1999-2000 QMJHL Season Preview

By pbadmin
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) kicked off its thirty-first season this week with the league’s oldest team, the Shawinigan Cataractes, facing its newest, the Montreal Rocket. With sixteen teams, the league will be divided into the Lebel and Dilio conferences, each comprising two divisions of four teams. Here’s what to look for in the coming season.

LEBEL CONFERENCE

Western Division

Hull Olympiques (Coach: Claude Julien)—The Olympiques figure to be one of the teams to beat in the QMJHL this season and are the favourite to finish first in the Western division. Hull possesses a strong offensive team, which includes returning NHL draftees such as Michael Ryder, Ryan Lauzon, Paul Spadafora, Radim Vrbata and Brock Boucher. The Olympiques are also excited about Czech rookie Michael Pinc who could play in Hull this year if his release from his Czech team can be arranged. The key player on defense for Hull is 1998 Red Wings draft pick Jiri Fischer. However, he could remain at Detroit’s training camp for a while and may even graduate to the NHL this season. Should that occur it would be a big blow to the Olympiques.


Montreal Rocket (Coach: Gaston Therrien)—The QMJHL’s latest expansion team seems to ooze hockey lore. They are part-owned by Pat LaFontaine, have Serge Savard Jr. as their General Manager and are named after hockey’s original (and greatest) “Rocket”, Maurice Richard. In addition, they play their home games on the olympic-sized ice surface at the Maurice Richard arena. Despite all this, their on-ice performance will likely be less awe-inspiring. Like most expansion teams, the Rocket have stocked their team with castoffs from the existing teams. As such, few are expecting the Rocket to have a lot of success this year, but they hope to be exciting and competitive. They have built a team based on speed, and could be difficult to beat at home, especially if they can get the lead. Their key players include Alain O’Driscoll, who scored 35 goals for Acadie-Bathurst last year, Edo Terglav and 1999 midget draftees Christopher Montgomery and Jean-Michel Boisvert. Montgomery, a smallish centreman (5’10″, 160 lbs.) and first pick overall, is reputed to be an outstanding skater, while Boisvert was the Quebec Midget AAA scoring champion. The Rocket were banking on Islanders’ draft pick Frederik Brindamour to be their number one goalie. However, he was injured in the pre-season and it is not known how long he will be absent. His replacement will be Jonathan Wilhemy, who spent some of last year with the Quebec Remparts.

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (Coach: Jean Pronovost)—The key to the Huskies remains their offence, and the key to their offence begins and ends with Mike Ribeiro. Drafted in the second round of the 1998 entry draft by the Montreal Canadiens, Ribeiro was the league scoring champion in 1998-99 with 67 goals and 100 assists. He was very ably complemented by James Desmarais (62 goals and 73 assists in 66 games) and Jerome Tremblay (38 goals and 132 points), two players the Huskies hope return this year. The Huskies’ blueline has some question marks, which may mean some long nights for newly acquired goalie Jonathan Pelletier, who played in Drummondville last year. If the Huskies drop out of contention, look for them to trade Ribeiro and begin their re-building process.

Val-d’Or Foreurs (Coach: Serge Trépanier)—The Foreurs will be counting on some of the same key players as last year for their offence. This group includes Benoit Dusablon, who recorded 116 points, Denis Boily (67 points in 53 games), Guillaume Lamoureux and Sabres’ 1999 draft pick Seneque Hyacinthe. The defense will be led by Oilers’ draft pick Jonathan Fauteux, while Panthers’ draftee Jonathan Charron will likely play the bulk of the Foreurs’ games in goal, though Dave Verville will undoubtedly get in a fair share of playing time as well.


Central Division

Drummondville Voltigeurs (Coach: Daniel Bissonnette)—Drummondville finished last season with the worst record in the QMJHL, and while they figure to be better this year, they still have a long way to go before they can be considered a contending club. Avalanche draft pick Philippe Sauvé was a key acquisition in goal by the Voltigeurs and will be looked upon to steal some wins if the team hopes to make it into the playoffs for the first time in three years.

Shawinigan Cataractes (Coach: Denis Francoeur)—The Cataractes boast, arguably, the best goalie tandem in the QMJHL in Senators’ 1998 first round pick Mathieu Chouinard and Panthers’ prospect Jean-François Laniel. Their defense will be ably led by Mathieu Biron, while Jean-Philippe Paré, Alexandre Tremblay, Pascal Dupuis and Dominic Forget will contribute enough offensively to lead the Cataractes to first place in the Central Division.

Sherbrooke Castors (Coach: Jos Canale)—The Castors have a good core group of players, but lack sufficient depth to be considered a serious contender in the QMJHL. They will rely on Flames’ pick Dany Sabourin in goal and will need increased offensive output from players like Lightning draft selection Dimitri Afanasenkov and Maxim Popatov in order to be competitive.

Victoriaville Tigres (Coach: Alain Rajotte)—The Tigres have one of the youngest teams in the league and will be counting heavily on Danny Groulx and Avalanche prospect Alexander Ryazantsev to lead their defense corps. In goal, Victoriaville will turn to Jean-François Nogues, an L.A. draft pick, while Pierre-Luc Therrien is in the American League on a tryout. The key to the Tigres’ offense will be Canadiens’ selection Marc-André Thinel, who recorded 103 points last year. His twin brother Sebastien will be expected to improve upon his 15-goal, 39 point season, while Carl Mallette and 2000 entry draft prospect Antoine Vermette, acquired from Quebec, will also need to contribute more goals.

DILIO CONFERENCE

Eastern Division

Baie-Comeau Drakkar (Coach: Richard Martel)—The Drakkar begin their third season in the QMJHL and face an uphill battle to make the playoffs. They are counting on two 17-year olds in goal, Jean-Philippe Chartier and Ghislain Rousseau. On defence, beyond Jonathan Gauthier they have several question marks, while offensively Yanick Lehoux, an early prospect for the 2000 NHL draft, will need to greatly improve upon his 10 goal and 20 assist performance from last season.

Chicoutimi Saguenéens (Coach: Martin Daoust)—Chicoutimi had an awful 1998-99 and will be looking to rebound this year. They had a scare in training camp when rookie centre and 2000 NHL draft hopeful Christian Larrivée was injured by an errant stick and lost sight in one eye for a short period of time. It looks like he will be fine and will be counted on to supply some offence. The Sagueneens have added some experience in 20-year old forward Yannick Carpentier and 20-year old defenceman Dominic Desbiens. Their defence also includes Under-18 national team member Karl St-Pierre, who is considered to have a lot of potential. Remi Bergeron will carry the load in goal, with rookie Olivier Dannel acting as the back-up.

Quebec Remparts (Coach: Guy Chouinard)—With potentially five NHL first round picks in their line-up, the Remparts start the season as not only the best team in the QMJHL, but also, arguably, the best team in the entire Canadian Hockey League. Though such statements may doom a team, the Remparts seem to have no weaknesses. They are solid in goal, with Flyers’ first round pick Maxime Ouellet, and should have their top two players, Simon Gagné (Flyers’ first round pick in 1998) and Eric Chouinard (Canadiens’ first round pick in 1998) back from NHL training camps before too long. In addition, in the off-season, Quebec added overage Patrick Grandmaître (37 goals, 78 assists in 70 games in 98-99) from Victoriaville, and should get increased production from Wesley Scanzano. Defensively, the Remparts figure to be just as dominant with Avalanche 1999 second round pick Martin Grenier returning and the addition of two other NHL first rounders through the CHL import draft: Coyotes’ pick Kiril Safronov and Islanders’ selection Kristian Kudroc. Anything short of a Memorial Cup victory in May would be a disappointment for the Remparts.

Rimouski Océanic (Coach: Doris Labonté)—The Oceanic will ice an exciting team this year. They are led on offence by Brad Richards and Jurai Kolnik, drafted by Tampa and the Islanders respectively. Add to that anticipated increased output from Jonathan Beaulieu and potential first round pick in the 2000 NHL draft Thatcher Bell, and the Oceanic should have little trouble scoring. Defensively, they will rely on veteran Michel Periard, an Ottawa draft choice and on their first round pick in the 1999 midget draft Brett MacLellan. Rimouski should also be solid in goal with Penguins’ prospect Sebastien Caron.

Maritime Division

Acadie-Bathurst Titan (Coach: Roger Dejoie)—Last year’s QMJHL champions are another team facing a major overhaul from last season. Gone are Roberto Luongo (to the Islanders), Mathieu Benoit, who signed a free-agent tryout with the Devils’ organization and Alain O’Driscoll (to the Rocket in the Expansion Draft), to name a few. The Titan will be left with Jonathan Girard, who should return from the Bruins’ training camp and François Beauchemin (3rd round pick of the Canadiens in 1998) to lead their defence. As for the forwards, there are many question marks after Avalanche draft selection Ramzi Abid and Jules-Edy Laraque, the younger and smaller brother of the Oilers’ Georges Laraque. The 1999-2000 season could be a long one for the Titan.

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (Coach: Bruce Campbell)—The Screaming Eagles should improve on last year’s 48 point season. The question is by how much? They will rely heavily on David St. Germain in goal, and will look to Lightning ninth round pick Chris Lyness and Captain Trevor Ettinger (an Oilers’ draft choice) to solidify their defence. Cape Breton will need to have more offence from some of their returning forwards if they hope to compete for a playoff spot.

Halifax Mooseheads (Coach: Robert Mongrain)—The 2000 Memorial Cup hosts are a team in transition as last year’s stalwarts Alex Tanguay and Ladislav Nagy will likely turn pro this season with the Avalanche and Blues, respectively. The Mooseheads still have a solid team starting with L.A. Kings’ prospect Alexei Volkov in goal and with 2000 draft hopeful Pascal Leclaire as a back-up. Up front, the Kings’ 1999 second round pick Andrei Shefer should contribute his share of offence. The Mooseheads are also high on another 17-year-old touted as a top pick in next year’s NHL draft, centre Brandon Benedict.

Moncton Wildcats (Coach: Réal Paiement)—The Wildcats present a very solid team for the 1999-2000 season and could offer the only possible challenge to the Remparts in the Dilio Conference. Senators’ prospect Simon Lajeunesse will assume the role of number one goalie following the graduation of Jean-Francois Damphousse, while the defence will be anchored by Sabres’ 1998 first rounder Dimitri Kalinin, who should return for another year of junior. Offensively, the Wildcats have good balance with Simon Laliberté, David Comeau, Martin Bartek, returning to the QMJHL after playing in Slovakia last year and Leafs’ prospects Mirko Murovic and Morgan Warren.

PREDICTIONS

Lebel

1) Shawinigan

2) Hull

3) Val D’Or

4) Sherbrooke

5) Rouyn-Noranda

6) Victoriaville

7) Drummondville

8) Montreal

Dilio

1) Quebec

2) Moncton

3) Halifax

4) Rimouski

5) Chicoutimi

6) Cape Breton

7) Baie Comeau

8) Acadie Bathurst

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