QMJHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round Preview
The playoffs are here, and there is a lot to look at heading into the first round. Eight of the 10 teams from the QMJHL’s Eastern Conference are resting, and preparing for the biggest grind in sports. There are a couple of series that are going to be sure-things, while other series may end up surprising a lot of folks.
(1) Halifax Mooseheads vs. (8) Quebec Remparts
While finishing the season with the third best record in the entire league, the Mooseheads really don’t have a whole lot to play for, giving that they are hosting the Memorial Cup in May. However, that does not mean they will take the playoffs lightly. With talented scorers Samuel Asselin and Benoit-Olivier Groulx leading the charge up front, and extremely talented two-way d-men Jared McIsaac and Justin Barron holding the blueline, the Mooseheads certainly have the ability to make a run deep towards the President’s Cup Finals.
Despite the Remparts poor end to the regular season where they lost their final five games, there is a lot to be intrigued in with this Quebec roster. Chicago draft pick Philipp Kurashev leads the team with 65 points, with 27 of them coming on the power play. Rookie Aleksei Sergeev has been a really adequate playmaker. With 45 points in the regular season, Sergeev was sixth in scoring among rookies.
While Quebec could surprise Halifax and pull out a win, the Mooseheads will waltz the rest of the way through the series, winning in five.
(2) Baie-Comeau Drakkar vs. (7) Moncton Wildcats
If you looked at these two teams back in December, you would not think these two teams would play in the first round. Yet, after the Wildcats tailed off in the second half of the season, they have really put themselves in a tight spot heading into the playoffs. Jeremy McKenna led the team in scoring with 97, but he, like the rest of his team, fell a bit off towards the end of the regular season, only putting up 40 points in the last 34 games. Jordan Spence is one of the best, all-round rookie defencemen in the league. With 49 points coming from the back end, he is ninth in defencemen scoring and fourth in rookie scoring.
The Drakkar have had an incredible turn-around season with one of the best offencive clubs in the entire QMJHL, led by Ivan Chekohovich. The San Jose prospect finished tied for second in league scoring with 105 points, and his 43 goals is tied for fourth. Nathan Legare and Gabriel Fortier have also been big producers on the offencive end for the Drakkar. The biggest question for Baie-Comeau will be in net, as Alex D’Orio has been mediocre at best this season. Since being traded from Saint John at the trade deadline, the Pittsburgh prospect went 16-7, with a 2.55 GAA and .899 SV%.
Moncton keeps it a close series, but the Drakkar offence will take control when it matters most, Baie-Comeau wins in six.
(3) Rimouski Oceanic vs. (6) Chicoutimi Sagueneens
The Oceanic did not have high expectations coming into this season. However, with the coming-out party of Alexis Lafreniere, and the confidence that grew within the team around him, Rimouski became one of the best teams in the QMJHL. Lafreniere ended the season with 105 points, tied with Baie-Comeau’s Chekhovich. His 25 assists while with the man advantage is tied with teammate Charle-Edouard D’Astous. D’Astous’ 66 points also leads the QMJHL in d-man scoring. With Lafreniere, centre Jimmy Huntington’s production increased exponentially this season, finishing second on the team with 92 points.
Chicoutimi does not have the same offencive arsenal that Rimouski has, but that has not stopped the Sagueneens from taking the season series from the Oceanic, as Chicoutimi won four of the seven meetings. If the Sagueneens want a chance to win four more, they will rely on goaltender Alexis Shank. Shank went 27-11-4 this season, with a 2.61 GAA and .913 SV%, both sixth-best in the league.
Lafreniere lights up the score sheet, however that’s all it will be for Rimouski. Chicoutimi wins an extremely close series, and upsets the Oceanic in seven.
(4) Charlottetown Islanders vs. (5) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles
Two teams that are on hot streaks heading into the postseason, this could be another fun series to watch. The Islanders won 10 of their last 13 games of the season, including two wins over Cape Breton, and a shootout win over Halifax to ramp up the momentum heading into the playoffs. Even though Charlottetown does not have any star scoring compared to some other teams, they do have some very solid, and wide-spread scoring. Daniel Hardie has been big for the Islanders down the stretch, registering a point in each of the final six games with 10 assists.
Despite losing a pair to the Islanders, the Screaming Eagles have been really good in the last month of the season, going 5-2-1 in the month of March, and winners of seven of their last 10 games. Mitchell Laferriere and Mitchell Balmas have been the big duo for Cape Breton this season. Laferriere finished second in team scoring with 74 points, while Balmas finished tied for fourth in the league in goal scoring with 43 goals. That top line is what the Screaming Eagles are going to have to die on in this series.
Even though there is more offence with Cape Breton, Charlottetown will find a way to pull it out in seven games.
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