving forward.

Telus Centre


Drummondville Voltigeurs

2008-09 season: Finished 1st in the Division, 1st in the league; Won President’s Cup as QMJHL Champion

To say the defending QMJHL champion Drummondville Voltigeurs will look a bit different from the team that raised the President’s Cup is an understatement. Gone from the squad are their top four scorers from the 2008-09 season and with them goes 184 goals and 409 points. Also gone is mid-season additions like forward Christopher DiDomenico and goaltender Marco Cousineau. Behind the bench, Guy Boucher, their head coach is also gone, moving to the AHL to helm the Hamilton Bulldogs.

With that said, there’s still plenty of talent left, which, if nothing else, is a testament to just how strong the Voltigeurs were in the 2008-09 season. Up front, the team will be led by Gabriel Dumont and Philippe Lefebvre, a pair of Montreal Canadiens prospects and by Marc-Olivier Vachon, their top returning scorer. Antoine Tardif, the goaltender who split time with Cousineau is also returning. But the wildcard in all this is defenseman Dmitry Kulikov. A first-round pick in 2009, Kulikov is currently making his case to become a member of the Florida Panthers. A game-breaker every time he steps on the ice, his loss could be the final straw for a Drummondville team that has already said goodbye to so much.

Lewiston MAINEiacs
2008-09 season: Finished 4th in the Division, 16th in the league; Eliminated in the first round of the playoffs

Barely squeaking into the playoffs in 2008-09 and being out scored 38-9 in a four-game sweep in the first round, it is hard to imagine the Lewiston MAINEiacs as a team on the rise, but that might be exactly what they are. A young team, the MAINEiacs endured a coaching change in mid-season with veteran Don MacAdam taking the reins. Fueled only by the meager goal of making the playoffs, the team managed to achieve precisely that, despite going 3-7 in the last 10 games of the regular season.

With everyone a little bit older and more experienced, Lewiston is hoping for modest improvement over the previous year. With the knowledge that the road to competing in the QMJHL is a journey, not a sprint, the MAINEiacs dealt away some of their veterans over the off-season, saying goodbye to Danick Paquette (ATL), Patrick Cusack and Peter Delmas in return for younger assets and draft picks.

Shawinigan Cataractes
2008-09 season: Finished 2nd in the Division, 2nd in the league; Eliminated in the league finals

The Telus Centre was a battle all season long as Shawinigan and Drummondville, top two teams in the QMJHL, faced off against each other eight times during the regular season while beating up on the rest of the league. In an almost story-book finish, these division rivals met once again in the league finals with Drummondville coming out on top of the thrilling seven-game series. With so much action and emotion packed into the 2008-09 season, one of the questions circling the Shawinigan Cataractes is what do they have planned for an encore?

Like Drummondville, Shawinigan has experienced their share of losses, including their top three scorers, their top two scoring defensemen and their top goaltender. But they also have plenty of talent to back that up. The 2009 NHL Draft day was especially exciting for the Cataractes organization as four Shawinigan players heard their names called. Forwards Philippe Paradis (CAR), Dave Labrecque (PHI) and Maxime Legault (BUF) as well as defenseman Charles-Olivier Roussel (NAS) are all expected back in the lineup for 2009-10. They will be joined by top returning scorer Pierre-Alexandre Vandall and should form the core of a competitive roster for Shawinigan.

Victoriaville Tigres
2008-09 season: Finished 3rd in the Division, 10th in the league; Eliminated in the first round of the playoffs

Stuck in a division with 16 games against heavyweights like Shawinigan and Drummondville, Victoriaville did an admirable job by posting a record just shy of .500 on the season. Improving sizably on their 16th overall finish the previous year, Victoriaville may have lost players like leading scorer Maxime Tanguay, but they boast an interesting mix of young talent and veteran savvy that should be able to compete every night.

Among the names returning to the team are veteran netminder Kevin Poulin and defenseman Joel Chouinard. The Tigres second leading scorer, Andrej Nestrasil (DET) will be looking to improve on his numbers, while Columbus draft pick Tomas Kubalik hopes to make the most of his first season in North America.

Telus East


Baie-Comeau Drakkar

2008-09 season: Finished 4th in the Division, 14th in the league; Eliminated in the first round of the playoffs

A year removed from a disappointing 2007-08 season that saw them finish second in the league only to be upset in the first round, further salt fell into those wounds as the Drakkar struggled out of the gate in 2008-09 and never found their way. With a new year comes new hopes, but the forecast doesn’t look much better for Baie-Comeau.

Saying goodbye to leading scorer Felix Petit and top defenseman Pierre-Luc Lessard, the Drakkar will rely heavily on forwards Gabriel Bourque (NAS) and Guillaume Goulet to lead the offensive attack. The additions of veterans like Simon Olsson and David Cliche should help, but Baie-Comeau will need to continue to rebuild and wait for their young players to mature.

Chicoutimi Sagueneens
2008-09 season: Finished 3rd in the Division, 13th in the league; Eliminated in the first round of the playoffs

Although they are saying goodbye to both their leading scorer, Mathieu Tousignant and top defenseman Drew Paris, who are turning pro, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens might be a team on the rise. A young squad that took a step back in 2008-09, Chicoutimi will benefit from the return of Nicolas Deschamps, Jacob Lagace and Michal Hlinka, who will again be called upon to help lead their offense.

However, like any junior team, Chicoutimi has to look towards the future, which is why their lineup will boast three first-round draft picks from the 2009 QMJHL draft, including goaltender Robin Gusse, forward Rock Regimbald and defenseman Gabriel Vermette. The team also picked Finnish netminder Christopher Gibson in the Import Draft.

Quebec Remparts
2008-09 season: Finished 1st in the Division, 4th in the league; Eliminated in the semi-finals of the playoffs

After the 2008-09 season, rumors had Patrick Roy leaving the helm of the Quebec Remparts to take over a coaching or management role in the NHL. Nothing came to fruition and the former star goaltender is back behind the bench for another season in Quebec. Keeping the team competitive year after year, Roy’s squad looks to be strong again for 2009-10.

Despite saying goodbye to leading scorer Mikhail Stefanovich, forwards like Benjamin Breault and Jean-Simon Allard and top defenders Guillaume Monast (DAL) and Kevin Marshall, the team reloaded over the off season. Quebec added talents like Paquette, Cusask, Ryan Bourque (NYR), and Peter Delmas to a roster that already boasts considerable depth. With forwards like Dmitri Kugryshev, Kelsey Tessier and David Gilbert as well as a blue line featuring Samuel Groulx and Mikael Tam. Quebec will be a team to watch in 2009-10.

Rimouski Oceanic
2008-09 season: Finished 2nd in the Division, 6th in the league; Eliminated in the semi-finals of the playoffs

The host of the 2009 Memorial Cup, the Rimouski Oceanic loaded up on talent early on to compete with the CHL’s best. Unfortunately, they now have to pay the price. Gone from their squad are forwards Philippe Cornet, Keven Veilleux, Luca Cunti and Logan MacMillan (MIN). The team also said goodbye to defensemen Sebastien Piche (DET), Marc-Andre Bourdon and Maxime Ouimet.

However, like any team coming off a championship run, not all is lost as there is still talent left on the roster. Up front, bruising forwards Patrice Cormier and Jordan Caron are both expected back as is Patrick Delisle-Houde. The blue line still features Gleason Fournier (DET) and Emmanuel Boudreau and Matthew Dopoud will still man the pipes for Rimouski. Coached by Clem Jodoin, Rimouski may not compete for any championships, but they will still be a willing combatant for any opponent in the league.

Atlantic

Acadie-Bathurst Titan
2008-09 season: Finished 5th in the Division, 15th in the league; Eliminated in the first round of the playoffs

No team in the QMJHL scored fewer goals in 2008-09 than the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. Couple that fact with the Titan winning just five games in the second half of the season, including going winless in their last 13 matches and it may be another long season for the Titan.

With a young roster, Acadie-Bathurst regularly played a number of rookies in 2008-09. Those same players who experienced a trial by fire in their first season will be expected to mature quickly in their second year. The 2008-09 season featured a handful of bright spots, among them goaltender Nicholas Champion and forwards Vincent Couture and Jonathan Lessard, but more will be needed for the Titan to continue to progress.

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
2008-09 season: Finished 2nd in the Division, 5th in the league; Eliminated in the quarter-finals of the playoffs

Known as a hard-working, defensive squad, Cape Breton proved to be up to the challenge and once again was one of the top teams in the Atlantic Division. Despite losing their top three scorers over the off season, the Screaming Eagles opted to retool slightly and are set to once again be among the top teams in the QMJHL.

An offseason trade added burly forwards Luke Adam and Ashton Bernard to the Eagles front end, where they will join Nick MacNeil, the team’s top returning scorer. Meanwhile, on the blue line, Mathieu Brodeur, Michael Ward and Francis Meilleur form a solid core in front of star netminder Olivier Roy.

Halifax Mooseheads
2008-09 season: Finished 6th in the division, 18th in the league

Perhaps the best example of putting it all on the line for a run at the championship is the Halifax Mooseheads. After falling short in the title bid in 2007-08, the team plummeted to the bottom of the league in 2008-09. Not much was left from the team that finished the 2007-08 season atop the Atlantic Division and the pieces that were left were soon dealt as the Mooseheads rebuild their team and restock their pipeline.

Halifax fans can count on another long season in 2009-10, made perhaps even longer after Jan Stransky, acquired in a mid-season trade, opted to return to his native Czech Republic rather than continue with the team. Among the few bright spots for Halifax is Gabriel Desjardins, who as a 16-year-old rookie posted 13 goals. Halifax will be among the bottom-feeders in the league again in 2009-10 with an outside shot at a playoff spot.

Moncton Wildcats

2008-09 season: Finished 1st in the division, 3rd in the league; Eliminated in the quarter-finals of the playoffs

A defensive powerhouse, no team allowed fewer goals against than the Moncton Wildcats in 2008-09. Their star goaltender, Nicola Riopel, led the way, setting records and winning the Michel Briere Trophy as the league’s top player. However, Riopel, a 19-year-old, was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the off season and has made the jump to professional hockey.

That isn’t to say the story is over the Moncton Wildcats, far from it in fact. They still might be the team to beat in the Atlantic Division. Supplanting Riopel is goaltender Louis Domingue, a 2010-eligible netminder who is no slouch between the pipes. Returning to the blue line is a trio of defensemen in Mark Barberio, David Savard and another 2010 top prospect in Brandon Gormley. Up front, the team welcomes back top returning scorers Scott Brannon and Randy Cameron. Finally, Moncton may have an ace up their sleeve named Kirill Kabanov. Thought to be one of the top prospects for the 2010 draft, Kabanov is currently tied up in a dispute between the KHL and the CHL on where he will play in 2009-10. Should the IIHF rules in Moncton’s favor, his impact could make Moncton a favorite in not just the Atlantic Division, but also in the whole QMJHL.

PEI Rocket
2008-09 season: Finished 4th in the Division, 12th in the league; Eliminated in the first round of the playoffs

After stumbling out of the gate in 2007-08, the PEI Rocket repeated themselves in 2008-09 and once again, never seemed to get off on the right foot. However, once again, they find themselves with a new season ahead of them and perhaps the last chance for this particular group of players to try to get the team firing on all cylinders.

Returning to the lineup is Benjamin Casavant, a revelation in his second year to lead the team in scoring, Joel Champagne and Jarrad Struthers, both mid-season pickups and veteran Rocket players Chris Doyle and Jordon Southorn. They’ll also be aided by promising young players like Ben Duffy, Jordan Escott and Brandon Maclean, the team’s first-round pick in the last draft Jimmy Oligny (7th overall) and a pair of Import selections in Adam Polasek and Lauri Tokoi. Is this the year the Rocket get it right?

Saint John Sea Dogs

2008-09 season: Finished 3rd in the Division, 9th in the league; Eliminated in the first round of the playoffs

Much was expected from the Saint John Sea Dogs in 2008-09 after a 2007-08 season that saw them make a run right to the third round of the QMJHL playoffs. Unfortunately, some early stumbles led the team to sell some of their assets, namely Christopher DiDomenico and Alex Grant in an effort to retool quickly and be competitive in 2009-10. At least that was the plan.

As it stands, the Sea Dogs find themselves with a lot of questions. One major question, ‘will Stanislav Galiev, the first overall selection in the 2009 CHL Import Draft report?’ was answered when the IIHF ruled in Saint John’s favor after there was some disagreement between the KHL and the CHL about the 2010 top prospect’s rights. But two more questions are still unanswered. In return for the aforementioned trades of DiDomenico and Grant, Saint John received the rights to overagers Mike Hoffman and Nicolas Petersen. Unfortunately for Saint John, both players were drafted at the 2009 NHL Entry Draft and could be a contract offer away from turning pro. Regardless of those outcomes, Saint John will still ice a competitive team with leading scorer Michael Kirkpatrick back, as well as forward Steven Anthony and blue liners Yann Sauve and Simon Despres. But until the fates of Petersen and Hoffman are decided, the Sea Dogs have their fingers crossed.