QMJHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round Preview

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.

My Pick

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%.

My Pick

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. 

My Pick

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.

My Pick

Even though there is more offence with Cape Breton, Charlottetown will find a way to pull it out in seven games.

All statistics found on the official QMJHL website and Elite Prospects

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Dynamic Offence Leading Baie-Comeau Drakkar to the Top of the East

QMJHL Report: Dynamic Offence Leading Baie-Comeau Drakkar to the Top of the East

There are a lot of talented teams towards the top of the QMJHL standings. The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies have been dominant, the Drummondville Voltigeurs are arguably one of the deepest teams in the league, and the Rimouski Océanic are sprinting up the standings with an exciting young club.

Another team that seems to be a possible contender to make it to the President Cup Finals are the Baie-Comeau Drakkar. The Drakkar have a come a long way from finishing last place in the 2015-2016 season. It was not so long ago when Drakkar were a top team in the ‘Q’. However, following back-to-back first place finishes in the East Division, and back-to-back losses in the Finals, the Drakkar fell off the pedestal, and struggled to simply make the playoffs.

This season, however, the team has ran rough shot over most of the league, and has really shown they are a team to be taken seriously. They currently sit first in the Eastern Conference ahead of Halifax, and third in the league behind Rouyn-Noranda and Drummondville. This can be based from the maturity and development of the players on the roster. The play in goal Dereck Baribeau has been exceptional, the back end has improved mightily, and the offence has been one of the best in the league. The scoring outbreak in Baie-Comeau has been made responsible by four players who have had incredible seasons thus far.

Gabriel Fortier

Fortier has really been the best centre for the Drakkar this season. The Tampa Bay fifth-round pick from the 2018 draft has certainly picked up his play this year. Following his first full season where he picked up 59 points, Fortier has already surpassed last year’s totals, as he has already scored 60 in 45 games.

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He has superb acceleration which gives him a step on the defence. His incredible vision, and ability to find his teammates in high scoring areas is what has given Fortier 38 assists this season, which is tied for seventh in the league. He has extremely quick hands in front of the net, giving him the ability to move the puck into open space and into quality scoring areas. His performance inside the face-off circle has certainly helped the offence this season as well, having won almost 53% of the draws he has taken this year.

Yaroslav Alexyev

One of the most underrated members of Drakkar coming into this season, Alexeyev has been on the top line and power play unit in Baie-Comeau, and has really taken off this year. The 5’9″ Russian came over to the Drakkar this season from Sherbrooke, and has instantly found chemistry with teammates Nathan Légaré and Ivan Chekhovich on the top PP unit. In his first two seasons after being drafted in the first round of the 2016 Import Draft by the Phoenix, he averaged 52.5 points. This season, he is on his on pace for almost 82 points. The undrafted winger has a sneaky wrister that fools most goaltenders, which goes to show why he has 30 goals, and his shooting percentage is at 26.4%.

Nathan Légaré

After a rather mediocre rookie campaign, Légaré has exponentially stepped up his game in his draft year. Standing at 6′ and a solid 200 lbs, he certainly is built like he’s ready to take his game to the next level. An incredible shot, and outstanding awareness in the offencive zone has made Légaré an undeniable threat.

Baie-Comeau knew of his potential when they took him in the first-round of the 2017 QMJHL Draft, and with his play this season, he could easily be in the top half of this year’s NHL Draft. His 64 points has him sitting eighth best in the league, while his 34 goals has him sitting right behind teammate Ivan Chekhovich for best in the ‘Q’. With the man advantage, he is one of the most dangerous players in the league. With 24 power play points, he is tied with Rimouski’s Alexis Lafrenière for second-most in the league.

Ivan Chekhovich

Chekhovich was a probable to make Team Russia’s World Juniors team, but an injury kept him in Quebec. However, that has not stopped Chekhovich from becoming one of the best players in the QMJHL.

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After a couple of respectable seasons in his first two years with Baie-Comeau, the San Jose seventh-round pick’s game has exploded. He leads the league in both points (78) and goals (36), and is fourth in assists (42). His production has only increased as the season goes on. After an incredible start where he scored 11 points in the first five games, Chekhovich scored 15 points in the October, 18 in November, 20 in December, and already 14 this month. His incredible performance in December included missing two weeks with injury and Russia’s WJC Selection Camp. He certainly did not miss a beat, as is in his second game back, he put up seven points. With his maturity, his skills are only enhanced by his intelligence on the ice. Knowing where to go and what play to make has put him in position to take the scoring title.

stats from eliteprospects.com