Over the past week, we here at LWOS have published various playoff previews in the OHL, and WHL; but in those leagues we have seperated things by conference. The QMJHL though, with their three divisions instead of four, and lack of conference structure doesn’t offer that luxury. Instead what follows is a complete look at all eight series in the first round of the QMJHL Playoffs.
2016 QMJHL Playoff Preview
(1) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies vs (16) Drummondville Voltigeurs
The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies were the QMJHL’s best team this year, racking up 113 points, and losing only 9 games in regulation all year. They finished the regular season on a 14 game winning streak. The best offence in the league is led by Sharks prospect Timo Meier who put up 51 points in 29 games after being acquired at the trade deadline. Senators prospect Francis Perron has long been a leader on the team, and put up 108 points this season. Jean-Christophe Beaudin and Martins Dzierkals provide support. Beyond those four though there is plenty of offensive firepower upfront. The defence is led by Bruins prospect Jeremy Lauzon who put up 50 points in 46 games, and quarterbacks things from the back end. Phillipe Myers and Nicolas Brouillard provide the team with a big three who protect their own end. Chase Marchand and Samuel Harvey are both capable goalies, Marchand should start but Harvey proved his worth when Marchand was hurt this year.
When 16 teams in an 18 team league make the playoffs, the #16 seed is often weak. This has been seen year in and year out as there have been many lopsided first round series, and no upsets of a #16 over a #1 since this format was implemented. This year should be no different. The Drummondville Voltigeurs are just happy to be here, and will likely get taken out by the Huskies in a quick series. The biggest player to watch on Drummondville is 19-year-old Michael Carcone, who scored 47 goals for the Voltigeurs this year. With 54 assists, and 89 points, Alex Barre-Boulet is his set-up man. The Voltigeurs may have this dynamic duo, but they just won’t be able to match the overall depth of Rouyn-Noranda.
Prediction: Huskies in 4.
(2) Shawinigan Cataractes vs. (15) Sherbrooke Phoenix
Shawinigan has been led by the play of Islanders first round pick Anthony Beauvillier this season. With 40 goals and 79 points in 47 games, he’s been a force nearly every time he stepped on the ice. Alex D’Aoust (98 points in 68 games), and Dennis Yan (69 points in 62 games) have helped produce. The trade deadline additions of Dmytro Timashov, Danny Moynihan, and Gabriel Gagné took the team’s offence from very good to great and made them a contender. On defence 17 year old Samuel Girard may be undersized, but he is one of the most dynamic offensive defencemen in the QMJHL. Cavan Fitzgerald, Jonathan Deschamps and Matt Klebanskyj were all added this year, and give the team improved defensive depth; but the biggest addition might be in goal where Phillipe Cadorette came in as an overager and put up a .914 save percentage.
Its been a disastrous season for Sherbrooke, who have a much better team on paper than their performance has shown. Sure there have been injuries, and losing Sharks prospect Jeremy Roy over the second half, and Habs prospect Daniel Audette in the first half had big effects. But even with those injuries the team still hasn’t performed as well as was expected. There are rumors that Roy could be back for the series, and that would be a huge boost to the team. They will need him to quarterback the team if they are to have any chance of an upset. Audette and Julien Pelletier would need to have a big series up front, and netminder Evan Fitzpatrick would need to steal some games between the pipes for the Phoenix to have any chance of an upset here. It seems too much to ask though.
Prediction: Cataractes in 5.
(3) Saint John Sea Dogs vs. (14) Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Seen as a preseason favorite, Saint John sleepwalked for the first half of the season, but really took off in the second half of the season, and it paid off with a Maritime Division title. The strength of the Sea Dogs is on the blue line where they feature the deepest and best group in the league. Jakub Zboril, Thomas Chabot and 2016 draft eligible player Luke Green all have bright NHL futures ahead of them. Matt Murphy has long been a reliable QMJHL defenceman and could also have a pro career. Green is questionable for the series, but the Sea Dogs should be able to hold the fort until he returns. Their defence play well in their own end and have the offensive skill to move the puck to a strong group of forwards including Sam Povorozniouk, Matthieu Joseph, Matthew Highmore, Joseph Velano, Daniel Del Paggio and Nathan Noel. The Sea Dogs one weakness may be in goal where one of Marc-Antoine Turcotte or Alex Bishop will need to step up if they are to fulfill the pre-season promise. Thats likely getting ahead of ourselves though, as the team should have more than enough to handle the Titan.
The Titan may have an advantage in goal, but its questionable. Reilly Pickard has a ton of talent, but he’s also inexperienced and just 17-years-old. If there is any chance of an upset here, he has to grow up real fast. Pickard was at his best down the stretch though, so he comes into the series in good form. The Titan will also need big performances from their leading scorers Christophe Boivin, Mark Simpson, Vladimir Kuznetsov, and Jeffrey Truchon-Viel. The Titan don’t have a true super scorer, and typically create offense through hard work and grinding things out. They will need to continue that approach in this series.
Prediction: Sea Dogs in 5.
(4) Val-d’Or Foreurs vs (13) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Val d’Or finished with the second most points in the QMJHL this year, and were one of only two teams to achieve 100 points. However due to the fact they played in Rouyn-Noranda’s division they come into the playoffs as the fourth seed. The team includes big time scorers in Anthony Beauregard and Nicoalas Aube-Kubel upfront. They are complimented by 2016 NHL draft eligible Julien Gauthier. Anthony Richard was their second leading scorer behind Beauregard, bute he’s been out since early March and is questionable to play in the series. The team typically gets excellent goaltending from Etienne Montpetit who put up a .907 save percentage this season. The defence is solid but unspectacular.
The Armada’s strength is in goal, where they are led by Panthers prospect and Canadian National Junior Team goalie Samuel Montembeault. If they are to have a chance to win the series, he will need to steal a game or two along the way; as the Armada just don’t score a lot of goals. Their leading scorer this year was Kristian Pospisil who had just 40 points in 52 games. T.J. Melancon and Pascal Corbeil can provide a bit of offense from the backend, but its tough to see how the Armada can generate enough goals to win the series.
Prediction: Val d’Or in five.
(5) Gatineau Olympiques vs. (12) Quebec Remparts
The Olympiques were the third best team in the QMJHL on the basis of points this year, and are a real threat to do damage in the playoffs. Vitalii Abramov is undersized and just 17 but he had a tremendous rookie season leading the team with 93 points this year. He is supported by Alex Dostie, Yan Pavel Laplante, and Yakov Trenin who all scored over a point per game this season. The defence is strong and includes their big mid-season addition in Avalanche prospect Nicolas Meloche, as well as Predators prospect Alexandre Carrier and Alex Breton. Mathieu Bellemare put up a .901 save percentage between the pipes.
The Remparts have a tremendous goalie in Callum Booth. However, he is injured right now, and that drastically reduces the Remparts chances to pull the upset. Evgeny Kiselev will need to carry the load. The team went all in to go after the Memorial Cup last year and are paying the price in a rebuilding season this year. The Remparts moved Dmitryo Timashov, Matt Murphy, Massimo Corroza, and others for future pieces at the trade deadline, and its not really realistic to see the Remparts go far in this year’s playoffs.
Prediction: Gatineau in four.
(6) Moncton Wildcats vs. (11) Victoriaville Tigres
Wildcats forward Connor Garland led the QMJHL in scoring for the second straight season, putting up 128 points this season. Even more impressive, the team’s second leading scorer was Cameron Askew who had 65 points in 66 games. He’ll be the focus of plenty of defensive attention from the Tigres in this series. The Wildcats looked to get him more support at the trade deadline, picking up Vaclav Karabacek, Campbell Pickard, and Joey Richard up front and Cody Donaghy on the blueline. They also bolstered the goaltending with Keven Bouchard. Things didn’t go as planned for the Wildcats who were leading the division at the time, but went into a slump and saw themselves passed by the Sea Dogs. They’d eventually recover and were playing good hockey down the stretch.
The Tigres are led by a young group of forwards that includes Maxime Comtois (16) and Pascal Laberge (17). There is another promising 17-year-old in Felix Lauzon. While they are supported by veterans such as Alexandre Goulet and Mario Huber, the truth is that the Tigres are still building for the future. This year they will hope for a couple of wins and getting some experience for the youngsters before making bigger runs over the next two years.
Prediction: Moncton in six.
(7) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles vs. (10) Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Cape Breton has a very powerful offense. 2016 draft eligible forward Pierre Luc Dubois had 99 points, Evgeny Svechnikov had 79 points, Maxim Lazarev 75 points and Michael Joly with 63 points all proved to be dynamic scorers. Loik Leveille quarterbacks the powerplay and leads the team’s transition game from the blue line. Oliver Leblanc and Alexandre Gosselin lend support and give the group plenty of experience and ability to move the puck. Alexandre Belanger might be the weak link, as the goaltender had just an .890 save percentage this season.
Former QMJHL Draft first overall pick Nicolas Roy had a tremendous season. He put up 48 goals, and was one of the best defensive forwards in the league. Jonathan Bourcier also had 30 goals and provides secondary support for Roy. The team has a strong defense with Frédéric Allard is one of the best draft eligible defencemen in the QMJHL and helps lead the team’s offense from the blueline. Chicoutimi’s biggest asset in the series though is goaltender Julio Billia who led the QMJHL with a .919 save percentage this season. He gives them a big edge in goal and will be the reason that the Sagueneens pull off the first round upset.
Prediction: Chicoutimi in six.
(8) Rimouski Océanic vs. (9) Charlottetown Islanders
An 8th seed vs 9th seed matchup is always unpredictable. However, with these two teams finishing just two points apart in the playoffs, that is even more true than normal this year.
The Oceanic took a step back after winning the QMJHL title last year, losing players to graduation as well as trading out some key pieces for prospects and draft picks at the deadline. However, with Habs prospect Simon Bourque back on the blue line, along with Dylan Montcalm and Tyler Boland up front; there are still a number of quality pieces in Rimouski. Added to those pieces was Antoine Dufort-Plante who couldn’t find a QMJHL spot in 2014-15; but ended up leading the Oceanic in scoring with 63 points this past season. Louis-Philip Guindon played 15 games for the Oceanic in last year’s playoffs; and brings that experience back to the crease for this run.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins returned forward Daniel Sprong to Charlottetown, it gave the Islanders a real boost. He had 46 points in 33 games after rejoining the team. The added offence helped Filip Chlapik and Bradley Kennedy in putting points on the board for Charlottetown. However, the playoffs are all about goaltending and the Islanders have an edge between the pipes as Flames prospect Mason McDonald gives them quality netminding on a night in and night out basis. I feel he is the difference and leads the Islanders to a first round win.
Prediction: Islanders in seven.