2012-13 QMJHL season preview

By Kevin Forbes

Nathan MacKinnon - Halifax Mooseheads

Photo: 2013 prospect Nathan MacKinnon leads a talented Halifax Mooseheads team that should contend for the QMJHL title in 2012-13 (courtesy of Dave Connelly/HF)

 As is always the case, the new QMJHL season approaches with a clear shift in the balance of power across the league. The 2011-12 season featured an extremely strong TELUS East Division which eventually led to the Memorial Cup champion Shawinigan Cataractes.

This year, the division to watch appears to be the Maritimes Division. Not only does the division feature defending two-time QMJHL champions, the Saint John Sea Dogs, but it also boasts perhaps the top contender for this year's championship in the Halifax Mooseheads. Saint John has been forced to say goodbye to many top talents, but welcomes back star forward Jonathan Huberdeau, at least for as long as the NHL lockout continues. In Halifax, Nathan MacKinnon headlines a young team ready to take the next step. MacKinnon, along with teammates Jonathan Drouin and Zach Fucale could all hear their names called in the first round of the 2013 NHL Draft, with MacKinnon expected to have a shot at being drafted first overall. Meanwhile, both the Moncton Wildcats and the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles are expected to be much improved, while the Acadie-Bathurst Titan welcome back plenty of veteran talent. In short, it could be a long season for the PEI Rocket when it comes to facing divisional match-ups.

But the talents of the QMJHL are hardly found solely on the East Coast. In the TELUS East, the Quebec Remparts have their own bevy of young talent with potential 2013 first rounders in Adam Erne, Anthony Duclair and Nick Sorensen as well as welcoming back Mikhail Grigorenko, who could find himself playing for the Buffalo Sabres whenever the NHL lockout comes to an end. Over in the TELUS West division, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada are a good bet for the third consecutive division title with their main strength being significant depth at every position.

Here's a look at the 18 QMJHL clubs and what they might expect from the 2012-13 season.

TELUS West Division

Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
2011-12 season: Finished 1st in division, 3rd in league. Eliminated in second round of playoffs.

Even after saying goodbye to plenty of talent after the 2010-11 season as well as transitioning to a new team name, arena and coach, the Armada, formerly the Montreal Junior, did not skip a beat in the 2011-12 season. The favorite to win the division for the third straight year, Blainville-Boisbriand's depth at all positions once again places them as a contender in the league. Between the pipes, that depth is already being tested with last year's starting netminder Etienne Marcoux out for the start of the season due to a separated shoulder. In his absence, 2014 eligible Storm Phaneuf and newly acquired veteran Jeffrey Noonan will fill the void. On the blue line, the Armada are icing what might be the most fearsome defensive duo in the league. In Xavier Ouellet, a Detroit Red Wings prospect and Samuel Carrier, a former Washington Capitals draft pick, the team has two of the top offensive defensemen in the QMJHL. Meanwhile, up front, the Armada receive a significant boost to their offense with the addition of Stefan Matteau, who was drafted in the first round by the New Jersey Devils this past summer. He'll be joined up front by top returning scorers Christopher Clapperton, Tommy Giroux and Cedric Paquette, a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect.

Drummondville Voltigeurs
2011-12 season: Finished 3rd in division, 12th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

When star player Sean Couturier cracked the Philadelphia Flyers lineup last fall and spent the entire season in the NHL, it sent the Drummondville Voltigeurs into a tailspin of transition. Without a doubt, the Voltigeurs are still in a period of change, but they now have the building blocks for success starting to emerge across their roster. Up front, returning forward Marc-Olivier Brouillard will lead the offense and a healthy season from Montreal Canadiens prospect Olivier Archambault will provide plenty of support as younger players like Import selection Lukas Balmelli and Joey Ratelle gain experience. On the blue line, 2013 eligible Nikolas Brouillard is expected to take the next step in his development while being supported by a corps of veteran defenders. Meanwhile, goaltender Domenic Graham is also draft eligible and is stepping into his third season with the Voltigeurs. All told, the Drummondville Voltigeurs can expect modest gains this season as their young core continues to develop.

Gatineau Olympiques
2011-12 season: Finished 4th in division, 14th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Many teams enter a new season with high hopes and big plans for the fresh year of hockey. Invariably, some of them stumble right out of the gate and never reach their expectations. Although it is hard to write off the Gatineau Olympiques before the puck has been dropped on the 2012-13 year, it needs to be acknowledged that they've suffered a considerable blow before the season has even started. Veteran Robert Steeves, who was brought in during the off-season to provide stability to the team's goaltending position, suffered a knee injury in the preseason and isn't expected to return until the spring. With inexperienced rookies behind him, the Olympiques have turned to a former OHL goaltender in Michael Nishi to help carry the load. Besides their question marks between the pipes, the Olympiques feature a strong team up front and on the blue line. Leading scorer Tomas Hyka returns after being drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the off-season. He's joined by newly acquired Yannick Dube and returning forwards Rock Regimbald, Alexandros Soumakis and Taylor Burke. On the blue line, newly acquired defensemen Gabriel Bourret and Dominic Poulin lead the way. All told, if the Gatineau Olympiques can manage their current concerns in net, they could be a team that makes significant noise in the league.

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
2011-12 season: Finished 5th in division, 15th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Finishing last in the league two years ago and third last after the past season, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies have been making steady progress and are poised to take a significant leap this season. Injuries have been an issue for the team in previous seasons, but they feature a stable of young talent ready to take the next step in their development. Led by defenseman Dillon Fournier who was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks at this year's draft, the Huskies are also welcoming back talented Import forwards Sven Andrighetto and Denis Kamaev and top scoring defenseman Mathieu Brisebois. Between the pipes, Robin Gusse will be pushed for starts by highly touted rookie Alexandre Belanger, who is eligible to be drafted into the NHL next summer. Meanwhile, the Huskies have also added overage forward Gabriel Desjardins and defenseman Andrew O'Brien, an Anaheim Ducks prospect. A young team who has learned many hard lessons over the past two seasons, the Huskies are ready to see their fortunes change.

Sherbrooke Phoenix
2011-12 season: Not applicable.

Hockey is returning to Sherbrooke and though great things are hardly expected from expansion teams straight out of the gate, the Phoenix should have enough talent to remain competitive most nights in their inaugural season. It all starts with goaltending, where veteran netminder Jacob Gervais-Chouinard is more than capable after helping the Rimouski Oceanic make it to the league championship last season. The blue line is a mix of veterans like Jeremy Beaudry and Alexis Bernier as well as younger players like Import Vladislav Lysenko, Val d'Or's former first rounder Carl Neill and second round draft pick Jonathan Deschamps. Up front, much is expected from top draft pick Daniel Audette, who is draft eligible in 2014 and he will be capably supported by veterans Alexandre Comtois and Michael McNamee as well as fellow young talents Simon Desbiens and Import Tomas Torok. With the majority of the TELUS West Division finding themselves in a state of transition, Sherbrooke might have an easier path in their first season, but they are still quite a distance away from being a contending franchise.

Val d'Or Foreurs
2011-12 season: Finished 2nd in division, 10th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Young talent and new faces highlight what should be a stronger year for the Val d'Or Foreurs. Although they might not have the horses to challenge the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada for the division title, they are a solid bet to move up in the league standings and finish with home-ice advantage for the playoffs. In goal, Francois Tremblay is fresh off of being drafted by the St. Louis Blues and is ready for his third season with the club and his second as the team's starting netminder. On the blue line, veteran Guillaume Gelinas, Colorado Avalanche prospect Gabriel Beaupre, Tampa Bay Lightning signee Artem Sergeev and 2013 draft eligible Matt Murphy form the nucleus of a solid two-way defensive corps. Meanwhile, up front, Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick Anton Zlobin was last seen scoring the Memorial Cup winning goal for the Shawinigan Cataractes. Now with a new team in Val d'Or, he'll be a key offensive weapon joined by last year's leading scorer, Michael Beaudry, and 2013 draft-eligible Anthony Mantha. Former Buffalo Sabres prospect Cedrick Henley and his brother Samuel provide further forward depth.

TELUS East Division

Baie-Comeau Drakkar
2011-12 season: Finished 6th in division, 13th in league. Eliminated in second round of playoffs.

The 2011-12 season was very much a roller-coaster year for the Baie-Comeau Drakkar and in some ways is better forgotten then analyzed. After a year that saw their head coach fired in the waning days of the regular season, the Drakkar enter the 2012-13 season with former Shawinigan head coach Eric Veilleux now behind the bench. Tasked with whipping an under-achieving organization into shape, Veilleux certainly has the horses at his disposal but the question is whether he can get them all pulling in unison and in the right direction. Newly drafted Minnesota Wild prospect Raphael Bussieres is a prime example up front. A talented offensive weapon, Bussieres sometimes struggles with finding the line when it comes to disciplined play and has appeared on the wrong side of QMJHL discipline hearings on occasion. Although forwards like veterans Carl Gelinas and Frederic Gamelin as well as rookie Import selection Valentin Zykov will help carry the offensive load, a consistent and disciplined season from Bussieres could be a catalyst for success for the team. On defense, first round draft selection Loik Leveille will be given plenty of opportunity to succeed among a group of veteran blue liners. Finally, between the pipes, Philippe Cadorette will be handed starting duties after an impressive rookie campaign. The off-season for Baie-Comeau may have been as equally tumultuous as their 2011-12 year, with veterans Jimmy Appleby, Samuel Carrier and J-F Leblanc all departing. If Veilleux can whip the Drakkar into living up to their potential, the team could definitely surprise.

Chicoutimi Sagueneens
2011-12 season: Finished 5th in division, 8th in league. Eliminated in third round of playoffs.

The Chicoutimi Sagueneens opened some eyes during their impressive run to the third round of last year's QMJHL playoffs but they might struggle to pull off a repeat performance this time around. The most important news for Chicoutimi is that Los Angeles Kings prospect Christopher Gibson is back to take on the starting role between the pipes. In front of him, veterans like Guillaume Cloutier and overager Philippe Archambault will be tasked with taking care of business in their own end, while returning blue liner Mathieu Gagnon will provide an offensive punch from the blue line. Although Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Christien Ouellet have moved on, the forwards continue to have plenty of scoring, with Montreal Canadiens prospect Charles Hudon and Import Lukas Sedlak both looking to take the next step in their development. They'll be supported by veteran scorer Guillaume Asselin and 2013 draft-eligible Jeremy Gregoire, two players on opposite ends of their junior career who are both more than capable of providing timely offense. Chicoutimi might not be as lucky to surprise some of their opposition this year, but they definitely have the talent to make things difficult in what is shaping up to be a tight division in the QMJHL.

Quebec Remparts
2011-12 season: Finished 3rd in division, 5th in league. Eliminated in second round of playoffs.

During his seven years helming the Quebec Remparts, Patrick Roy has always iced a competitive squad, and this upcoming season is no exception. Thanks to the NHL lockout, the team will be welcoming back Mikhail Grigorenko who was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the off-season. His return creates an abundance of riches among Import players with Tampa Bay prospect Nikita Kucherov joining the team. 2013 draft-eligible Nick Sorensen is coming off an injury filled rookie year, but he fills the other Import spot and once Kucherov returns from injury later this year, the Remparts might be forced to move one of their talented European players. But the trio of Imports are hardly the only scoring talent in the Remparts line-up with draft-eligibles Adam Erne and Anthony Duclair both looking to build off strong rookie campaigns, while newly acquired Brandon Shea is hoping to get back on track as he too approaches Draft Day next summer. On the defensive side of things, veteran Martin Lefebvre and Calgary Flames prospect Ryan Culkin lead an experienced group who will line up in front of Ottawa Senators prospect Francois Brassard, handed the starting duties after Louis Domingue moved on to pro. In total, the Remparts boast a deep and talented squad which should compete for the league title.

Rimouski Oceanic
2011-12 season: Finished 4th in division, 7th in league. Eliminated in President's Cup finals.

The Rimouski Oceanic's run to the President's Cup finals may have surprised many QMJHL observers, but the question now is what they can do for an encore performance. Although players such as Vancouver prospect Alexandre Mallet, Buffalo draft pick Jerome Gauthier-Leduc and others like Alex Belzile, Jakub Culek and Petr Straka have all moved on, the key to Rimouski's success is the exquisitely coached system under Serge Beausoleil. Florida Panthers draft pick Francis Beauvillier and veterans Peter Trainor and Scott Oke will be counted on to help teach talented rookies like Anthony Deluca and Frederik Gauthier. A similar story can be found on the blue line, with 2013-eligible Samuel Morin taking a larger role alongside veteran Etienne Boutet to lead the way for rookies like Import Jan Kostalek, Simon Boudreau and Maxime Gravel. Veteran goaltender Carl Hozjan will find himself pushed by highly touted rookie Philippe Desrosiers, who will be looking to make an impression in his draft year.

Shawinigan Cataractes
2011-12 season: Finished 1st in division, 2nd in league. Eliminated in second round of playoffs. Memorial Cup host. Won Memorial Cup as CHL champion.

As the defending Memorial Cup champions, the Shawinigan Cataractes are in no danger of following the path of the Windsor Spitfires and competing for a back-to-back title. With their five top scorers from the previous season all departed, in addition to four of their top defensemen and their goaltending duo also gone, the Cataractes are about to embark on a handful of seasons of rebuilding. On the plus side, Loik Poudrier, Frederick Gaudreau and Peter Sakaris will return up front and Colorado prospect Dillon Donnelly and veteran Jonathan Narbonne will lead the defense. They'll be joined by rookies Zachary Taylor, Dylan Labbe and Raphael Maheux in a trial by fire for the young talent. It will be a similar situation between the pipes with a trio of rookies in Import selection Marvin Cupper, Chase Gaudet and William King battling for starts. After last year's championship season, new head coach Denis Chalifoux will have his work cut out for himself in Shawinigan. 

Victoriaville Tigres
2011-12 season: Finished 2nd in division, 4th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Like divisional rivals Shawinigan, the Victoriaville Tigres also loaded up for a championship run last season. After being knocked out of the playoffs in the first round, there is no happy ending for their story. Now picking up the pieces, the Tigres can not waste time on what went wrong and need to refocus on the new season as it approaches. Although they have been forced to say goodbye to a handful of top scorers such as Yanni Gourde, Brandon Hynes, Yannick Dube and Stefan Fournier, either due to trade or graduation, Victoriaville still has their captain Phillip Danault up front. He'll be joined by a duo of Philippes in Halley and Maillet and rookie Import selection Dominik Rehak to carry the offense. The blue line has also been hit hard with Jeremie Blain, Daniel Milan and Matthew Hobbs all moving on, but Dallas Stars prospect Troy Vance as well as Petr Sidlik and Alex Filiatrault will shoulder the bulk of the load. In net, Vancouver Canucks prospect David Honzik has been dealt away, leaving Chicago draft pick Brandon Whitney to take over full time starting duties. The Tigres has said goodbye to plenty of talent over the off-season but it remains to be seen whether those changes will result in an improvement with the on-ice product.

Maritimes Division

Acadie-Bathurst Titan
2011-12 season: Finished 3rd in division, 9th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

The most important news for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan as they enter this season is that most of their big line is coming back. Although Sebastien Trudeau has graduated, both Zach O'Brien and Matthew Bissonette will be back in the Titan line-up this fall. To replace Trudeau on that top scoring line, Brandon Hynes joins the squad, a player who is no slouch on the offensive side of the game. Last season, the top trio combined for almost half of the goals scored by the Titan and if they can have a similar impact this year, it could mean good things for the Titan. Behind those three, San Jose Sharks prospect Christophe Lalancette provides scoring depth and a pair of Import rookies in Patrik Zdrahal and Adam Zboril could definitely surprise. On the other side of the ice, Sean Girard, Francois Godin and Olivier Houle carry the load defensively while Jacob Brennan will be pushed for starts by promising rookie Mason McDonald. In a competitive division, the Titan will need to prove they are a well-rounded team in order to advance.

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
2011-12 season: Finished 5th in division, 16th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

The final team to qualify for the playoffs last season, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles are expected to make significant gains this season after a pair of trying years. First and foremost, there is star forward William Carrier. Draft eligible next summer in 2013, Carrier quietly finished second on the team in scoring last season, with the sky being the limit for the young forward. He'll be surrounded by a plethora of young talent and while some, like Alexandre Lavoie and Michael Clarke, are expected to contribute, there will be ample opportunity for others like Clark Bishop and Zachary Moody to also get their chances. On the defensive end of things, New York Islanders prospect Loic Leduc and Phoenix Coyotes prospect Justin Hache highlight a serviceable blue line, while Vancouver prospect David Honzik will get a new opportunity with the Screaming Eagles after a disastrous season with Victoriaville last year. With plenty of young talent throughout their line-up, Cape Breton might not be in the position to compete this year, but they'll be soaking up plenty of experience for a significant push in the future.

Halifax Mooseheads
2011-12 season: Finished 2nd in division, 6th in league. Eliminated in third round of playoffs.

The Halifax Mooseheads served notice last season that their young guns are ready to take a big step towards competing for the President's Cup. Much has already been written about Nathan MacKinnon, Halifax's star player who is in the running to be drafted first overall at next summer's NHL draft. Equally talented up front is fellow 2013 draft-eligible Jonathan Drouin, who will be looking to build off of a half season in the Q last year as a rookie. Meanwhile, between the pipes, many wonder where Halifax would have been last season if Zach Fucale, yet another 2013 draft-eligible, wasn't there to pick up the pieces when the Mooseheads regular starting goaltender went down with injury. If this young trio can replicate last year's numbers and possibly even improve on their rookie contributions, the Mooseheads will be a team to beat in the QMJHL. In addition, players like Detroit prospect Martin Frk, newly acquired veteran Stefan Fournier and returning Import defender Konrad Abeltshauser of the San Jose Sharks will provide plenty of depth and additional scoring punch for Halifax. With a combination of young draft eligible talent and the possibility of being the team to beat in the QMJHL, the Mooseheads will be a hot ticket to watch in 2012-13.

Moncton Wildcats
2011-12 season: Finished 4th in division, 11th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

After taking a slight step back in 2011-12, the Moncton Wildcats are poised to once again rise in the QMJHL standings and continue to be a difficult team to face on the ice. Under the guidance of Coach Danny Flynn, the Wildcats play an air tight system that often confounds the opposing team. Meanwhile, forwards like veterans Allain and Alex Saulnier as well as the newly acquired Yannick Veilleux, a St. Louis Blues prospect, and Ivan Barbashev, a rookie Import player, are always ready to capitalize on opponents' mistakes. On the blue line, Phoenix Coyotes draft pick James Melindy leads a deep group of defenders including new face Jonathan Racine, a Florida prospect brought over from the Shawinigan Cataractes in the off-season. Although last year's big story between the pipes, Roman Will, has since returned to Europe, Moncton should not miss a beat with Alex Dubeau taking over starting duties after he too was acquired from the Cataractes. With a combination of new talent and Flynn's solid coaching system, the Wildcats are ready to make the lives of their opponents difficult.

PEI Rocket
2011-12 season: Finished 6th in division, 17th in league. Did not qualify for playoffs.

The only team to not qualify for the playoffs last season, the PEI Rocket could be in for another long season this time around. With a team nickname change on the horizon for the 2013-14 season, the last flight of the Rocket does not appear to be a soaring masterpiece. In fact, it's already sputtering before the year has begun. Forward Yan Pavel Laplante, a 2013 draft-eligible is expected to miss the bulk of the regular season due to a shoulder injury. His loss is a devastating blow, not only for his draft stock, but also for PEI's offensive talents which will need to rely even heavier on returning forwards Ben Duffy and Matej Beran to lead the way. If first round draft pick Alexis Pepin can quickly acclimate himself to the QMJHL and become a contributor, that will help the squad significantly. On the blue line, veteran Alex Micallef joins a relatively experienced group and 2013 draft-eligible Ryan Graves has the opportunity to make a name for himself in his draft year. Goaltenders Maxime Lagace, recently signed by the Dallas Stars, and Antoine Bibeau both return from the previous season. Although the playoffs might be in the cards for PEI this year, they find themselves up against a challenge in the Maritimes considering the strength of their divisional rivals.

Saint John Sea Dogs
2011-12 season: Finished 1st in division, 1st in league. Won President's Cup as QMJHL champion.

Coyle, Phillips, Galiev, Jurco, Gauthier, Beaulieu and Olivier-Roussel. That could easily be a list of some of the top QMJHL talent from the past season whose rights were owned by NHL squads, but it in fact details the players that the Saint John Sea Dogs said goodbye to during the off-season. After three seasons as the top regular season team in the QMJHL and two seasons as the QMJHL champion, the Saint John Sea Dogs are entering a period of transition. But it is not all bad news. Thanks to the lockout, team captain Jonathan Huberdeau will be back in the Sea Dogs line-up for the time being and he'll join St. Louis Blues prospect Ryan Tesink who will have the opportunity to drink up the extra ice time and responsibility available. 2013 draft-eligible Oliver Cooper could be another beneficiary as the team looks for players on their roster to help fill the scoring void. On the blue line, veterans Kevin Gagne and Pierre Durepos are still with the squad and overall, the team has a sprinkling of rookie talent throughout the line-up. In goal, Sebastien Auger inherits the starting role after playing backup last season. It might take some time before the Sea Dogs are once again competing for the President's Cup, but if anyone can build a contender, it is GM/Head Coach Mike Kelly and his staff.