There are plenty of reasons why the Saint John Sea Dogs are the favorite to repeat not just as QMJHL champions this year, but also to successfully defend their Memorial Cup win from last season.
First and foremost, the Sea Dogs were the top team in the regular season for a record-setting third consecutive year. They've followed that momentum into the playoffs, where they are currently in the third round and so far have out-scored their opponents by a combined total of 79-28.
All this offensive firepower is thanks to the depth of the Sea Dogs roster and no where is that depth more noticeable than when you consider the forwards on Saint John's roster in the context of the top forwards in the QMJHL.
There are 13 wingers in the QMJHL that have been drafted into the NHL and six of those players play in Saint John. The Shawinigan Cataractes are the only other team in the league boasting more than one drafted winger, with two players.
The 13 players' rights are spread between 10 NHL franchises, with St. Louis having three prospects in the league and Florida having two.
Here's a look at the top NHL drafted wingers in the QMJHL.
The reigning Memorial Cup MVP finished a modest 26th overall in regular season scoring this year with 30 goals and 72 points. At first glance, that is a solid outing but hardly impressive for such a highly touted player. That is, until you consider that Jonathan Huberdeau missed 31 games over the year and appeared in only 37 matches. In fact, had he played the entire season, Huberdeau was on pace to finish with 132 points, which would have placed him on top of the QMJHL's scoring race.
Huberdeau's missed time was a combination of merit and malady. Named to Team Canada's entry in the 2012 World Juniors, Huberdeau finished the tournament with a bronze medal to go along with his single goal and nine points in six games. This placed him tied for second in team scoring, but Huberdeau's presence on the national team was far from assured prior to the tournament.
The 18-year-old suffered a broken foot in early November (coincidentally the injury was first noticed during practice prior to the Canada/Russia Super Series, an annual tournament that pits CHL All-Star teams against a visiting team from Russia used by Hockey Canada to help select the final invitees for their World Junior camp). Huberdeau was a question mark to join Team Canada right up to that final selection camp, but quickly proved his worth with five points in Canada's opening game against Finland.
Finally rejoining the Sea Dogs in January after being out of the lineup for almost two months, Huberdeau continues to showcase the talent that made him the third overall pick last summer. With nine goals and 18 points in 13 playoff games so far, his skill level is unmatched both on Saint John's roster and across the QMJHL. An integral part of Saint John's defense of both their QMJHL championship and their Memorial Cup win, Huberdeau is aiming to finish his junior career on a high note. The St-Jerome, Quebec native will almost certainly be playing for the Florida Panthers next season as a 19-year-old and should soon be considered a star in the NHL.
Charlie Coyle's entire QMJHL career will never reach 50 games, but the impact he has had in such a short time is nothing short of impressive. Starting the season with Boston University, Coyle made the decision to jump to junior hockey after playing for Team USA at the 2012 World Juniors (posting four goals and five points in six games).
Choosing to leave the NCAA for the CHL drew plenty of attention on both sides of the border and the ire of BU head coach Jack Parker, who wondered out loud if the former San Jose first rounder might find the QMJHL too easy for him.
While Coyle's time in junior hockey may be too short to ever draw too many conclusions, his play with Saint John not only adds weight to Parker's comments but speaks volumes of Coyle's ability. In 23 regular season games, he scored 15 goals and finished with 38 points. Finding chemistry with Huberdeau, Coyle's game has jumped to a whole new level in the playoffs. He's currently leading the league in post season scoring with 15 goals and 32 points in 15 games, an incredible 2.13 point-per-game pace. Although both Huberdeau and Coyle are listed as wingers, they both regularly take face-offs depending on the situation on the ice, including plenty of power play time and forming a formidable duo during the penalty kill.
While Coyle's skill level cannot be doubted, perhaps most notable is his physical maturity. Playing a power forward game and listed at 6'2 and 207 lbs, Coyle is quite simply much stronger than most of the opposition. Turning 20 at the beginning of March, Coyle will make the jump to pro hockey next year. Although a roster spot on the Minnesota Wild may not be guaranteed, the Massachusetts native should have a bright pro future.
Despite being drafted just last summer, Tomas Jurco is due to make the jump to pro hockey this fall, thanks to his late 1992 birth date. Being ahead of the curve is nothing new for the Slovakian sniper, who originally burst onto the scene in 2009 as a 16-year-old rookie with Saint John.
Jurco had an immediate impact with 26 goals and 51 points in the 64 games of his rookie year and some were disappointed when his sophomore effort simply totaled 31 goals and 56 points in 60 games, but the Slovakian was working hard to improve other aspects of his game. That extra work has paid off in his third season, where he posted 30 goals and a career high 68 points in just 48 games, despite being hampered by injury.
Perhaps the most notable improvement that Jurco has made is in his consistency. Listed at 6'2 and 193 lbs, Jurco is much more effective when he uses his size to find space on the ice and drive the net. This can be seen in the playoffs this spring, where Jurco has 10 goals and 22 points in 14 games thus far. He also played for Team Slovakia at the World Juniors, leading the team with eight points in five games.
As mentioned, thanks to Jurco's December birthday, he's eligible to graduate to pro hockey next season. Although he may start his pro career in the AHL, Jurco has the tools to be an NHL player in the very near future.
It's not often that a point-per-game player can be overshadowed, but that is precisely what has happened with Stanislav Galiev. Part of it has to be due to the talent surrounding him on Saint John's roster, but another large reason is the fact that he missed the bulk of the regular season due to injury.
Appearing in just 20 games this season, Galiev tallied 13 goals and 19 points, but was unable to build off the magic from last year's playoff run where he scored 10 goals and 27 points in 19 post season matches, placing him second on the team in scoring.
However, history appears to be repeating itself this year, with Galiev once again elevating his game and coming on strong in the post season. In 15 playoff matches thus far, the Russian has 12 goals and 27 points and is flirting with the QMJHL scoring lead along with a number of his teammates.
Turning 20 years old in January, Galiev is set to make the jump to pro hockey in the fall. He may require some additional seasoning in the minors before making an NHL impact, but it is worth noting that the young Russian's game has progressed significantly over his three years in major junior.
From one Russian to another, Galiev and Kirill Kabanov could not be more different. Whereas Galiev is a solid contributor as part of a larger effort, Kirill Kabanov has spent most of his QMJHL career as the focal point of attention, often for all the wrong reasons.
It is difficult to write about Kabanov without acknowledging the instability and the publicity that he faced over the past three years. Dropping to the third round of the NHL draft after questions were raised about his character, bouncing from team to team in the QMJHL and spending almost as much time out of the lineup as in it, Kabanov has generated more than his fair share of headlines. But it is equally important to note that this season, Kabanov steered clear of the controversy and focused purely on playing hockey.
Eventually landing with the Shawinigan Cataractes after the Lewiston MAINEiacs (his team during the previous season) folded; Kabanov notched 21 goals and 55 points in 50 games. These represented career totals not just for points but also games played by the young Russian. Continuing into the playoffs, Kabanov led all Cataractes players with four goals and 13 points in 11 games as Shawinigan faced an early second round exit from the post season. But all is not lost for Kabanov and the Cataractes: as the Memorial Cup hosts, the team will be back on the ice next month after the individual CHL league champions are decided.
Having played only 111 regular season games over the course of his three years in the QMJHL, Kabanov may never become the star he was tabbed to develop into when he first came to North America. With that said, the young Russian is undeniably skilled and if he can continue to put past distractions behind him and focus on hockey, he should still have a bright future. Kabanov is due to make the jump to pro hockey next year, but considering how much vital development time he has missed over the past three years, some seasoning in the minor leagues should be expected.
When watching the game, it doesn't take long to see what Yannick Veilleux brings to the Shawinigan Cataractes lineup. Listed at 6'2 and 197 lbs, the burly left winger makes room on the ice for his teammates but is no slouch offensively himself.
The 2011-12 season was a breakout year for Veilleux as he finished third on the Cataractes in scoring with career high numbers. His 27 goals and 58 points in 59 games were followed by a strong playoff outing where he posted five goals and 11 points in 11 games to also finish third on the team in scoring. While Shawinigan's post season run ended earlier than expected, Veilleux and the Cataractes will be back on the ice for the Memorial Cup as the host team.
It is hard to say if Veilleux has the ability to play a top six role at the NHL level, but his combination of size, skill and effort level makes him a good bet to have a pro future all the same. Veilleux plays his role well: battling hard in the corners, finishing his checks along the boards, fighting through traffic and having a nose for the net. After just turned 19 in February, he still has another year of QMJHL seasoning ahead of him.
An overager in the QMJHL this year, Alex Grenier is only in his second season of junior hockey. Getting his start partway through last season with the Quebec Remparts, Grenier made an immediate impact as a 19-year-old rookie.
In 31 games as a freshman, he finished with 24 points and added another 16 points in 15 playoff matches before being drafted by Vancouver last summer. An off-season trade sent him from Quebec to the Halifax Mooseheads where he became an integral part of an up and coming team.
In his first full QMJHL season, Grenier scored at a point-per-game pace with 25 goals and 64 points in 64 games with Halifax. With Halifax making it to the third round of the QMJHL playoffs, Grenier had four goals and 12 assists for 16 points in 17 games, placing him fifth on the team in scoring.
Although he cuts an imposing figure at 6'4, Grenier plays more of a skilled game and at times his inexperience shows with bouts of inconsistency. However, Grenier has all the tools to contribute at the pro level and is though he is a project, his future is bright. He should start his pro career next season with Vancouver's AHL affiliate.
Yet another player who could be making the jump to pro hockey this summer, Logan Shaw's late 1992 birthday allows the Florida Panthers some flexibility when considering his future. On one hand, they can sign him and start his pro career either in the AHL or the ECHL, but on the other, should they opt to leave him in the QMJHL for another year, he would be an integral part of an up and coming Quebec Remparts squad next season.
Shaw's 2011-12 season didn't start with the Remparts, instead the 19-year-old began his year with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. The Eagles, in the midst of a rebuilt, opted to deal the 6'3, 190 lbs forward during the mid-season trade period. In total, between the two leagues, Shaw posted 20 goals and 41 points in 60 games, slightly off his career highs from the previous season when Cape Breton was fielding a much stronger roster.
Entering into the playoffs, Shaw's game stepped to a new level with six goals and 11 points in 11 games with Quebec. Five of his goals came on the man advantage, leading not only the team, but the entire QMJHL. A burly forward who uses his size to make room for his teammates and chip in offensively, Shaw may not have the skill to be a top six forward at the NHL level, but has the work ethic to fill a checking role. As mentioned, where he lands next season is far from assured, but should he return to the Remparts, he'll be counted on to provide a veteran presence on what is expected to be one of the top teams in Quebec.
When it comes to a player like Ryan Tesink, one has to wonder how he would be regarded if he played for another organization. A solid contributor with the powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs, Tesink finds himself behind many other talented players when it comes to scoring options, such as power play time. However, on the flip side, playing for Saint John offers him a much stronger supporting cast then he would find with a larger role on a weaker squad.
The 2011-12 season has offered the first glimpses of what Tesink is capable of. Despite playing an injury shortened 36 games, the Saint John native scored 13 goals and 40 points. Due to other injuries throughout the Sea Dogs roster this year, he saw increased time on special teams while he was in the lineup. Thus two of his goals were power play markers, while another three were scored shorthanded.
With his injuries behind him, Tesink has played in all 15 of Saint John's post season matches, scoring seven goals and adding five assists for 12 points. With Saint John expecting to lose most of their top talent this summer, the 18-year-old Tesink will be one of the top returning forwards to the squad and will see plenty of opportunity in all situations next year.
Finishing his third season in the QMJHL, Petr Straka rebounded slightly after a disastrous sophomore year last season. As a rookie in 2009-10, the Czech scoring forward posted a point-per-game season with 28 goals and thus was selected by Columbus in the second round of that year's draft.
Unfortunately for Straka, he's only scored 28 goals combined over the following two regular seasons and has never come close to producing at the level he did in his freshman year. Injuries have seemed to derail his once promising career, but recently he appears to be slowly getting back on track. His 18 goals and 37 points in 54 games this season were a slight increase off of last year's scoring pace and the playoffs have been even more promising.
In 19 post season games so far with the Oceanic, Straka had nine goals and 21 points, putting him third on the team in scoring. Though talented with the puck, Straka continues to struggle fighting through traffic on the ice and finding time and space to make a play. Columbus needs to sign him by June 1st to retain his rights and start his pro career, but at this point, his future is murky.
Other NHL drafted wingers playing in the QMJHL: