Friday Night Hockey Preview: Remparts vs. Olympiques

Rookie Vitalii Abramov was fifth in QMJHL scoring. (Francois Laplante/Getty)

Friday Night Hockey will get its first look at Centre Videotron when the Quebec Remparts host the Gatineau Olympiques. Since the New Year, these two teams have been headed in opposite directions.

The Olympiques are peaking at the right time and know it’s not likely they’ll finish higher than fifth place in the league standings, but feel their standing won’t matter much when it comes to the playoffs. Quebec used the first half of the season to build up playoff currency before trading away its veterans in hopes of building for the future. The strategy should payoff to the tune of at least two home playoff dates in Round 1, to prime the beautiful new building. In fact, there’s a good chance these two teams will meet in the first round of the Q playoffs; it would be that way if the season ended today.

Gatineau Olympiques; Quebec Remparts; QMJHL; CHL

Gatineau Olympiques

It took a while for head coach and GM Benoit Groulx to mould this team into his own. The Olympiques have done a nice job in acquiring free agents, mostly from Ontario, adding likely-rookie of the year Vitalii Abramov through the import draft, trading for two rookie goalies and wisely using its returnees. Through all of this, Groulx has added to his coaching staff, becoming more of a delegator and a better communicator.

The Olympiques are one of just three CHL teams to feature two rookie goalies, both of whom started their seasons elsewhere. Mathieu Bellemare was a Shawinigan castoff who is small, athletic and highly competitive. Mark Grametbauer came over from Blainville-Boisbriand. With his size, he covers a large portion of the net and has improved immensely under the tutelage of Stephane Proulx, Gatineau’s goalie guru. Don’t look at save percentages as a measure, the Olympiques are averaging the fewest shots on goal against in the QMJHL.

Few defencemen have the ability to control a game the way Nashville prospect Alexandre Carrier does. He skates well, reads and anticipates the play and never panics with the puck. For three straight years Groulx has leaned on Carrier whenever things go sideways for the Olympiques. Nicolas Meloche is as nasty as they get and he does a great job disrupting the play of the opposition’s key forwards. Marc-Olivier Crevier-Morin has a physical edge to his game as well. Guillaume McSween brings size and championship pedigree to the table. Gabriel Bilodeau should be a late-round NHL pick in June, and Jonathan Masters is not afraid to mix it up.

Gatineau’s forward group is dynamic. Abramov plays with grit and passion, and despite his small stature goes to the dirty areas with a gap-toothed smile on his face. To complete the import duo, Nashville prospect Yakov Trenin does everything well from winning faceoffs to working on the power play. He has a knack for scoring big goals, and is amongst the league leaders with seven game-winners. Alex Dostie has been a mainstay with the Olympiques and the former first-rounder continues to put up solid point totals.

Acquisitions that looked questionable when they were made have panned out well for Groulx. Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau has regained his scoring touch, while Yan-Pavel Laplante is realizing heavy expectations placed on him before being drafted by Arizona in 2013. Alexandre Alain and Samuel Tremblay are good-sized centremen with great faceoff acumen. Ontario free agents Tristen Elie and Chiwetin Blacksmith are big bodies who’ve produced well.

Gatineau Olympiques 44-17-2-1 (21-10-0-1 Road), 3W, 3rd West Division, 5th QMJHL, 7th CHL BMO Top 10

Individual Stats          
Top Scorers GP G A PTS Note
Vitalii Abramov 63 38 55 93 4th Q PTS
Alex Dostie 50 23 47 70  
Gabryel Paquin-Boudreau 56 31 38 69  
Yan Pavel Laplante 59 33 30 63  
Yakov Trenin 53 24 34 58
In Goal  
Mathieu Bellemare (27-11-1-1, 2.45, .898)
Team Stats     Rank
PP 64/292=21.9%   13th
PK 47/305=84.6%   1st
GF/gm 3.69   7th
GA/gm 2.53   1st

NHL Drafted/Signed Players
Nicolas Meloche, COL, 40th in 2015
Gabryel-Paquin Boudreau, SJ, 49th in 2013
Yakov Trenin, NSH, 55th in 2015
Yan-Pavel Laplante, ARI, 62nd in 2013
Alexandre Carrier, NSH, 115th in 2015

NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings
Vitalii Abramov, No. 56
Gabriel Bilodeau, No. 156

Under The Radar
Yan-Pavel Laplante plays with pace and physicality. He is as important a player the Olympiques have in terms of slotting the forward group accordingly.

Quebec Remparts

The Remparts made hay early in the season with parts that remained from hosting the 2015 MasterCard Memorial Cup. As is usually the case, the “year after” isn’t pretty. There’s so much pressure on host teams to represent the league proudly that often teams are forced into short-term solutions, sacrificing the future. Quebec is no different, except there was enough left over from last season to build up enough points to ensure entrance into the 2016 post-season.

One of those left from last year’s team is goalie and Carolina prospect Callum Booth. Booth didn’t take the traditional path to the QMJHL, but he’s played well over the course of the season despite recent struggles. In the meantime, pseudo-import Evgeny Kiselev has taken over in-goal and has played well. Kiselev has taken a similar path to Ottawa’s Leo Lazarev, having played Junior B in Waterloo before making it to major-junior as a non-import.

Defensively, the Remparts were hoping to lean on Raphael Maheux, but he’s been limited to 36 games. Aaron Dutra is back from last season, but his minutes are exponentially higher and the adjustment doesn’t happen overnight. Anthony Gingras was brought over from Victoriaville to add veteran presence. His career started in Quebec and has taken him to Acadie-Bathurst, Chicoutimi and Victoriaville before getting back with the Remparts. Ross MacDougall got the call midway through last season and will benefit greatly from this season’s minutes. Austin McEneny and Christian Huntley are rookies who are starting to develop. Huntley looks like the real deal.

Up front, the Remparts have lost more than 90 per cent of their goal production from a year ago. Bronson Beaton is the leading scorer; he’s on his fifth team in five years. When he’s on, he can affect a game in several areas. Matthew Boucher has taken full advantage of his opportunity and should hit the 30-goal mark before the weekend is out. Alexandre Sills is steady if not spectacular. Import Auguste Impose has been wildly inconsistent and more is expected of him. Zach Moody has all the ingredients, but has been overwhelmed at times with the responsibility of playing up in the lineup. Olivier Garneau comes from a hockey family and should be a guy Quebec leans on in the coming seasons. Louis-Philip Côté and Derek Gentile should also play key roles in the future.

Overall, Quebec’s forward group consists of a couple of overagers and a young group learning on the job.

Quebec Remparts 28-28-6-1 (14-12-4-0 Home) 4L, 5th East Division, 12th QMJHL

Individual Stats          
Top Scorers GP G A PTS Note
Bronson Beaton 63 28 30 58  
Matthew Boucher 54 28 27 55  
Alexandre Sills 61 14 19 33  
Ross MacDougall 60 9 24 33 13th Q Rookie PTS
Auguste Impose 45 14 16 30 15th Q Rookie PTS
In Goal  
Evgeny Kiselev (with Quebec), 3-6-1-1, 2.98, .910
Team Stats     Rank
PP 54/288=18.8%   15th
PK 62/240=74.2%   16th
GF/gm 3.05   12th
GA/gm 3.65   13th

NHL Drafted/Signed Players
Callum Booth, CAR, 93rd in 2015

NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings
None

Under The Radar
A 13th-round pick in 2014, Ross MacDougall was called up to play with the Remparts in February of 2015 and never looked back. He played in 18 playoff games and two MasterCard Memorial Cup games.