QMJHL West Division preview

By Eric Forest

The QMJHL season finally saw the puck dropped on the ice and Gatineau, who lost in the finals the last two years, is once again looking to make it to the Memorial Cup. They will have some company this season with Rouyn-Noranda, Shawinigan and Drummondville all fighting for the division supremacy. These three teams have improved over the years and can now be considered serious in their hope of better achievement. Offensive weaknesses might make Victoriaville and Val d’Or not as much of a threat for certain teams, but they will definitely see their share of success throughout the season.
Here are some of the key players on each team who are expected to play a key role in their respective franchise’s successes in the upcoming campaign.

Drummondville Voltigeurs

The Voltigeurs thought they had Shawinigan in the roes when Pierre Morvan scored the game-winner goal in Game 6 of last year first round of playoff, but Game 7 was not the Cinderella story Drummondville had hoped for, losing 3-1. This year, the young team is looking for a breakout season from Guillaume Latendresse to lead them on.

Sylvain Michaud (G)
Selected by NY Islanders, 2004, 9th round

Michaud rebounded last year from a horrible 2002-03 season where he only won four games in 37 starts. His 2.98 GAA was seventh for goaltenders who played a minimum of 30 games, an outstanding improvement over his 4.77 from the year before. Michaud will provide solid goaltending for Drummondville, using his butterfly style effectively. However, he’s considerably small for a goaltender, he will need to play bigger if he wants to prove to his doubters that he will be more than an average NHL backup. Look for him to repeat his statistics with a more experienced Voltigeurs team.

Guillaume Latendresse (RW)
Draft eligible in 2005

The big power forward from Ste-Catherine, Quebec was overshadow by The Crosby Show in his first QMJHL season. Considered a 2005 Top 5 by many scouts, Latendresse will need to breakout and stay away from injuries in order to get his share of media attention. His injury last year was a big blow not only to himself, but also to his team since he missed last year playoffs, providing a big hole in their offensive. At 6’2 and 222 lbs, Latendresse finished fourth in points among Voltigeurs players with 49 points in 53 games. However, the scoring leader only had three more goals than Latendresse while playing 12 more games. Scoring, hitting, crashing to the net, Latendresse has all the tools to succeed in the QMJHL and he should provide good leadership in his second season.

Louis-Phillippe Martin (RW)
Selected by Buffalo, 2003, 9th round

An example of consistency, Martin was able to rack up more than 75 points for a second season in 2003-04. He couldn’t beat his personal high of 32 goals, but that could be done this year, his fourth in the QMJHL. From Montreal, Quebec, the former Baie-Comeau Drakkar was able to help his new team from Day 1. Martin is a small player who gives it all night after night. He was able to carry the team over his shoulders while other teammates were nursing injuries. The Voltigeurs scoring leader finished 16th in the scoring race won easily by Crosby. He should once again provide good energy and offensive awareness for his teammates, completing a perfect right wing 1-2 punch with Latendresse.

Gatineau Olympiques

For a second year in a row. Benoit Groulx’s team will need to look past their Memorial Cup setback and return in full force for another tough and long season. What was considered a mini dynasty in the QMJHL will show some new faces this year. The losses of captain Maxime Talbot, Jean-Michel Daoust, Doug O’Brien and Dominic D’Amour will definitely put some pressure on their replacements’ shoulders. They still have enough returning veterans to keep the core experienced and hungrier than ever.

David Tremblay (G)
Selected by Philadelphia, 2003, 5th round

Tremblay was fantastic last year with Gatineau, ending the season with a GAA of 2.63, 33 wins, 10 losses and 3 ties. Only Martin Houle (Cape Breton) and Corey Crawford (Moncton) had more victories and a better GAA. On the other hand, he posted a magnificent 1.96 in 15 playoff games to help his team advance to the Memorial Cup. It was his first season as the starting goaltender and he surely didn’t waste any time in showing his skills. A butterfly goalie like all his workmates in the Q, he has excellent puck-handling and can handle pressure situations. Tremblay takes a lot of space in front of his net, combining a good 6’2 and 192 lbs. The hometown boy of Gatineau will need to focus on this new season and stay far away from last year’s heartbreak loss over Kelowna.

Petr Pohl (RW)
Selected by Columbus, 2004, 5th round

The Jaromar, Czech Republic, native will have a bigger role this year with Gatineau. A quick and terrific stickhandler, he finished seventh in rookie scoring with 50 points. Pohl will need to work on his strength if wants to succeed in his future as he is easily pushed around from the puck. The small winger will play in every situation offensively and could end the season as the scoring leader, especially if Krecji centers him. He will in no way replace Maxime Talbot’s play, but Pohl can still be someone you will always count on being on the scoresheet. He will use his patience with the puck to control the play and make everyone around him play a notch above.

David Krejci (C)
Selected by Boston, 2004, 3rd round

Another Czech has chosen to join Gatineau this year and expectations are already high on David Krejci, born in Sternderk. He played with Klado last year, earning 60 points in 50 games. An intelligent player capable of playing in every offensive position, Krejci will need to work on his skating, an important aspect of the game when you are a small player. Krejci will need to adapt to the North American style of hockey and the fast tempo in the QMJHL. He could succeed Sidney Crosby for the Rookie of the Year honor.

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies

In 2003-2004, Rouyn-Noranda were finally able to win a playoff matchup, when they hardly won in seven games over a Lewiston team led by Alexandre Picard. However, for a second year in a row, the Huskies had to give up their season against a much better Gatineau Olympiques. This time, the Abitibi team has all the tools to become a strong contender with the return of every veteran from last year edition.

Jean-Phillippe Levasseur (G)
Draft eligible 2005

Levasseur, a goaltender from Victoriaville, Quebec, has his first taste as a junior player last year when he played five games with Rouyn-Noranda. He will start this season as Philippe Roberge’s backup, but could pushed him and take over the No. 1 role during the year. Levasseur has average size at 6’0, 188 lbs and impressed a lot of people during his tenure in Midget AAA with Magog but mostly in the bronze medal game of the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, where he lead his team with a 50 saves win over the USA. He was drafted sixth overall in the QMJHL draft. The quick Levasseur could make a strong impact as soon as this year if he gets the chance to play.

Guillaume Desbiens (RW)
Selected by Atlanta, 2003, 4th round

Don’t tell to Desbiens that QMJHLers are soft because you will have a hard time against him. At 6’2 and 220 lbs, you don’t want to be around when Desbiens decides to crash the net. He improved his offensive statistics last year, finishing the season with 41 points and 199 PIM, and was the 11th most penalized player in the league. Desbiens, from Alma, Quebec, is a talented fighter and bodychecker. He might not be the most offensive on his team, but he can play on the penalty-killing unit without any trouble. He knows his role on his team and always put the effort when he’s on the ice. An important player when you aim at a championship.

Shawinigan Cataractes

Shawinigan will boost a great mix of veterans and rookies this year. They will be able to count on one of the best netminder in the game. Shawinigan finished second in their division last year behind Gatineau and will try to get the upper advantage this time. They eliminated Drummondville in seven games before getting sweep by Rimouski in the second round.

Julien Ellis-Plante (G)
Selected by Vancouver, 2003, 6th round

Ellis-Plante was the leader in games started (59) and minutes players (3287) last year while averaging a nicely played GAA of 2.85, a good indication of his importance for Shawinigan. He is a perfect goaltender technically and possesses a very quick glove. With Ellis-Plante in the net, you know you will get a chance to win the game no matter what happens. The Sorel, Quebec, native will look to succeed to divisional opponent Tremblay to lead his team to another season of 35 wins and get his way to the Memorial Cup. Vancouver couldn’t ask for a better pick when they claimed him in the sixth round of the 2003 NHL Draft.

Benoit Mondou (C)
Selected by Boston, 2003, 8th round

Joining Ellis-Plante from Sorel, Quebec, is Benoit Mondou, Shawinigan first line center. This Bruins prospect will start his fifth and last season in the QMJHL, a junior career of 227 points in 192 games. Last year, Mondou finished fifth in the scoring race with a personal high of 95 points. However, he is small at 5’10 and 177 lbs, which explains why he was drafted in the eighth round. A very good passer with extremely gifted hands, he will try to elevate his game to a higher level, or at least stay in the same range of points if he wants to be offered a pro contract. Count on him to play in every situation while showing leadership off and on the ice.

Victoriaville Tigres

Long gone are the days when Victoriaville was a contender in the Circuit Courteau. Ex-Montreal Canadiens player Stephen Lebeau, the newest coach in town, will have to motivate his troops and shake things up in order to get a pass for the playoffs. They finished dead last in 2003-04 and this is not expected to change this year. Take note that Victoriaville didn’t have any player drafted by the NHL until Matt Nickerson decided to play in the Q, another good example of the Tigres’ lack of potential. Last season their scoring leader was Mario Scalzo, a defenseman.

Mario Scalzo Jr (D)
Free agent

Scalzo was the best defenseman last year in the QMJHL, leading the league with 68 points in 68 games. The young player from St Hubert, Quebec, was however -27, a representation of his team’s miserable season. He is a dynamic offensive weapon on the ice despite his small stature of 5’9 feet and 187 lbs. He isn’t shy of physical contact, gaining 113 PIM with Victoriaville. He will once again be the main player to watch on the ice, but unfortunately, he still doesn’t have any better players to pass to up front. He could be traded early if the Tigres can’t manage to win.

Matt Nickerson (D)
Selected by Dallas, 2003, 3rd round

At 6’5 and 225 lbs, Nickerson will definitely put fear into the eyes of opposing forwards. Born in Old Lyme, Connecticut, this defensive defenseman played in the NAHL in Texas before joining Clarkson University for a season. He put up 14 points while racking 179 PIM. Nickerson knows how to be aggressive and hits everything that gets in his sight. Sometimes, he puts his team in trouble when he loses his coverage, an aspect he will need to work on. He could also be shifted from the wing by fast skaters.

Val D’Or Foreurs

Val D’Or was the first team to succumb to Chicoutimi’s surprise playoff winning streak. It doesn’t look good right now with a young team that could potentially miss the playoffs if they don’t get their act together. They will need to work hard if they want win some games because they are not deep at any position. Only Shawn Collymore was able to score more than 25 goals last year. The NY Rangers prospect will now play elsewhere, after five seasons in the Q.

Luc Bourdon (D)
Eligible 2005

Boudon is a sophomore from Lamèque, New Brunswick, entering his second season after playing some pretty good hockey for Team Canada in the 2004 U-18 World Cup. He was the first defenseman selected in the 2003 QMJHL Draft, by Val D’Or, third overall in 2003 after Sidney Crosby and Guillaume Latendresse. At 6’2 and 185 lbs, Bourdon has a very good size and a quick shot. His passes are accurate and his mobility. He played in 64 games in his first QMJHL season, scoring two goals and earning eight points. His statistics should improve a lot this season with playing time that will increase in almost every situation.

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