2013-14 QMJHL season preview

By Kevin Forbes
Valentin Zykov - Baie-Comeau Drakkar

Photo: Baie-Comeau Drakkar forward and Los Angeles Kings prospect Valentin Zykov is expected to return to a Drakkar squad that could challenge for the QMJHL title (courtesy of Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

 

The 2012-13 season was a landmark year for the QMJHL. Not only did the Halifax Mooseheads follow a record-breaking season by keeping the Memorial Cup in the CHL's eastern-most league for a third straight year, but the Q was also creating plenty of headlines at the NHL Draft with six QMJHL players selected in the first round. Leading the way was Mooseheads Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin who went first and third overall to the Colorado Avalanche and the Tampa Bay Lightning, respectively.

Neither MacKinnon nor Drouin are expected to return to the QMJHL this fall, but that doesn't mean that the league will be lacking in excitement or talent. As is always the case with junior hockey, when one group of talented players moves on, there's always the next wave of potential stars waiting in the wings to make an impact.

Perhaps one of the bigger stories going into the 2013-14 season might not have to do with players on the ice at all, but instead personnel behind the bench. Nathan MacKinnon isn't the only new member of the Colorado Avalanche, as former Remparts GM/head coach Patrick Roy will be taking over as head coach of his former NHL team. Roy's move to the professional ranks has impacted many of the QMJHL franchises with both Andre Tourigny, formerly of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, and Mario Duhamel from the Drummondville Voltigeurs also making the trip to Colorado to join Roy’s staff. How these three QMJHL teams respond to new coaches could be the story to watch in the early stages of the season.

Here's a look at the 18 QMJHL clubs and what they might expect from the 2013-14 season.

TELUS West Division

Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
2012-13 season: Finished 1st in division, 3rd in league. Eliminated in third round of playoffs.

After winning their division for a third straight season in 2012-13 (once as the Montreal Junior and twice as the Armada), Blainville-Boisbriand could take a step back in 2013-14. Over the summer, they have had to say goodbye to plenty of veteran talent both up front and on the blue line. But that isn't to say the team will be all rookies and inexperience. Up front, Marc-Olivier Roy, Christopher Clapperton and Nikita Jevapalovs bring plenty of firepower and they will be further supported by St. Louis Blues prospect Ryan Tesink, if, as expected, he remains in the QMJHL for his over-age season. Between the pipes, Etienne Marcoux is also expected to return for his over-age season and is one of the top goaltenders in the league. Veteran Olivier Picard, the new team captain, will lead the defensive corps while defender Julien Bahl will look to build on his solid rookie campaign. A team in transition, the Armada have enough veterans to stay competitive but they will soon be forced to start looking to build for the future.

Drummondville Voltigeurs
2012-13 season: Finished 3rd in division, 9th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

With most of the core returning, the Drummondville Voltigeurs can expect to once again make modest improvements over their previous campaign. Leading scorer Jerome Verrier will be back and he'll be capably supported by new acquisition Christophe Lalancette as well as Olivier Archambault and Matthew Boudens returning for their over-age seasons. There are also high hopes for first round draft pick Cam Askew and import Georgs Golovkovs. In total, Drummondville could feature one of the league's most offensively dangerous forward corps. Nikolas Brouillard and over-ager Francis Lemay Lambert will take care of things on the blue line and import Sergei Boikov looks to be a perfect complement for the firepower up front. Louis-Philip Guindon emerged as a reliable netminder last season as a rookie and will be called upon to replicate that impact as a sophomore. With plenty of scoring talent up front and some solid pieces in place at the defensive side of the ice, Drummondville looks to be a strong competitor this year.

Gatineau Olympiques
2012-13 season: Finished 5th in division, 13th in league. Eliminated in second round of playoffs.

The Gatineau Olympiques served notice last year that they are a team on the rise. After a strong but unremarkable regular season, the Olympiques went into the postseason and knocked off Rimouski, the previous year's surprise playoff team in the first round. Though they bowed out quickly in the second round, much is expected from Gatineau this year. Martin Reway, Emile Poirier and Taylor Burke will be joined up front by new additions Vincent Dunn and Marc-Olivier Brouillard, while Alexandre Carrier and Jean-Simon Deslauriers headline a solid defensive corps. Robert Steeves will return between the pipes and should be more than capable. Gatineau looks poised to make significant noise this season in the QMJHL. The TELUS West division looks to be much more competitive this season compared to the past year, but Gatineau should be considered the favourite to emerge with the divisional crown.

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
2012-13 season: Finished 2nd in division, 8th in league. Eliminated in third round of playoffs.

For the past 11 years, the Huskies have operated under the steady guidance of Andre Tourigny, so how they respond to new coach Gilles Bouchard is the main question entering the season. Despite the changes behind the bench, there is surprisingly few changes for the Huskies on the ice. Saying goodbye to import players Sven Andrighetto and Nikita Kucherov up front will hurt, but the rest of the roster is relatively unchanged. Jean-Sebastien Dea will be counted on to lead the offense and veterans like Maxime St-Cyr and Marcus Power will be expected to step into larger roles. Swiss forward Jason Fuchs has stood out in preseason matches and should also help ease the pain of the departed players. The Huskies other new import is defenseman Victor Baldayev who joins a steady group of defenders led by Dillon Fournier and supported by Justin Guenette and Alexandre Leclerc. Alexandre Belanger handled the starting duties well in his rookie season and should continue his progression in his sophomore year. Rouyn-Noranda has plenty of depth at all positions and should once again be a strong team.

Sherbrooke Phoenix
2012-13 season: Finished 6th in division, 15th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

The debut season of the Sherbrooke Phoenix was a success by any standards. The expansion team was able to qualify for the playoffs in their first season in the QMJHL. However, there is still a long road ahead for the Phoenix before they can be considered a serious contender in the league. The team’s top four leading scorers are all not returning, including import Denis Kamaev, who has opted to return to Russia. The quartet scored almost 40% of the Phoenix's goals last season and that is offense that will need to be replaced. Returning forwards Daniel Audette, Jean-Christophe Laflamme and Vincent Deslauriers will be counted on to pick up a large part of that load and they'll be helped by new additions Jean-Francois Plante and Axel Rioux. On the blue line, first round draft pick Jeremy Roy will be given every chance to succeed and he'll be supported returning defenders Vladislav Lysenko and Dominic Talbot-Tossi. Between the pipes, veteran goaltender Francis Desrosiers has arrived after an off-season trade to take over starting duties. Sherbrooke still has plenty of work to do and would benefit greatly if their young players prove to be capable of taking over larger roles, but a return to the playoffs should be easily achievable.

Val-d'Or Foreurs
2012-13 season: Finished 4th in division, 10th in league. Eliminated in second round of playoffs.

Expected to take a step forward last season, the Val-d'Or Foreurs instead found themselves standing pat. Finishing 10th in the league for a second straight year, the Foreurs were able to advance to the second round of the playoffs before bowing out to division rival Blainville-Boisbriand. Making adjustments across their roster in the offseason, it remains to be seen if the changes Val-d'Or have made will result in improved results on the ice. Anthony Mantha, Samuel Henley and Loik Poudrier will return up front to handle the offensive duties, while sophomore forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel is expected to take the next step of his development. The landscape of the defensive corps has changed as it is now led by high scoring defenders in Guillaume Gelinas and Randy Gazzola and supported by new arrival Maxime Gravel. Between the pipes, more is expected from St. Louis Blues prospect Francois Tremblay who found himself on the bench during the playoffs last season.

TELUS East Division

Baie-Comeau Drakkar
2012-13 season: Finished 1st in division, 2nd in league. Eliminated in President's Cup finals.

Eric Veilleux's arrival behind the bench in Baie-Comeau was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Drakkar. He was able to inspire the team to achieve new heights and was rewarded with a trip to the President's Cup finals. The only remaining question is if Baie-Comeau can take the next step and capture the QMJHL championship. The vast majority of the talent that led Baie-Comeau to the second-best record in the league last year will be returning including Valentin Zykov, Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau, Felix Girard and Jeremy Gregoire. There's also plenty to be excited about with new import player Denis Gorbunov who has impressed so far in the preseason. The Baie-Comeau blue line will also rely heavily on returning players with Alexandre Chenevert, Gabriel Verpaelst, Dominic Poulin and Julien Lepage being an experienced and talented top four. Between the pipes, Philippe Cadorette has the ability to steal games. Baie-Comeau was the second-best team in the QMJHL last season and there's no reason to doubt that they will once again be near the top of the standings. They'll compete with Rimouski for the divisional crown and should also be the Oceanic's top competitor for the league title.

Chicoutimi Sagueneens
2012-13 season: Finished 5th in division, 12th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

A team in transition, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens will have plenty of new faces in the lineup this season and are expected to continue to undergo many changes as the year progresses. Entering into a restructuring, Chicoutimi is expected to look to move one of their most prized assets in Charles Hudon during the mid-season trade period. Hudon, a Montreal Canadiens draft pick, will fetch a healthy return that should help accelerate the rebuild for the Sagueneens. But it isn't all bad news for Chicoutimi, as Laurent Dauphin and Sebastien Sylvestre will be back and first overall pick Nicolas Roy will be joining the team after an off-season trade with Cape Breton. Veterans Guillaume Cloutier and Philippe Archambault lead the defense while newly acquired goaltender Domenic Graham will split starts with Julio Billia between the pipes.

Quebec Remparts
2012-13 season: Finished 3rd in division, 5th in league. Eliminated in second round of playoffs.

The Quebec Remparts will be entering the 2013-14 season without a familiar face behind the bench. Team owner/GM/Head Coach Patrick Roy has left to coach the Colorado Avalanche but he will be more than capably replaced by Philippe Boucher. Roy leaves behind a strong Remparts squad, built from the crease out. Senators prospect Francois Brassard is one of the top goaltenders in the league and it appears that rookie Callum Booth is the front-runner to back him up. On the blue line, veterans Ryan Culkin and Dillon Donnelly are strong options. Up front, the trio of Adam Erne, Nick Sorensen and Anthony Duclair will lead the offense. Kurt Etchegary will be looking to bounce back after an injury filled season last year, while Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Fabrice Herzog joins the team as an 18-year-old import rookie. Quebec will have plenty of firepower and should once again be one of the top teams in the league, but it remains to be seen if they have the pieces to take the next step and compete for the league title.

Rimouski Oceanic
2012-13 season: Finished 2nd in division, 4th in league. Eliminated in first round.

After a surprising run to the President's Cup finals in 2011-12, the Rimouski Oceanic were unable to repeat the feat last season. Despite a strong regular season, they found themselves bounced in the first round of the playoffs. That early exit will do nothing to diminish expectations entering the 2013-14 season, with Rimouski expected to be one of the top teams in the league, if not the outright team to beat. Veterans like Scott Oke, Peter Trainor and recently drafted Frederik Gauthier return up front, while on the blue line, Samuel Morin and Jan Kostalek will be joined by newly acquired over-ager Jimmy Oligny to create a formidable defensive core. With the acrobatic Philippe Desrosiers in goal and Serge Beausoleil behind the bench, the Rimouski Oceanic could find themselves hoisting the President's Cup at season's end.

Shawinigan Cataractes
2012-13 season: Finished 6th in division, 17th in league. Did not qualify for playoffs.

Paying the piper for their Memorial Cup win in 2012, the Shawinigan Cataractes are slowly restocking the cupboard and building for the future. Missing the playoffs last season, the upcoming campaign offers some hope for the future. Second overall selection Anthony Beauvillier will play his first season in the QMJHL alongside his brother Francis, who was acquired in a trade with Rimouski. They're also joined by new faces like veteran Matthew Boudreau, acquired in a trade with Halifax and import selection Ilya Zinoviev. On the blue line, Dylan Labbe and Frank Schumacher will lead the way, with German Marvin Cupper taking care of the goaltending duties. The Cataractes are still a long way away from playing at the Memorial Cup again, but a return to the post season should be their goal.

Victoriaville Tigres
2012-13 season: Finished 4th in division, 11th in league. Eliminated in second round of playoffs.

A young team, Victoriaville works hard on the ice and was able to surprise the veteran-laden Moncton Wildcats in the first round last spring. They'll now take the next step as they continue to grow as a unit. The team is built from the crease out with Brandon Whitney capable of keeping the Tigres in almost every game they play. On the blue line, Jonathan Diaby and Petr Sidlik provide the team with puck-moving ability and solid defensive play. Up front, Angelo Miceli, Philippe Hudon and Carl-Antoine Delisle are all returning and they'll be supported by new addition Ross Johnston. Despite these veteran pieces, Victoriaville will continue to ice an extremely young team and that could lead to some inconsistency as they develop.

Maritimes Division

Acadie-Bathurst Titan
2012-13 season: Finished 4th in division, 14th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

Saying goodbye to their top five scorers from last season, Acadie-Bathurst will begin retooling in the 2013-14 season. Patrik Zdrahal and Raphael Lafontaine will lead the forwards and they'll be supported by new additions in Dominic Beauchemin, Adam Chapman and Alexandros Soumakis. The blue line features plenty of veteran talent with over-agers Sean Girard and Francois Godin anchoring the group. Depending on how the season goes, those veterans could find themselves as trade bait. The same might be said for goaltender Jacob Brennan, who was the starter last season but will be fighting for playing time as Mason MacDonald is ready to take the next step in his development. The Titan have some great young building blocks in place and a new outlook thanks to a new ownership group.

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
2012-13 season: Finished 6th in division, 18th in league. Did not qualify for playoffs.

Expected to take a step forward after a difficult 2011-12 season, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles instead took a step back. Plagued by injuries on the ice and instability off the ice, the team floundered and fell to the bottom of the standings. To rub salt in the wounds, the first overall draft pick, Nicolas Roy, refused to report. Nevertheless, the Screaming Eagles are forging ahead. GM Marc-Andre Dumont has been working hard to change Cape Breton's fortunes and was able to deal Roy's rights away for three first round picks. With full seasons from forwards William Carrier and Kyle Farrell as well as defenseman Loic Leduc, all of whom missed significant time with injury, the Eagles should be much improved over last season. Coupled with the acquisition of veteran netminder Maxime Lagace and there is good reason for some optimism at the Centre 200. Cape Breton might still be quite far away from competing for the league title, but a return to the post-season should be well within reach.

Charlottetown Islanders
2012-13 season: Finished 3rd in division, 7th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

With a new ownership group, a new name and coming off a strong season, there's plenty to smile about on Prince Edward Island. The former PEI Rocket were a feel-good story last season under the guidance of head coach Gordie Dwyer. Saying goodbye to top scorers Ben Duffy and Josh Currie, the newly-minted Charlottetown Islanders will be led by returning forwards like Alexis Pepin and Matej Beran. A full season from Yan Pavel Laplante, who missed significant time last year with injury, will also help out, as will the additions of rookie forwards Daniel Sprong and Marco Sedlar. On the blue line, Ryan Graves and Troy Vance return, while Antoine Bibeau will look to build on his strong season last year between the pipes. The Islanders are unlikely to duplicate last year's success, but they still have the horses to put up a strong campaign.

Halifax Mooseheads
2012-13 season: Finished 1st in division, 1st in league. Won President's Cup as QMJHL champion. Won Memorial Cup as CHL champion.

It was a storybook season for the Halifax Mooseheads, from a dominant regular season, to a Memorial Cup victory right through to watching their two top stars be selected first and third overall at the 2013 NHL Draft. Though neither Nathan MacKinnon or Jonathan Drouin are expected to skate for Halifax this season, and the Mooseheads having said goodbye to plenty of other veteran talent, the team still aims to be one of the top squads in the QMJHL. New faces like imports Nikolaj Ehlers and Timo Meier will join returning veterans like Darcy Ashley, Luca Ciampini and Brent Andrews up front. On the blue line, there is plenty of veteran talent like captain Trey Lewis and scoring defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, while there is little doubt that Zachary Fucale can handle any challenge sent his way between the pipes. Halifax might not have a team capable of repeating as Memorial Cup champions, but they should still be one of the more competitive teams in the league.

Moncton Wildcats
2012-13 season: Finished 2nd in division, 6th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

The 2012-13 season might be best summed up as a case of what might have been for the Moncton Wildcats. Bringing aboard an injection of veteran talent entering into the season and bolstering that further with a big trade for Phillip Danault at the mid-season mark, much was expected from the Wildcats. But the team never seemed to find their stride and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Danault's former team, the Victoriaville Tigres. Picking up the pieces for 2013-14, the Wildcats have a new coach and though they still retain some of that veteran talent, such as goaltender Alex Dubeau and defensemen Danick Emond, they will be relying heavily on younger talent like returning forwards Ivan Barbashev and Conor Garland and new faces like Vladimir Tkachev and Liam Hynes to guide their future. 2013-14 might be end up being a trying season for the Wildcats, but their roster is full of young players, which bodes well for the future.

Saint John Sea Dogs
2012-13 season: Finished 5th in division, 16th in league. Eliminated in first round of playoffs.

A year removed from three consecutive years of having the best regular season record in the QMJHL, the Saint John Sea Dogs squeaked into the playoffs as the last seed to qualify. Their prize for making it to the post-season last season? Facing the powerhouse Halifax Mooseheads and a first round sweep. Unfortunately for Saint John, the upcoming season doesn't have a rosier outlook as the team continues to rebuild. Veteran forward Stephen Anderson is the team's top returning scorer, but he finished last season with just 27 points. Sophomore players like Matthew Highmore, Noah Zilbert and Marcus Cuomo will be asked to step into larger roles, with more expected from third year forward Oliver Cooper. New import pick Juraj Siska and third overall draft pick Nathan Noel are wildcards who could prove to be an important piece of the Sea Dogs attack. On the blue line, Oliver Leblanc will be building off a strong rookie campaign and he'll be supported by returning import player Jurij Repe, as well as veteran Michael Abbott. Between the pipes, Sebastien Auger handled starting duties extremely well last season and will be counted on to carry the load again this year. It might be another long season in Saint John, but the team is putting together the framework for future success.