With the 44th season in the history of the QMJHL ready to begin tomorrow night, it’s time to look at the best teams and the best players to watch in 2012-13. The Acadie-Bathurst Titan will visit the Saint-John Sea Dogs, the President’s Cup Champions for a second consecutive year. With the lockout in the NHL, hockey fans will have to look elsewhere to see hockey and the CHL, and especially the QMJHL in the eastern part of Canada, will be a great option to satisfy their hockey craving.
Here are my full predictions for the next seasons with a summary of the players to watch this seassn:
1- Halifax Mooseheads*
Obviously, the young sensation Nathan MacKinnon will be an important part of the Moosheads’ success along with forward Jonathan Drouin and spectacular netminder Zachary Fucale. The Mooseheads will most likely battle for the 1st position all season long thanks to a solid core that gained important playoffs experience last Spring.
Their roster will be pretty much the same, with the addition of overage scorer Stefan Fournier from the Victoriaville Tigres, even though they lost some key overage players, most notably team captain Cameron Critchlow.
2- Québec Remparts*
Led by flashy Russian Mikhail Grigorenko, the Remparts will be loaded with offensive weapons this season. 2nd round draft choice of the Tampa Lightning, the Russian Nikita Kucherov is coming to North America to form a duo with fellow Russian Mikhail Grigorenko. About to begin their sophomore year in the league, Adam Erne and Anthony Duclair are already star players in the Q. Nick Sorensen should be ready to contribute after an injury-riddled season last year. Still the Remparts will only be able to dress two Euros per game.
As opposed to the other teams in their division, the Remparts’ defensive unit is solid. Despite the departures of Vincent Barnard and Mikaël Tam, Martin Lefebvre, the team captain, is still there and he will be well supported by Marc-Antoine Carrier and Ryan Culkin.
The only question mark is in goal. With Louis Domingue gone, the second year goalie, François Brassard, will shoulder the workload, despite a lack of exprience.
3- Blainville-Boisbriand Armada*
Blainville-Boisbriand was very active this off-season with a flurry of moves. Though they traded many players away, the draft picks acquired should be useful around the Christmas trading period. Their biggest acquisitions were New Jersey Devils first-rounder Stefan Matteau and defenceman Samuel Carrier, an overager who should provide plenty of offence.
Fourth-year defenseman, Xavier Ouellet, will quarterback the offense this season, as he’s one of the best puck-moving defensemen in the league. Tommy Giroux, Cedric Paquette and Christopher Clapperton will provide secondary scoring and offensive depth to an already potent line-up.
4- Moncton Wildcats
The Wildcats made a complete overhaul after trading dynamic rearguard Brandon Gormley last season. They acquired three key players as a deferred compensation for Gormley while adding top European talent in Ivan Barbashev and Dmitri Jaskin in the off-season. The Saulnier twins, Allain and Alex, as well as Yannick Veilleux, will give a good offensive nucleus to the Wildcats.
The team is all set in goal with Alex Dubeau, but their defensive corps is not quite ready to step-up, which is why the team will only be ready to contend for the league championship in 2013-14.
5 – Baie-Comeau Drakkar
With a second-round participation in last year’s playoffs, the expectations will be high this season in Baie-Comeau, and with good reason. The 18 year-old captain, Felix Girard, is ready to explode offensively after a good season in 2011-12. The Drakkar will also boast a lot of depth up-front with several veterans, including the Minnesota Wild second-round draft pick Raphaël Bussières, who remains a question mark, but is über-talented. Carl Gelinas and Frederic Gamelin will add some offensive punch.
Memorial Cup winner, Eric Veilleux, will be the Drakkar’s new head coach. He hopes to bring more consistency to the players’ game. The defensive squad will be led by Julien Lepage, while 17 year-old Philippe Cadorette, in his first full season, will have to lead the team to victory every night.
6- Acadie-Bathurst Titan
With the most devastating attack in the league, the Titan will score goals aplenty despite Sebastien Trudeau’s departure. With Zach O’Brien and Matthew Bissonnette leading the way, the Titan will also benefit from the addition of top scorer Brandon Hynes from the Tigres. The two European forwards Patrik Zdrahal and Adam Zboril also had a great training camp and will be key contributors.
On defense, the Titan are not very well known, but they will do the job and in net, goaltender Jacob Brennan is ready to meet expectations and carry the load for the surging Titan.
7- Rimouski Océanic
The Océanic was the surprise of the league last year. Thanks to excellent drafts in the past two years, the Océanic is filled with talent. The talented rookies Anthony DeLuca, Frederik Gauthier and Nicolas Hebert will have an immediate impact offensively. the 20-year old forward, Jess Tanguy of the Armada, was also added this off-season. Peter Trainor, Scott Oke and Francis Beauvillier will also be counted to score some goals for the Océanic.
With the loss of quarterback Jerome-Gauthier-Leduc, Rimouski is having a less-than-stellar group of defensemen, with a lot of rookies on the blue line. In goal, the 19 year-old netminder Carl Hozjan will have to prove he can handle the pressure and play consistent hockey.
8- Gatineau Olympiques
In Gatineau, the long-term injury to starting goaltender Robert Steeves will really hurt the team. However, the team signed goaltender Michael Nishi from the OHL to fill the void. Up front, Tomas Hyka will lead the charge, supported by Rock Regimbald and Emile Poirier. Head coach Benoît Groulx will count on several talented players this year, with the additions of Yannick Dubé and Martin Reway up front, as well as defensemen Gabriel Bourret and Dominic Poulin.
The Olympiques will need to have a very stingy defense to win close games 2-1 and 3-2 in order to make it far in the playoffs this year.
9- Victoriaville Tigres
After an early playoff exit in the first round, the Tigres will have to bounce back this season, and that won’t be easy. The team lost several key elements, including the Q leading-scorer Yanni Gourde, as well as talented forward Brandon Hynes. After a tough season, Philip Danault is looking to bounce back and should complement the other Phillipe, Halley and Maillet, offensively.
On the blue line, the group of players will be less-than-impressive after Jeremy Blain decided to turn pro. In goal, the rather inconsistent David Honzik has left for Cape-Breton, and the young and talented goalie Brandon Whitney will carry the load.
10- Val-d’Or Foreurs
The Foreurs will have to meet the high expectations placed in them this year. The pressure to win will be strong on head coach Marc-André Dumont to dress a winning team. There are several marquee players in this team and they will have to play together. The addition of Anton Zlobin in front will help Michael Beaudry, especially after overager Benjamin Casavant has left the team. The Henley brothers, Cedrick and Samuel, will have to be better than last year to support Zlobin, Beaudry and Anthony Mantha.
On defense, Guillaume Gelinas is the only puck-moving defenseman, while goaltender Francois Tremblay will have to have a bounce back season for the Foreurs to perform well on the ice.
11- Chicoutimi Saguenéens
On paper, the Sags’ offense is impressive, Last year’s first line is untouched with Guillaume Asselin, Lukas Sedlak and the Montreal Canadiens’ fifth-round pick Charles Hudon. On the second, we will find the gritty Jeremy Grégoire along with Alexandre Roy and Sebastien Sylvestre.
The lack of depth is quite obvious after the above players and with the 20-year old Christopher Gibson returning in net, the team will have to trade one of its two other overagers. As a result, the team traded rearguard Andrew O’Brien to the Val-D’Or Foreurs yesterday. Mathieu Gagnon is a excellent defenseman, but after him, the group is very thin.
12- Saint-John Sea Dogs
The rebuilding has begun in Saint-John after two championship seasons. The NHL lock-out will allow all-star forward Jonathan Huberdeau to begin the season with the team, but for how long? The team has lost many key elements in Charlie Coyle, Nathan Beaulieu, Zack Phillips, Danick Gauthier and Tomas Jurco. Already this year, Oliver Cooper, Spencer Smallman, Matthew Highmore and Olivier Leblanc will have quality playing time.
Pierre Durepos and Kevin Gagne will be the cornerstones on defense, while Sebastien Auger will be the starting goaltender this season. If Huberdeau is still with the team during the Christmas Holidays, he could very well fetch a good return to help accelerate the rebuilding of the Sea Dogs.
13- Drummondville Voltigeurs
The Voltigeurs should expect similar results as last year as this team is not extremely talented other than Marc-Olivier Brouillard and Olivier Archambault. The latter has yet to blossom in the player many pundits expected when he was drafted first overall at the QMJHL draft. The former Remparts Jeremy Malouin and the veteran defenseman Gabriel Vermette will certainly Mario Duhamel’s team.
The problem is that this team is lacking offensive depth and will struggle to score goals. Also, will goalie Domenic Graham be able to rebound after a tough first-round series against Quebec last Spring?
14- Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
The Huskies will certainly be an improved team this season, that will need a strong season from its starting netminder, Robin Gusse. Gusse finally will have to meet the high expectations, especially after he was named the defensive rookie of the year when he was 16 years old. Their number one defenseman, Dillon Fournier, will also have to avoid injuries to complement offensive defenseman Mathieu Brisebois.
The acquisition of overage forward, Gabriel Desjardins, will bolster the offense, and help Europeans scorers Sven Andrighetto and Denis Kamaev spread the scoring more than last season.
15- Cape-Breton Screaming Eagles
Another tough season is looming in Cape-Breton. This team doesn’t have any big name and will heavily rely on Memorial Cup winner, defenseman Justin Hache, to improve the defense. Goaltender David Honzik, after a disastrous season in Victoriaville, will to rebound and play as a true number one goalie. He will share duties with giant netminder, Philippe Trudeau.
Up front, the is probably the most anaemic offensive team in league with Alexandre Lavoie and William Carrier as the only notable players. The Screaming Eagles will fight for a playoff berth all season.
16- Sherbrooke Phenix
The expansion team will certainly be fun to watch, but don’t expect much from the group of rejected players. All hopes will be on the shoulders of team captain Alexandre Comtois, 20 year-old goaltender Jacob Gervais-Chouinard, et über-rookie, Daniel Audette, who is the son of former Habs Donald Audette.
The season will be long in Sherbrooke, but the future will be bright for Jocelyn Thibault’s team.
17- Shawinigan Cataractes
The party is over in Shawinigan. After winning the first Memorial Cup of their existence in front of the home crowd, the reality will be painful and brutal this season. Exit Anton Zlobin, Kirill Kabanov, Yannick Veilleux, Michaël Chaput, Morgan Ellis, Brandon Gormley, Jonathan Racine, and head coach Eric Veilleux. Wins will be sparse in Shawinigan this year.
The new head coach Denis Chalifoux will rely on a few veterans like Loïk Poudrier, Vincent Arseneau, Peter Sakaris, Dillon Donnely and Jonathan Narbonne, but overall, the team is lacking the talent to be competitive. In goal, the German netminder Marvin Cupper will smell rubber all-season long during his rookie season in the QMJHL.
18- Prince-Edward-Island Rocket
The Rocket will show a lot of potential, but the fact that they play in the toughest division will hurt them. Several youngsters will try to gain experience this year, including Ryan Graves, Alexandre Chenier-Allard, Mark Trickett and the team’s first rounder, Alexis Pépin. Up front, Ben Duffy, along with Matej Beran and Josh Currie, will be counted on to score goals.
Jimmy Oligny and Tomas Pavelka will lead the way on a very young defensive brigade. In net, Maxime Lagace and Antoine Bibeau will battle all season long to get starts, and until a clear-cut starter emerges, the goalie situation will be murky at best.
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A long-time Joe Sakic fan, Fred, 35, is a freelance sports writer and translator. Fred earned a Bachelor of Translation in 2002 at Laval University in Quebec City. He also writes on the Montreal Canadiens for HabsAddict.com and he is an associate editor and a baseball columnist on Dobberbaseball.com. He is also fluent in English, French and Spanish.