2015-16 QMJHL Preview: 2015 draft picks ready to shift the power in QMJHL

By Kristopher Bras

Thomas Chabot - Saint John Sea Dogs; Julien Gauthier - Val d'Or Foreuers

Photo: Saint John Sea Dogs defenseman and Ottawa Senators prospect Thomas Chabot (L) will anchor one of the top defensive corps in junior hockey, while Val d’Or Foreuers forward and 2016 prospect Julien Gauthier (R) looks to improve on his strong offensive season in 2014-15 (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images and Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images)

 

Quebec Remparts
2014-15 result: 4th overall in the league, 2nd in the East Division. Eliminated in 4th round of the playoffs.

The Quebec Remparts made it into the QMJHL finals largely on the strength of Adam Erne’s (TBL) incredible 21-goal playoff performance. With Erne graduating to pro hockey, the team will be hard-pressed to repeat their performance—but that does not mean they won’t be competitive. With solid goaltending from Callum Booth (CAR) and a deadly playmaker like Dmytro Timashov (TOR) along the wings, the team will always find a way to win a few games.

The Remparts hope that Swiss/Congolese import Auguste Impose will inject some offense back into the lineup. Although he had 45 points in 36 games in Switzerland’s Elite Jr. A league last year—and an attention-getting performance at the U18 World Championship—Impose was passed over in the draft. A great performance from him could invigorate interest in the spring, and he showed all signs that he has the ability to do so in camp.

Rimouski Oceanic
2014-15 result: 1st overall in the league, 1st in the East Division. QMJHL playoff champions.

Last year’s championship-winning team waved goodbye to all of its top players during the offseason, and there aren’t many NHL prospects left. Defenseman Simon Bourque (MTL) will have his work cut out for him. An alternate captain for the team, Bourque is a quick, proficient puck-handler who relies on his awareness and vision rather than size to be a difference maker.

The team filled the void in their lineup with a pair of draft-eligible stars from the Czech U18 league. Forward Nicolas Werbik had 42 points with HC Zlin last season, but he will need to put some weight on (163 lbs.) to be more valuable in North America. Matous Belohorsky is also undersized (5’11”, 168 lbs.), but that didn’t stop him from racking up 18 points in 19 games with Bili Tygri Liberec last season. Both players looked good in preseason play.

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
2014-15 result: 11th overall in the league, 4th in the West Division. Eliminated in 1st round of the playoffs.

The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies finished a mediocre 11th last season, but they will be a force in 2015-16. The team has four 2015 NHL Draft picks, as well as two from 2014. Francis Perron (OTT), Julien Nantel (COL), and Jean-Christophe Beaudin (COL) will give the team one of the best attacks in the QMJHL. The team also retains defenseman Jeremy Lauzon (BOS), who is a dangerous presence from the blueline on the powerplay.

The offense is strengthened by import Martins Dzierkals (TOR), who was one of the Latvia’s best young international players last season—which paid off when the Toronto Maple Leafs selected him in the third round of the draft in June. The team also imported San Jose Sharks defenseman Karlis Cukste, who played with Dzierkals throughout last season both internationally and with the MHL’s HK Riga.

The Huskies have two dynamic young draft-eligible prospects in Jacob Neveu and Peter Abbandonato. While Neveu is a strong and reliable stay-at-home defender, Abbandonato is an undersized center with great wheels and a nice playmaking touch. The latter player was flying in preseason play, leading the team with nine points in six games.

Saint John Sea Dogs
2014-15 result: 10th overall in the league, 3rd in the Maritimes Division. Eliminated in 1st round of the playoffs.

The Saint John Sea Dogs are another team that should improve due to a talented cast of NHL prospects, all a year-the-wiser. With first-round draft picks Thomas Chabot (OTT) and Jakub Zboril (BOS) both likely to return, the team will have one of the best back-ends in the world—let alone the QMJHL. The all-star defense corps also features top 2016 NHL Draft prospects Luke Green and Oliver Felixson.

Although the Sea Dogs did not have big goal-scorers last season, they had an extremely balanced attack—13 players reached double-digit goal totals. Many of those players will return after being selected in the 2015 NHL Draft, including Samuel Dove-McFalls (PHI), Mathieu Joseph (TBL), Spencer Smallman (CAR), and Adam Marsh (DET). Import winger Bokondji Imama (TBL) made the trip over the ocean, and performed well in camp.

Shawinigan Cataractes
2014-15 result: 5th overall in the league, 3rd in the East Division. Eliminated in 1st round of the playoffs.

The Shawinigan Cataractes will again have one of the best lines in the QMJHL thanks to Anthony Beauvillier (NYI) and Dennis Yan (TBL), with Alexis D’Aoust likely joining them on the right. The line was dominant throughout 2014-15 (then with Christophe Lalonde), and Beauvillier’s 94 points made him a first-round (28th overall) selection in the 2015 NHL Draft.

Unfortunately, Alexander Dergachyov (LAK), whom the team selected in the CHL Import Draft, will not be joining the team. The Cataractes will benefit from the continued development of Gabriel Sylvestre, a heavy-hitting stay-at-home defenseman who can make shutting down the opposition’s best players look easy. He was featured on the 2015-16 Central Scouting Futures List. Scouts will also have a look at Samuel Girard while they’re in town, an undersized defenseman with slick offensive skills.

Sherbrooke Phoenix
2014-15 result: 8th overall in the league, 3rd in the West Division. Eliminated in 1st round of the playoffs.

The Sherbrooke Phoenix will also improve this season. With a trio of NHL prospects on defense in Jeremy Roy (SJS), Carl Neill (VAN), and Alexis Vanier (SJS), the team will be tough to play against in their own end. Top 2016 draft-eligible prospect Evan Fitzpatrick compounds that, and he will be in a great environment to improve after a 2014-15 season that saw him post a 3.41 goals-against and .884 save percentage.

The team will score some goals, too. Diminutive playmaking center Daniel Audette will better the 29 goals and 73 points (MTL) he had last season. In June, the Phoenix acquired forward Julien Pelletier (CBJ) from Rouyn-Noranda, and he will try to rebound after a sub-par 2014-15 that saw him score just 29 points. Although import winger Jan Dufek was passed over at the 2015 NHL Draft, he will try to earn favor with NHL clubs this season.

Val-d’Or Foreurs
2014-15 result: 6th overall in the league, 2nd in the West Division. Eliminated in 3rd round of the playoffs.

The Val-d’Or Foreurs could easily become the Rimouski Oceanic of last season. Big and talented, the Foreurs will challenge for the league title. Two of their returning players were drafted in 2014; Nicolas Aube-Kubel (PHI) and Alexis Pepin (COL) should join Nashville Predators draft pick Anthony Richard on the team’s top line. Richard’s offense soared last season at 91 points in 66 games.

The team has a very intriguing couple of prospects, as well. Right winger Nathan Tremblay should get more playing time to demonstrate his skills this season and push for a spot in the 2016 NHL Draft. Far more assured of selection is 6-foot-4 winger Julien Gauthier, who surprised everybody last season with 73 points as a 17-year-old. He is almost a sure bet to be a first-round pick in June.

Victoriaville Tigres
2014-15 result: 16th overall in the league, 6th in the East Division. Eliminated in 1st round of the playoffs.

When NHL scouts criticized Gabriel Gagne’s (OTT) intensity and consistency in advance of the 2015 NHL Draft, it was a best-possible-scenario for the Victoriaville Tigres. In August, the talented right winger arrived to camp with something to prove—and if his eight points in exhibition play are any indication, he will look to assert himself as a top-tier NHL prospect this year. That can only mean good things for the Victoriaville Tigres in the standings.

Also returning is Samuel Blais (STL), who finished second in team scoring last season with 34 goals and 82 points. Pascal Laberge, acquired at the 2015 trade deadline, will ensure that the stands in Victoriaville will never lack for NHL scouts. The young right winger had 31 points in 58 games last season, and will benefit from more ice time.

Follow Kristopher Bras on Twitter via @KristopherBras

 

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