QMJHL 2007-08 season preview

By Kevin Forbes

Although the QMJHL has been competing for almost a month now, it has only been in the past couple of weeks that that fate of some of their top starters in NHL camps has been decided. As is always the case in junior hockey, the final result of the 2007-08 QMJHL season should be vastly different from that of the previous year. In a single summer, strong veteran teams lose players to professional hockey and weak younger squads watch their players turn the corner and begin to benefit from their experience. Indeed, both the Lewiston MAINEiacs and the Val D’Or Foreurs, the two teams who met in the QMJHL final last spring will be hard pressed to repeat that feat a second year in a row.

East Division

Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Last season’s record: 35-28-2-5, 5th in the Division

It’s not easy for a team to swallow losing two of their top three scoring leaders, however, the Titan shouldn’t have too much to fear. Despite the loss of Thomas Beauregard’s 124 points and Martin Bartos‘ 81 points, the team will be welcoming back Washington prospect Mathieu Perreault and his 119 points from last season. Perreault will have an excellent chance to challenge for the QMJHL scoring title and he’ll be joined up front by Vancouver prospect Charles-Antoine Messier and Czech native Tomas Svoboda who were acquired in the offseason.

On the blue line, not much has changed from 2006-07. Once again, their defense will be led by Mathieu Labrie, whose strong play last season led to an invite to the Montreal Canadiens training camp. Finally, between the pipes, Antoine Tardif and newly-acquired veteran Tommy Legault should form a solid tandem.

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Last season’s record: 46-22-2-0, 2nd in the Division

With James Sheppard, the newest Minnesota Wild forward, joining the list of players not returning to the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, the 2007-08 season only appears to be that much more challenging. The Eagles have already lost defensemen Luc Bourdon and Oskars Bartulis as well as goaltender Ondrej Pavelec to the the pro leagues and will be hard pressed to follow up on their strong 2006-07 season. Although it is possible that Sheppard, last year’s scoring leader and a former team captain, could return to the QMJHL later in the season, Cape Breton faces a rebuilding season with numerous rookies in their lineup. Most notable is their tandem in net: Olivier Bellavance-Roy, a 2009 eligible player and Marek Benda, an 18-year-old Czech Republic native.

While this season may be a long one for Cape Breton fans, the young talent that the team is nurturing should place the squad in line to compete among the league’s best in a couple of years.

Halifax Mooseheads
Last season’s record: 32-31-3-4, 6th in the Division

Entering the 2007-08 season, Halifax was widely speculated to be among the top challengers for the East Division title. With the early-season acquisition of goaltender Pier-Olivier Pelletier, they could now be viewed as favorites for the top spot in the entire league. Although predictions are often not worth the paper they are written on, the Mooseheads offensive punch will be hard to replicate. Jakub Voracek recently returned from the Columbus Blue Jackets training camp and he’ll join Anaheim Ducks prospects Logan MacMillan and Bryce Swan up front. Meanwhile, Rangers prospect Ryan Hillier and 2008 eligible rookie Tomas Knotek will help provide secondary offense.

With both the forward corps and between the pipes in good hands, the only concern for the Herd appears to be on defense. Boston prospect Andrew Bodnarchuk is one of the top offensive rearguards in the league, but after him the Mooseheads blue line is solid, but not particularly outstanding.

Lewiston MAINEiacs
Last season’s record: 50-14-2-4, 1st in the Division

The defending QMJHL champions will have a hard time repeating, thanks to a much stronger division and the loss of key players such as Marc-Andre Cliche and Chad Denny. The losses continued to mount after the NHL training camps. 2006-07 scoring leader David Perron has stuck with the St. Louis Blues to start the season and goaltender Jonathan Bernier has already won his first NHL game with the Los Angeles Kings.

However goaltending is far from their greatest concern, as the team has 2008 eligible Peter Delmas waiting in the wings. A member of Canada’s U18 team last year, Delmas performed admirably for the MAINEiacs down the stretch while filling in for an injured Bernier, ensuring Lewiston finished atop the QMJHL standings. Meanwhile, Kevin Marshall and Michael Ward will take larger roles on the blue line as Lewiston enters a bit of a rebuilding year after their championship win.

Moncton Wildcats
Last season’s record: 39-25-4-2, 3rd in the Division

Buoyed by the return of 20-year-old Matt Marquardt, the Moncton Wildcats will still find themselves in tough competing in a loaded East Division. The team’s makeup hasn’t changed much from last year, led by a talented, if undersized forward corps known for their tenacious play at both ends of the ice, as characterized by Detroit prospect Randy Cameron. Their defense features a number of young talented blueliners such as 2008 eligible Mark Barbiero and rookie European Martin Baca. Finally, between the pipes, Nicola Riopel returns after a solid rookie season.

With the changes in the balance of power in the East Division, the Moncton Wildcats may be the only squad that could stand pat. The core identity of the team has not changed and they will continue to be a strong competitor, night in and night out.

PEI Rocket
Last season’s record: 36-26-2-6, 4th in the Division

The return of a number of key players should spell an improvement in the standings for the PEI Rocket. Up front, newly-drafted Anaheim prospect Brett Morrison could compete for the league scoring lead. He’ll benefit from a full season with the Rocket and will be supported by shifty Phoenix prospect, Martin Latal who seems primed to take the next step in his career. Finally, the Rocket have 2008 eligible forward Chris Doyle who is just beginning the scratch the surface of his potential.

Despite losing Buffalo prospect Marc-Andre Gragnani on defense, the Rocket still boost Pierre-Luc Lessard, an Ottawa draft pick and if the defense falters, Antoine Lafleur, a New York Rangers selection is there to take care of business between the pipes.

Saint John Sea Dogs
Last season’s record: 20-47-1-2, 8th in the Division

The times could be changing in New Brunswick for the Saint John Sea Dogs. Despite having little success after joining the QMJHL, the Dogs may finally turn the corner in 2007-08. One of the biggest changes could be between the pipes with the addition of Swiss goaltender Robert Mayer. A 2008 eligible prospect, Mayer’s Swiss league pedigree should serve him well in the QMJHL and he may be the top goaltender selected in the draft. The Sea Dogs blue line also features a top 2008 eligible prospect in Yann Sauve, who along with Pittsburgh’s Alex Grant and David Stich, helps form the core of a young puck-moving defense.

Finally, up front, Toronto prospect Christopher DiDomenico led the team in scoring as a rookie and will be looking to continue his success in his second year. This all adds up to a change of fortunes for the Sea Dogs, and perhaps their first look at the postseason.

St. John’s Fog Devils
Last season’s record: 28-36-2-4, 7th in the Division

Like their expansion brothers in Saint John, the Fog Devils also feature a new face between the pipes in San Jose prospect Timo Pielmeier. A native of Germany, Pielmeier joins the QMJHL this season to learn the North American game. Up front, the offensive attack is led by Buffalo prospect Jean-Simon Allard, Los Angeles’ Matt Fillier and Philadelphia pick Mario Kempe. Meanwhile, on the blue line, T.J. Brennan is a recent Sabres selection who will see time in all situations.

While the Fog Devils have made the playoffs in each of their two seasons in the QMJHL, success has eluded them, with just a single playoff win in their franchise history. They will be looking at a number of their top players to step up to the task.

Telus (West) Division

Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Last season’s record: 35-26-1-8, 7th in the Division

Being able to call upon the defending QMJHL scoring leader is a luxury for any coach and in Baie Comeau, Francois Bouchard should expect to hear his name called a lot. After scoring 125 points in 68 games last year, the Capitals prospect will find himself in a tough situation with the Drakkar, with little support from the rest of the team.

The team has lost 93 points from Alexandre-Picard Hooper in a trade with Saint John as well as promising Vancouver prospect Messier in a deal with Acadie-Bathurst. Although Buffalo draft pick Benjamin Breault has returned, the fate of the franchise in 2007-08 seems to rest squarely on Bouchard’s shoulders.

Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Last season’s record: 34-28-7-1, 8th in the Division

An extremely young team in 2006-07, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens had six rookies in their top 12 scoring leaders last season, including New Jersey defensive prospect Kirill Tulupov. While the additional year of experience for the young squad should lead to better results on the ice, the loss of veteran David Desharnais and his team-leading 108 points will hurt the team a lot. In addition, the team also said goodbye to Juraj Mikus and his 71 points, which were good for second on the team and Alexandre Imbeault’s third place 65-point season.

On of the top defensive teams in the league in 2006-07, with the fourth-best goals against, there was a significant drop off in the team scoring after the top players and that gap may be too insurmountable to be conquered by simply young players getting experience. As such, the team has attempted to cushion the blow, acquiring veterans such as over-ager Francis Pare from Shawinigan during the offseason. If those players cannot fill the offensive void, it could be another season outside of the playoff race for the Sagueneens.

Drummondville Voltigeurs
Last season’s record: 37-26-1-6, 4th in the Division

Following a strong season for the Voltigeurs, they have had to turn around to say goodbye to their top three scorers from 2006-07. Leading scorer Jonathan Duchesneau finished his QMJHL as an over-ager, Tomas Svoboda has been dealt to Acadie-Bathurst and Tomas Zohorna has returned to the Czech Republic. This all adds up to drop in the standings for the Voltigeurs.

Entering into a rebuilding phase, veterans like newly acquired forward Garrett Peters and hard-nosed Blue Jackets blue line prospect Maxime Frechette will help guide youngsters in hopes that the team can compete anew in a year’s time.

Gatineau Olympiques
Last season’s record: 39-27-2-2, 3rd in the Division

The Gatineau Olympiques breathed a sigh of relief when star forward Claude Giroux was returned to their team after a strong showing at the Philadelphia Flyers training camp. Giroux should be among the top scorers in the league this season and Gatineau will continue to be one of the stronger clubs in the Telus Division. A solid well disciplined squad, the Olympiques feature a good mix of veterans and young players.

Between the pipes, veteran Ryan Mior will give the squad a chance to win every night. He’ll be supported by a young, but physically imposing blue line that showed marked improvement over the course of the 2006-07 season.

Quebec Remparts
Last season’s record: 37-28-2-3, 5th in the Division

After their Memorial Cup win in the spring of 2006, the Quebec Remparts took only a small step back in 2006-07. They’ll be looking to continue to compete in 2007-08, thanks in part to the return of Penguins prospect Angelo Esposito. Still only 18 years old, Esposito is entering his third season in the QMJHL. He’s joined up front by a familiar face in 20-year-old veteran Maxime Lacroix, a Capitals selection in 2006.

One of the more notable stories out of Quebec during the offseason was the departure of the Bashkirov twins. Ruslan Bashkirov was an Ottawa Senators selection and along with his brother Roman, they tallied more then 130 points for Quebec last year, in their only QMJHL season. New Import Draft selection Mikhail Stefanovich, a 2008 eligible prospect, will be called on to help fill the offensive void, while Kelsey Tessier, another 2008 prospect will also be counted on to take a larger role with the team.

Rimouski Oceanic
Last season’s record: 22-39-7-2, 10th in the Division

One of the more interesting organizations in the Telus Division, Rimouski boasts a young, talented team. Up front, the offensive attack is led by Florida prospect Michael Frolik, Isles pick Maxime Gratchev and Chicago selection Maxime Tanguay. Additional offensive depth is provided by Montreal prospect Olivier Fortier and Rangers draft pick David Skokan. Finally, their forward corps also features a trio of notable 2008 prospects in Phillipe Cornet, Jordan Caron and Patrice Cormier. Their defense also features a top 2008 prospect in blue liner Alexandre Neron.

Despite a merely average defense and goaltending, the Rimouski Oceanic look to be an exciting squad in 2007-08. There should be plenty of goals and highlights at both end of the ice. The Oceanic has recently made moves to help solidify their defensive play, acquiring goaltender Michael Dupont from Baie-Comeau.

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
Last season’s record: 36-27-3-4, 6th in the Division

Expected to be one of the teams to beat in the Telus Division, Rouyn-Noranda will benefit from having the majority of their core players in 2006-07 return to the team this year. Forwards like Calgary prospect Hugo Carpentier and Jeff Desjardins are expected to take the next step offensively, while the team hopes to benefit from a full season out of Anaheim draft pick Maxime Macenauer, who missed a large part of last season with injury.

The Huskies blue line is led by Ivan Vishnevskiy, a Dallas prospect known for his offensive prowess and skating ability. He’ll be supported by a solid, veteran group that should place Rouyn-Noranda in contending position. The only question mark is between the pipes, with veteran Jean-Philippe Levasseur graduating to pro hockey during the offseason.

Shawinigan Cataractes
Last season’s record: 25-39-2-4, 9th in the Division

Another young squad looking to improve on last year’s results, the Shawinigan Cataractes ice a healthy mix of 18 and 19-year-olds that, provide the cards fall correctly, should lead them into the postseason in 2007-08. Despite losing their top two scorers from last season, one due to over-age graduation and the other due to trade, the Cataractes may be able to take advantage of the fact that some of last year’s top teams in the Telus Division are also reeling from significant departures.

With a forward squad led by Cedric Lalonde-McNicoll, a center who scored almost a point per game in the 47 games he played last season, and a defense led by Islanders prospect Simon Lacroix, the Cataractes have the ability to produce a solid, respectable season.

Val D’Or Foreurs
Last season’s record: 41-23-4-2, 1st in the Division

After winning the Telus Division and making it all the way to the QMJHL finals last season, the Val D’Or Foreurs will be hard pressed to repeat such feats in 2007-08. Despite the return of talented forward Brad Marchand, a Boston Bruins prospect, the Foreurs have had to say goodbye to numerous veterans over the offseason. Faced with a relatively young roster, the Foreurs will be looking to build towards another strong season in a year’s time.

In the meantime, solid young players such as forward Julius Sinkovic, defenseman Shawn Morton-Boutin and goaltender Raffaele D’Orso will be given every chance to succeed.

Victoriaville Tigres
Last season’s record: 38-25-3-4, 2nd in the Division

Bolstered by the play of goaltenders Jean-Christophe Blanchard and Kevin Poulin, the Tigres only allowed 240 goals against in 2006-07, fifth best in the QMJHL. A 2008 eligible prospect, Poulin already had his coming out party as a 16-year-old with a 10-6 record. Although Blanchard has returned as an over-ager after an extended stay at the Dallas Stars‘ training camp, Poulin is expected to shoulder a larger share of the goaltending load and has a shot at being the first goaltender selected at the 2008 draft.

With Minnesota’s Morten Madsen graduating to professional hockey, the Tigres will have to look elsewhere for offensive attack. Pittsburgh prospect Keven Veilleux will be expected to step up, after having an inconsistent draft year.

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