2015-16 QMJHL Preview: 2015 draft picks ready to shift the power in QMJHL

By Kristopher Bras
Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cape Breton Screaming Eagles; Samuel Montembeault - Blainville-Boisbriand Armada

Photo: Cape Breton Screaming Eagles forward Pierre-Luc Dubois (L) is one of the more prominent 2016 prospects playing in the QMJHL in 2015-16, while Blainville-Boisbriand Armada goaltender and Florida Panthers prospect Samuel Montembeault (R) is a 2015 pick who should play a prominent role for his club this season (courtesy of Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images and Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

 

 

The QMJHL will be hard-pressed to provide its fans with more excitement than the seven-game series between the Quebec Remparts and Rimouski Oceanic did last season. Although those teams may not find themselves in quite as good a position to entertain in 2015-16, other squads are poised to supplant them at the top of the standings—and many of the league’s best players are back for an encore.

With one of the best under-20 defensive units in the world, the Saint John Sea Dogs will climb the standings quickly, and will likely provide the 2016 NHL Draft with another defenseman in the first round—Luke Green. The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies could become the QMJHL’s most improved team, with an impressive cast of NHL prospects rounding out the roster.

With so many high draft picks at the 2015 NHL Draft, the QMJHL will be a treat to watch in 2015-16. The continued development of those returning draftees will be responsible for a shifting of power in the league—which is great for most fans, but not so much for those in Quebec and Rimouski.

Acadie-Bathurst Titan
2014-15 result: 18th overall in the league, 6th in the Maritimes Division. Did not make playoffs.

The Acadie-Bathurst Titan had a catastrophic 2014-15 season, one which saw them score just 158 goals, 103 less than the 271 they gave up. Although the young team probably will not do much better this season, it does boast one of the QMJHL’s best young defenseman in Guillaume Brisebois (VAN). The smart, two-way defenseman captained the Titan last year, and his calm leadership will not go unnoticed during training camp in Vancouver.

The Titan selected draft-eligible Russian winger Vladimir Kuznetsov with the 1st overall pick at the 2015 CHL Import Draft. The move gives the team a big, strong, skilled presence along the boards. The Titan will also enjoy the improved services of Jordan Maher, a fast, skilled draft-eligible center.

Baie-Comeau Drakkar
2014-15 result: 7th overall in the league, 4th in the East Division. Eliminated in the 2nd round of playoffs.

The Baie-Comeau Drakkar lost their top four scorers over the summer, so there will be plenty of pressure on Colorado Avalanche draft pick Nicolas Meloche to shore up the team’s defense this season. Although the Drakkar finished seventh in the league in 2014-15, they actually scored 10 fewer goals than they allowed. That could put them in a world of hurt this season, since their top four scorers (including Maxime St-Cyr) accounted for 119 of the team’s 227 goals (52%). The team acquired goaltender Keven Bouchard (EDM) to weather the storm, but it may not be enough.

Luckily, the team will have Vaclav Karabacek (BUF) for the full season (barring a trade). Although he had trouble getting hot after he was traded to the Drakkar at the trade deadline, he will be good for at least 20 goals. Draft-eligible winger Jordan Martel looked good in camp, and Import Draft asset Igor Kabanov certainly has potential. They should help to fill some of the offensive void, but not nearly all of it.

Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
2014-15 result: 3rd overall in the league, 1st in the West Division. Eliminated in 1st round of playoffs.

The Blainville-Boisbriand Armada is another team that lost some heavy firepower during the offseason, but thanks to goaltender Samuel Montembeault (FLA) the team should not be impacted too much. Montembeault is easily one of the best goaltenders in the QMJHL, and although his numbers suffered a bit in 2014-15, he nevertheless helped the team to the best goals-against total (185) in the league.

Although defenseman Daniel Walcott (NYR) moved on to the AHL’s Hartford WolfPack, Swedish winger Christan Blomqvist should put some more goals in the lineup, as evidenced by his capable performance in camp. Fellow import Kristian Pospisil also played well throughout the exhibition schedule, with eight points in four tilts. Center Miguel Picard is probably the team’s best prospect for the 2016 NHL Draft.

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
2014-15 result: 13th overall in the league, 5th in the Maritimes Division. Eliminated in 1st round of the playoffs.

The Cape Breton Screaming Eagles had a mediocre 2014-15 season, but it was not for lack of talent. This season, the team stands to improve on their first round elimination from last spring. Although leading scorer Kyle Farrell moves on, many of the team’s key pieces remain. 2015 first round draft pick Evgeny Svechnikov (DET) returns to play with his good friend and countryman Maxim Lazarev, who himself has a long-shot chance of being drafted this season—despite being passed over the past two years. The pair combined for 158 points last season.

The Screaming Eagles will be helped by the return of center Clark Bishop (CAR), who will captain the team for the second year. Although Bishop will never lead the team in scoring, his tough presence at both ends of the ice will keep the team competitive through the tough matches. When the Screaming Eagles are lighting the lamp, draft-eligible left winger Pierre-Luc Dubois will often be a reason why. After scoring 45 points in 2014-15, the strong, young power forward figures in on most 2016 first round predictions. Defenseman Olivier Leblanc (CBJ), who was acquired at the 2015 trade deadline, will also return.

Charlottetown Islanders
2014-15 result: 9th overall in the league, 2nd in the Maritimes Division. Eliminated in 2nd round of the playoffs.

The Charlottetown Islanders allowed 243 goals against them in 2014-15, but goaltender Mason McDonald (CGY) could not be faulted on most. The 2014 second round pick is one of two QMJHL goaltenders invited to Canada’s U20 Summer Development Camp, along with Blainville-Boisbriand’s Montembeault. He will try to help the Islanders improve on their strong finish last season.

Right winger Daniel Sprong (PIT) and center Filip Chlapik (OTT), who were picked just two places apart in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft, were the team’s highest scorers last season. They should help the team get a head start out of the gates, thanks to their obvious chemistry together as linemates last season. Draft-eligible left winger Mitchell Balmas made a case for himself to supplant Alexandre Goulet on the top line, with four goals during exhibition play.

Chicoutimi Sagueneens
2014-15 result: 15th overall in the league, 5th in the East Division. Eliminated in 1st round of the playoffs.

The Chicoutimi Sagueneens could be one of the QMJHL’s most improved teams this season. Former second round pick Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau is healthy, and is ready to fly after missing most of last season due to injury. He will look to reinvigorate interest from NHL clubs after failing to sign with San Jose. He looked great in camp, along with import centre Dmitry Zhukenov (VAN), who contributed six points in exhibition play. The team will also benefit from the return of Nicolas Roy (CAR), who should have a mild improvement over the 50 points he had in 2014-15.

At the CHL Import Draft, the team added defenseman Artem Maltsev (along with Zhukenov). The highly-touted prospect was the first-overall pick in the 2015 KHL Draft, and he will likely get interest from NHL clubs next spring. Frederic Allard, who returns for his third season with the club, will also be heavily considered at the 2016 NHL Draft. The young playmaking defenseman had 30 points last season.

Drummondville Voltigeurs
2014-15 result: 17th overall in the league, 6th in the West Division. Did not make playoffs.

The Drummondville Voltigeurs may not climb out of the basement this season—despite faring well during the preseason—but there is hope for the future. Center Mathieu Sevigny and defenseman Benjamin Gagne, who were taken four spots apart in the first round of the 2014 QMJHL Draft, will likely be playing together for the next few years in Drummondville. Although Sevigny is eligible for the draft in 2016, Gagne will have to wait until 2017.

The team also acquired an interesting prospect at the CHL Import Draft—Kristian Afanasyev. The multicultural young forward (born in Missouri, Russian/Mexican nationality) joins the Voltigeurs after spending 2014-15 with the HoneyBaked U16 team. He will give the Voltigeurs a strong presence along the boards and in front of the net. Playmaking defenceman Sergei Boikov (COL) also returns after being selected in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL Draft.

Gatineau Olympiques
2014-15 result: 14th overall in the league, 5th in the West Division. Eliminated in 2nd round of the playoffs.

The Gatineau Olympiques should see a mild improvement this season, thanks to a solid returning cast and a pair of talented 2016 draft-eligibles. Left winger Yakov Trenin and defenseman Alexandre Carrier, who were both selected by Nashville in the 2015 NHL Draft, will look to improve on their chemistry together as the team’s best players.

Matt Sartoris will look to get into the lineup more often during his draft year, but most scouts will have their eyes trained on a player who was snapped up at the 2015 CHL Import Draft—Vitalei Abramov. Current predictions put the fast, soft-handed winger in the late-first/early-second round this spring.

Halifax Mooseheads
2014-15 result: 12th overall in the league, 4th in the Maritimes Division. Eliminated in 2nd round of the playoffs.

With nothing left to learn in the QMJHL, Nikolaj Ehlers (WPG) will not be returning to Halifax this season. Instead, he will compete for a spot in Winnipeg, and failing that, has stated his desire to play in Switzerland for the year. Luckily, the team still has Timo Meier (SJS), who will rejoin the Mooseheads after camp in San Jose. Meier is a versatile forward who is equally deadly on a scoring or checking line, so don’t expect Ehlers’ absence to disturb him much.

The Mooseheads had room to add two import players, and both of them are eligible for the draft next summer. Otto Somppi is probably the better of the two. In 38 games with Finland’s prestigious Jokerit U20 team, the 6-foot-1 Somppi had 13 points—a very respectable total for a 17-year-old forward. 6-foot-2 Dane forward Joakim Blichfeld spent 2014-15 in Sweden in the Malmo Redhawks system. He split time between the J18 Elit and Allsvenskan leagues, racking up 20 goals and 19 assists for 39 points in 37 combined games.

Moncton Wildcats
2014-15 result: 2nd overall in the league, 1st in the Maritimes Division. Eliminated in 3rd round of the playoffs.

The Moncton Wildcats did some serious damage in 2014-15, and Conor Garland (ARZ) is a big reason why. The winger’s 129 points were tops in the league, winning him several awards, including league MVP. Although he will return to Moncton without the benefit of playmaking centre Ivan Barbashev (STL), he will have plenty of help elsewhere, including draft-eligible prospect Liam Murphy. Although the young, strong center only had 12 points last season, his spot in the lineup should move up—and with it, his production.

The team added a pair of German prospects at the Import Draft who will give the Wildcats plenty of depth. Maximilian Glassl is a tough defenseman with offensive upside, while center Manuel Wiederer will bolster the team down the middle (though he may be moved to the wing, where there is more room in the lineup). Both players were on display at the World Junior Championship last year (Glassl U18, Wiederer U20), but they will have to earn their playing time on this club.

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