State of the QMJHL with Stéphane Leroux

By Nicolas Gaudreau-Dupuis

Stéphane Leroux, the QMJHL’s analyst for
Le Réseaux des Sports (RDS) answers Hockey’s Future questions on the state of
the QMJHL.

The Memorial Cup Championship, its impact.

Nicolas Gaudreau-Dupuis : The 1999-2000 season ended perfectly for the QMJHL with the victory of L’Océanic de Rimouski at the Memorial Cup Championship Final. That was the third QMJHL championship in the past five years, after almost twenty years of failure. What can be concluded of the recent success of the QMJHL at the Memorial Cup?

Stéphane Leroux : I believe that the recent success of QMJHL teams at the Memorial Cup (Granby, Hull & Rimouski) have swept away the inferiority complex that our teams were facing in the past years. We hope it’ll continue this year at Regina.

NGD : Does the QMJHL have a different game style than the OHL and the WHL that could explain its recent successes at the Memorial Cup? In the year 2000, how does the QMJHL compare to the two other Canadian leagues?

SL : I believe that the QMJHL is betting on a more open game style than the OHL and WHL. If that has not always paid off in the course of the years, it really did for L’Océanic last June. There’s never been any doubts that the best team won.

NGD : And what hopes does Rimouski’s victory give the QMHJL in 2000-2001? What influence will that championship have on the other QMJHL teams and the game style in general?

SL : I believe that the greatest influence Rimouski’s championship will have on other teams will happen at the management level. L’Océanic won last year without making alot of transactions and without putting its future in jeopardy, and that’s something I believe alot of teams have noticed…

The Expansion

NGD : The recent QMJHL successes, as well as its growing popularity and the search for a larger talent pool have lead to the league’s expansion in the East with new franchises in Baie-Comeau and in the Maritimes during the past years; and then with the return of the QMJHL in Montreal last year. What conclusions can now be drawn from that expansion? What has the QMJHL got out of it?

SL : I believe that the recent expansions have been tremendous for the QMJHL. In the Maritimes the crowds are incredible, as well as in Rimouski were the passion is unmatched. As for the return of the QMJHL in Montreal, it can only be beneficial. Montreal is the great metropolis and its important that the biggest city of the territory is represented. Furthermore, the Rocket’s organization seems solid and has experienced an excellent first season.

NGD : Do you believe that expansion wave to be over? Is there any more changes expected? Is there actual franchises that could move? And is there actually any new markets that can hope to join the QMJHL soon?

SL : 2000-20001 will be the first season in 13 years in which the QMJHL will keep the same face two straight years… That’s one good thing for stability. As far as the possible transfers, there’s maybe Cape Breton that’s lagging behind and that is in a difficult geographical situation. There’s also the crowds in Sherbrooke that’ll need to be kept an eye on. There’s a market that have not been up to the expectations. As for the cities that could be awarded franchises, I’m thinking about Laval, St-Georges de Beauce, that should deserve some interest. In the Maritimes, there’s Fredericton and Charlottetown in PEI; and let’s not forget the United States and the Boston area.

The 2000-2001 Season

NGD : At the same date last year, almost all the experts were agreeing to declare that Les Remparts de Quebec and the Halifax Mooseheads would dominate the 1999-2000 season, but its Rimouski that finished first overall and won everything. At the dawn of the 2000-2001 season, which QMJHL teams do you believe have the best chances to finish first and hope for a Memorial Cup berth?

SL : I believe that the four farorite teams right now are Les Huskies de Rouyn-Noranda, Les Tigres de Victoriaville, Le Drakkar de Baie-Comeau and Le Titan d’Acadie-Bathurst, they should dominate in their respective divisions.

NGD : In the couple of last years, the QMJHL has been dominated by the “Class of 98”: Lecavalier, Gagné, Ribeiro, Luongo, Richards, Chouinard, Abid, Tanguay, Girard, etc.; all those players selected in the 1998 Entry Draft. Now that those players will almost all have left the QMJHL in 2000-2001, which players will take and carry the torch and give fans a good show? Which are the next dominating players of the QMJHL? Who are the next Ribeiro, Luongo, Richards of the QMJHL?

SL : I believe that this year you’ll hear alot about the Thinel Brothers (Marc-André and Sebastien), Carl Malette and Antoine Vermette of Les Tigres de Victoriaville. In Abitibi, Maxime Ouellet in Rouyn-Noranda and Brandon Reid in Val-d’Or will put on a great show. Yanick Lehoux in Baie-Comeau, Thatcher Bell and Michel Ouellet in Rimouski, Alexandre Giroux in Hull will be amongst the league’s stars, and there will surely be some great Europeans here and there.

NGD : And does this cast change mean the end of an era, of a cycle in the QMJHL? Or can we expect the “New Guard” to simply continue the performances and perpetuate the quality standards that the Class of 98 have set?

SL : I believe that the League will lose exceptional talents this year. The 98 Vintage, that’s something I dont think you’ll see again before a decade.

NGD : Still talking about that “New Guard” of the QMJHL and the NHL Draft, which 2000 draftees have the most promising future? And which are the closest to make it in the NHL?

SL : I dont think that any selected players from Quebec this year will be in the NHL this season. Though I really love the skills of a player like Antoine Vermette, I believe that he will be an excellent prospect for the Senators.

The NHL Entry Draft, the Future.

NGD : Despite its successes at the Memorial Cup, and put aside the 1998 Entry Draft, the QMJHL has latetly had poor years at the NHL Draft. What do you think of the results obtained by the QMJHL at the NHL Draft in the past years? How to explain the low number of QMJHL players drafted by the LNH in the recent years?

SL : That’s the black eye of the QMJHL in the recent years, the NHL level drafting has been deficient. Maybe its the system that should be given second-thoughts, as now NHL teams prefer to select prospects in Europe rather than choose Canadian players. That’s because in Europe, NHL teams can keep their prospects on their protection list for four or five seasons before taking a decision. Here in Canada, teams have to make a decision after just two years. So at equal talent, in 5th, 6th and 7th round, professionnal teams are looking toward Europe.

NGD : Now let’s talk about the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Who do you think are the best QMJHL prospects for the 2001 Draft?

SL : The first name that comes to mind to me is goaltender Pascal Leclaire from the Halifax Mooseheads. He’ll be the QMJHL’s headliner all season long and many scouts will travel to see him play this year.

NGD : Could you offer the Hockey’s Future readers some comments on the top 2001 QMJHL prospects?

SL : It would be long to comment on each prospects and its still early in the season to identify the best of them, but players like Leclaire, Karl St-Pierre from Les Saguenéens de Chicoutimi, Brent MacLellan from l’Oceanic de Rimouski, Christopher Montgomery from Le Rocket de Montréal, and I surely forget some, are the first names that come to my mind.

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