QMJHL East Division preview

By Phil Laugher

The East Division of the QMJHL will feature some of the most offensively gifted players in the entire league. Many of the top players from last year are returning to their respective teams this season, which likely means that the East Division will feature some of the most competitive races for position in the league, as veteran-laden rosters fight for playoff berths and position.

The East Division is the home of the offensive juggernaut that is the Rimouski Océanic, who have on their roster perhaps the best player in Canada at the moment. Lewiston and Quebec, Rimouski’s division rivals, will look to utilize their own offensive weapons (and more reliable defences) to dethrone Rimouski. Chicoutimi and Baie-Comeau, too, return many key players from last year’s roster, but both teams are still further behind the top three in regards to top-end and all-around skill levels, lacking the impact players of the other three.

Here are some of the key players to watch out for in the East Division in 2004-05.

Baie-Comeau Drakkar

The Drakkar were just able to sneak in through the back door into the playoffs last season, and this season may be a similar struggle, as they lost their top scorer and top defenseman from last season.

Players to Watch:

Loïc Lacasse (G)
Selected by Montreal, 2004, 6th Round

Lacasse got his fair share of playing time last season for the struggling Drakkar, appearing in 41 games, and notching a respectable record of nine wins, 15 losses and four ties. His play improved enough over the course of the season that in the off-season, the Drakkar traded their former No. 1 goaltender to Val d’Or. Lacasse now takes over the starting role full-time, and with much of the same cast from last season returning, he will have help as looks to steal a few games for Baie-Comeau, and maybe lead his team back to the playoffs. In order to do so, his lateral movement and his positional play will need some work over the course of the season if another trip to the playoffs is to happen, though.

Alexandre Blais (F)
Undrafted in 2004

Shorter on skates than most of his fellow players are off of them (he stands a minute 5’4), Blais more than makes up for his lack of size with his quickness and hockey sense. His speed, agility, and ability to squeeze through holes that larger players could not helped him score 30 goals in his rookie campaign. He has a decent release and is full of energy. With their leading scorer from last season gone, the maturing Blais will be counted on by the Drakkar to improve on his already large offensive production this season if Baie-Comeau is to advance into the playoffs.

Jean-François Jacques (F)
Selected by Edmonton, 2003, 2nd Round

Jacques is a consummate power forward, who rounded into his game last season for the Drakkar. One of the heaviest hitters in the league, Jacques is a young man with a large frame and quick feet who hits to hurt. The 6’4 forward’s open-ice hits are among the most devastating seen in recent years in the QMJHL. Along with his stellar physical play is a player who has a nose for the net. In his third full season in the QMJHL, Jacques put up 20 goals and 22 assists in 59 games. If he can meld his freewheeling style of play with discipline, his statistics should continue to increase, and Edmonton scouts will hope this project’s stock continues to rise.

Chicoutimi Saguenéens

Chicoutimi was the Cinderella story of the 2004 QMJHL playoffs, ousting the Val d’Or Foreurs in seven games, and then shocking Marc-André Fleury and the high-powered Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in five games in the second round, before bowing out to eventual Memorial Cup finalists the Gatineau Olympiques. With a new goaltender, and a young, inexperienced defensive core, this could be a wild season for Chicoutimi.

David Desharnais (F)
Undrafted in 2004

Though not as small as Baie-Comeau’s Alexandre Blais, Desharnais, too, is among the smallest players in the league at only 5’7, but like his small compatriot, what he lacks in size, he more than makes up for in skill. As a rookie, the small pivot from Quebec City notched 51 points, whilst playing in all 70 games. He also showed mastery in the faceoff circle, posting a solid 54 percent rating. Returning much of their offense from last season, Desharnais will look to fight his way up the depth chart, playing an even greater role than last season.

Stanislav Lascek (F)
Undrafted in 2004

The Slovakian had a very solid first season playing in North America, notching nearly a point a game for Chicoutimi in the 2003-04 campaign, and picking up 17 goals along the way. Lascek is excellent when he has the puck on his stick, showing great puck control, the ability to make crisp passes, and all-around solid playmaking ability. However, when he is away from the puck, his play is completely different. He is a slow skater, and seems relatively uninterested away from the play, which was likely a large factor towards the 6’0 forward going undrafted in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. To catch the eyes of scouts, Lascek will have to work on his all-around game.

Romy Elayoubi (F)
Eligible in 2005

Highly touted coming out of midget hockey, Elayoubi was unable to translate his raw skill into offensive production in his first season in the QMJHL. The 5’11 forward was selected by his home-town team fourth overall in the 2003 QMJHL draft, but was only able to translate the high selection into a six-goal 2003-04 campaign, which saw him spending many games in the press box. Elayoubi will have to have a breakout campaign this season if he is to rekindle the expectations that came along with his high draft position.

Lewiston MAINEiacs

In their first season south of the border, the only QMJHL American franchise was able to make it into the playoffs after a relatively successful season, before bowing out in the first round after seven games. With many key players returning from last year, MAINEiac-mania is bound to continue.

Players to Watch:

Alexandre Picard (F)
Selected by Columbus, 2004, 1st Round

The eighth overall selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft returns for his third full season in the QMJHL with the MAINEiacs. The highly skilled forward plays will once again be counted on as the key offensive cog in the Lewiston wheel – though this season, he will be without linemate Gabriel Balasescu. Though sporting only average size for a prospect (6’2, 190 pounds), Picard still works very hard in the corners and along the boards, creating chances. Picard had an excellent start last season, but his interest waned as the season progressed, but he still managed to notch 80 points. If Picard can put together a full season, then a 100-point season is not out of the question for the young man from Les Saules, Quebec.

Marc-André Cliche (F)
Eligible in 2005

A first round selection in the 2003 QMJHL draft, Cliche made the Lewiston roster straight out of training camp, and did not look out of place on the ice in his first season in the QMJHL. Playing with limited ice time, the slight forward was still able to put up a respectable eight goals and 10 assists in 52 games last season. Cliche is not much of a physical player, but if he can put more muscle onto his 165-pound frame over the course of the season, his strength will improve. He will be looking to improve his offensive production and defensive responsibility this season in an increased role, likely on one of the team’s top two lines.

Alex Bourret (F)
Eligible in 2005

Selected first overall in the 2002 QMJHL draft, Bourret struggled through a poor first season in the QMJHL, straight out of midget, where he put up only 28 points. The stocky 5’10 forward from Drummondville, Quebec cast away his potential “bust” label in his second full season for Lewiston, breaking out with 22 goals at a functioning at a nearly point-a-game pace last season; not only improving his offensive game, but also working in a physical game. Last season, Bourret loved to hit; but with that physical play, he was also able to maintain his disciplined side as well. Solid in the faceoff circle, and good in both ends of the ice, Bourret will look to impress the scouts, as he continues to progress.

Quebec Remparts

Patrick Roy’s QMJHL squad, the Remparts, snuck into the playoffs last season, but were bounced out in the first round in five games. Returning much of last year’s squad, as well as a couple of solid offensive additions, Quebec looks to make a run deeper into the playoffs.

Players to Watch:

Andrew Andricopoulos (D)
Eligible in 2005

The 6’0 defenseman from Beverly, Massachusetts had a very solid rookie campaign on the Remparts’ blue line, playing a very responsible stay-at-home game. Not very physical, and unable to utilize his offensive skill, Andricopoulos makes up for it by being one of the better defenders in Quebec’s defensive core. With nearly the entire Quebec defensive unit returning from last season, it is unclear just how much Andricopoulos’ playing time will increase, but if his defensive play remains strong, there will be no reason not to play him more.

Joshua Hennessy (F)
Selected by San Jose, 2003, 2nd Round

One of the most highly skilled players in the league, the 19-year-old American looks to further increase his already high stock with another breakout campaign with Quebec. Last season, he worked his magic with St. Louis draft pick Alexei Shkotov. This season, the speedster, Hennessy, will be playing alongside Nashville prospect Alexander Radulov, another potent offensive target. Hennessy’s playmaking ability is second to few in the league. He put up 40 goals and 82 points in only 59 games last season, and will look to add to that total in this, his fourth season in the league. If he could improve his play in his own end, Hennessy could be one of the best all-around players in the league.

Alexander Radulov (F)
Selected by Nashville, 2004, 1st Round

The highly talented Russian forward, selected fifteenth overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, will play his first season in North America alongside one of the best playmakers in the league in Hennessy. This will surely make the transition for the natural goal scorer from Russia much easier. Much like his Russian predecessor, Alexei Shkotov, Radulov’s value is best seen in the offensive zone, and that is where his success will likely be judged. He will, however, definitely have to work on his defensive game if he is to succeed in this level. Also, his characteristically undisciplined play will likely not go unnoticed by the often over-zealous QMJHL officials. In order to have an impact akin to his skill set, he will have to stay out of the box, and occasionally venture into the defensive end of the ice.

Rimouski Océanic

With one of the youngest teams in the league last season, Rimouski still managed to make it to the QMJHL semi-finals, on the backs of one of the second best offense in the league. Returning nearly all of last year’s team, and sporting the consensus number one pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Rimouski has its eyes on a berth in the Memorial Cup tournament.

Players to Watch:

Dany Roussin (F)
Selected by Florida, 2003, 7th Round

Roussin’s stock skyrocketed last season, as he led the league in goal scoring with 59, and was one of only two players to top 100 points (117). Playing on one of the most dynamic and dominant lines in the league last season alongside wunderkind Sidney Crosby, Roussin made his mark as one of the best finishers in the league, and made Florida scouts very happy they gambled a late-round pick on the slight, inconsistent forward who had floated through two average seasons before breaking out in 2003-04. Once again on the top line of the best offensive team in the league, Roussin’s offensive production may go up even further this season.

Marc-Antoine Pouliot (F)
Selected by Edmonton, 2003, 1st Round

The 18-year-old power forward suffered through an injury-plagued 2003-04 season, appearing in only 45 games, but still notching 58 points. The 6’2 playmaker will look to be free from his injury problems, and push forward on one of the Océanic’s top two lines. If he can stay healthy, Edmonton’s first round selection in 2003 should have an excellent offensive campaign, while remaining very defensively responsible at the same time.

Sidney Crosby (F)
Eligible in 2005

What can be said about Crosby that has not already been said? The consensus first overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Crosby completely tore up the QMJHL as a 16-year-old rookie, leading the league in scoring with 135 points in only 59 games (he also spent time with Canada’s World Junior silver-medal winning squad). With one year of major junior hockey dominance under his belt already, what heights the native of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia can soar to in his sophomore campaign are unknown. What is a certainty is that fans in sold-out rinks throughout the QMJHL will get their chance to watch one of the most dazzling playmakers to come through the QMJHL in many years.

Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without written permission of the editorial staff.