QMJHL playoff preview

By Nathan White

Just posted this QMJHL playoff preview at http://thepipelineshow.blogspot.com/. This Edmonton-based blog has invited me to be its QMJHL correspondent. These guys know their hockey prospects inside and out. Here are my predictions:

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League seems to have a different playoff format every year. Last season, they moved to four divisions, with the bottom two teams overall missing the playoffs. Teams played two series to get out of their division, with an extra team from the six-team Atlantic Division crossing over. Make sense? Don’t worry, they changed it. This year, the first round stays the same, but the teams will be re-seeded 1 to 8 for the second round. Still doesn’t make sense? Well next year, of course, it will change again, with a straight 1-16 format that will make the regular season matchups more meaningful, but set up some near-inhumane first-round series. On to this year’s matchups:

Saint John Sea Dogs (1st in Atlantic) v. Prince Edward Island Rocket (4th in Atlantic) – The first overall team in the Q and No. 2 team in the CHL rankings may not have an easy time with this first-round matchup. Saint John had a 31-point margin on P.E.I. during the regular season, but three of their 12 regulation losses came at the hands of the Rocket. P.E.I. used a passive, counter-punch style and got great goaltending from Evan Mosher in their last meeting. Samson Mahbod and Washington Capitals prospect Benjamin Casavant are legitimate offensive threats, and Michael Stinziani has been a point-a-game guy since being picked up at the trade deadline. Of course, Saint John has six NHL draft picks, with 20-year-olds Mike Hoffman (an MVP nominee and Ottawa Senators prospect) and Nicholas Petersen (Pittsburgh Penguins) forming the league’s top line alongside draft-eligible Russian Stanislav Galiev. In net, Anaheim Ducks prospect Marco Cousineau is the reigning top goalie from last year’s Memorial Cup, when he was with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. PREDICTION: Sea Dogs in 6

Moncton Wildcats (2nd in Atlantic) v. Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (3rd in Atlantic) – Maybe the Q could institute a curling-bonspiel-style double-knockout as its next playoff format, because it’s a shame one of these teams has to go home after the first round. On paper, Moncton is the team to beat, with returning MVP Nicola Riopel back in net after a half-season with the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers. Up front, deadline acquisition Nicolas Deschamps (Anaheim) tied for the league scoring lead, while David Savard (Columbus Blue Jackets) led blueliners. Four other teammates are NHL picks, with defenceman Brandon Gormley and forward Kirill Kabanov projected first-round picks. Goalie Olivier Roy (Edmonton Oilers), one of six NHL picks on the Cape Breton side, will do his best to stop the league’s top power play. MVP nominee and Canadian junior team member Luke Adam (Buffalo Sabres) leads the Eagles up front. PREDICTION: Wildcats in 7

Drummondville Voltigeurs (1st in Central) v. Lewiston Maineiacs (4th in Central) – Defending champion Drummondville is the top contender out of the three Quebec divisions. Canadian junior team goalie Jake Allen is the league’s best puckstopper statistically. Sean Couturier won the league scoring title and isn’t even eligible until the 2011 draft. Montreal Canadiens prospect and MVP nominee Gabriel Dumont wasn’t far behind in the scoring race, and Toronto Maple Leafs pick Chris DiDomenico racked up 22 points in 12 games after returning from a broken femur. Lewiston has 12 rookies on its roster, and a few potential 2010 draftees in forwards Michael Chaput and Matthew Bissonnette, and defenceman Samuel Carrier, but doesn’t stand a chance in this series. PREDICTION: Voltigeurs in 4

Victoriaville Tigres (2nd in Central) v. Shawinigan Cataractes (3rd in Central) – Victoriaville, which had enough points to win either the Eastern or Western Division, is a legitimate contender. New York Islanders prospect Kevin Poulin is an outstanding goaltender, and six other NHL picks dot the roster, including 38-goal man Joel Champagne (Toronto). Brandon Hynes, a 41-goal sniper, is eligible for the 2010 draft and the team led the loop in penalty killing. Shawinigan has some weapons such as Flyers prospect Dave Labrecque and draft-eligible Michael Bournival. And goalie Marc-Antoine Gelinas is no slouch. But the Cataractes aren’t likely to prevent their championship drought from reaching 41 years. PREDICTION: Tigres in 5

Quebec Remparts (1st in Eastern) v. Acadie-Bathurst Titan (5th in Atlantic) – Patrick Roy’s Remparts are always perceived as a strong contender. But this year’s edition had the worst goals-against among division winners, and Roy’s deadline moves were more for the future. Draft-eligible goalie Louis Domingue has a bright future, as does Russian forward Dmitri Kugryshev, a potential future Capital. While the Remparts may not go deep this year, they’ll definitely get past Bathurst, which has a couple of draft eligibles in forward Julien Tremblay and defenceman Jeremie Blain, but lacks star power or a No. 1 goalie. PREDICTION: Remparts in 4

Rimouski Oceanic (2nd in Eastern) v. Chicoutimi Sagueneens (3rd in Eastern) – The Oceanic didn’t drop off as much as expected after last year’s Memorial Cup season. Czech forwards Petr Straka and Jakub Culek (both draft-eligible) were a big part of that, as was the emergence of undrafted forward Felix Lefrancois and defenceman Ryan Kavanagh. The lack of a No. 1 goalie will limit Rimouski’s playoff run. Chicoutimi’s lone drafted player, Eric Gelinas (New Jersey), forms a formidable 1-2 punch on the blueline with Dominic Jalbert, but the Sags lack depth. PREDICTION: Oceanic in 5

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies(1st in Western) v. Val-d’Or Foreurs (4th in Western) – The Huskies will have to do without Canadian junior team captain and prize deadline acquisition Patrice Cormier, after losing two appeals to his season-long suspension. Goalie Nicholas Champion has a great name and is a great story for a 12th-round midget pick out of Labrador City. The team features five NHL picks besides Cormier, including world junior teammate Jordan Caron (Boston Bruins) and tenacious Oilers prospect Philippe Cornet. Defenceman Jerome Gauthier-Leduc is Rouyn’s top draft-eligible. Val-d’Or goalie Raffaele D’Orso is capable of playing better than he has, and he’ll have to for the Foreurs to top their arch rivals. Canadian junior team defenceman Marco Scandella will also have to be sharp after sitting out his 15-game suspension. PREDICTION: Huskies in 5

Montreal Junior (2nd in Western) v. Gatineau Olympiques (3rd in Western) – Just four points separated these two middling teams in the regular season. Los Angeles Kings prospect J-F Berube has taken over for Jake Allen in the Montreal goal. Louis-Marc Aubry and Guillaume Asselin are decent draft prospects, but there’s no one overwhelming on the Junior squad. Draft prospect Maxime Clermont should lead Gatineau to a series win in goal, but the Olympiques will make easy second-round fodder for a contender. PREDICTION: Olympiques in 7.

Q HIGHLIGHT REEL

You have to see this shootout goal by Slovakian prospect Tomas Jurco at :21

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~ by Nathan White on March 18, 2010.

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