We’re at the halfway point of the 2015-2016 QMJHL season that’s been full of unpredictability, standout performances and profound disappointments.
The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies have been at the top of the league all season and there’s no signs of slowing down, last year’s MVP, Connor Garland, continues to pile up points and a couple teams who looked like President Cup contenders on paper are showing that hockey games aren’t won on paper.
Here are some fictitious awards recognizing key teams and players from the first half.
Surprise team, in a good way
The Huskies got off to a hot start and haven’t looked back all season. They have 27 wins and have only lost four games in regulation along with four losses in extra time. At plus-56, they have the best goal differential in the league (157 for, 101 against). So how is a team that finished 11th last season looking unstoppable?
Francis Perron continues the upward trajectory he’s shown every season, increasing his point totals from 18 to 55 to 76. This year he’s putting up 1.87 points per game, an improvement over last season’s 1.19. The Ottawa Senators prospect has only failed to register a point once in 31 games this season.
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Martins Dzierkals has 14 goals and 19 helpers in his first season in North America, making an immediate difference-maker. Defenceman Jérémy Lauzon is only two points off his season high of 36 points. He was a late invite to Canada’s world junior team but was one of the final cuts.
Between the pipes, journeyman Chase Marchand signed as a free agent this season. He’s matched the 17 wins he had last season, but in less than half the amount of games. Marchand’s 2.38 goals-against average is tops in the league and his .910 save percentage is third.
Runner up: Gatineau Olympiques. Head coach and GM Benoit Groulx seems to work some magic every year. At the Christmas break the Olympiques are in the CHL top 10 and boast the QMJHL’s stingiest defence. They’ve allowed a league-low 91 goals and added the best available defenceman during the trade period.
Surprise team, for all the wrong reasons
The Sherbrooke Phoenix looked like they had all the tools needed to make a run for the President Cup this season but injuries to Daniel Audette and Jérémy Roy haven’t helped, and it’s still shocking to see them in 14th place after an eighth-place finish the season before. Heading into the Christmas break, they’ve lost eight of their last ten games, and the bad start could cost head coach Judes Vallée and GM Patrick Charbonneau their jobs.
Runner up: Outside of the Moncton Wildcats, you could put the entire Maritimes Division here. Cape Breton has a veteran lineup but hasn’t been consistent. The Saint John Sea Dogs are stacked with NHL prospects but haven’t looked that great until recently. Acadie-Bathurst, Halifax and Charlottetown are all bottom-four teams.
“In need of a hero” award
Look down. Look way down. That’s where you’ll find the Charlottetown Islanders, currently sitting in 17th place and out of a playoff spot. Sure the team has missed Daniel Sprong, who was on extended duty in the NHL after surprisingly making the Pittsburgh Penguins out of training camp, but an entire team’s incompetence can’t be blamed on just one guy. Filip Chlapik had 33 goals last season but only six this year.
There’s hope. The Pens sent Sprong back to junior before the deadline. Maybe he can get Chlapik going again. The team also brought in Samuel Blais from Victoriaville during the holiday trade period. His 40 points put him way ahead of current Islanders leading scorer Bradley Kennedy (25 points).
Runner up: Baie-Comeau Drakkar. With only five wins, 67 goals and no blue-chip prospects, it’s been a long season for the Drakkar. A busy trade period has them loading up on draft picks. One of those first-rounders has to turn into a good player for this team to compete again.
Smoke and Mirrors Award
The Drummondville Voltiguers missed out on the playoffs completely last season, but were sitting in the CHL Top 10 Rankings in October after a hot start. Nicolas Lachance was the QMJHL Goaltender of the Month in September and things were looking pretty good for a while, but then the good times stopped rolling. Drummondville fired its coach and GM and they’ve slid down to 14th place.
Runner up: Victoriaville is currently in seventh, but appear to be sellers during the trade period. They should be good next season, but don’t expect them to remain high up in the standings for the rest of the season.
Connor Garland award or most likely to win MVP
Last season Conor Garland led the QMJHL with 129 points, forming a dynamic duo with Ivan Barbashev (95) points for the Moncton Wildcats en route to the QMJHL’s MVP award. Barbashev is gone, but that hasn’t slowed Garland down at all. In fact, he’s playing better. With 80 points in 33 games, he’s putting up 2.42 points per game. Last year he was averaging 1.93 points.
Runner up: Garland (again). He’s got a 22-point cushion over Guillaume Gauthier. Unless Garland gets injured, he’s got this.
Cy Young Award
As a shoot-first, pass-later pure goal-scorer, Val-d’Or Foreurs forward Julien Gauthier is jokingly leading the race for the Cy Young Award. He leads the league with 29 goals but only has eight assists. He’s the best 2016 draft-eligible player in the QMJHL because of his size (6-foot-4, 224 pounds) and speed. The rest of Canada will know his name soon as he’s made Canada’s final world junior roster.
Runner up: Gauthier has this Cy Young thing locked down.
Maxime Comtois, the third-overall pick of the 2015 draft by the Victoriaville Tigres, has stepped into the league and produced right away. The 16-year-old has 15 goals on the year, with eight of them coming in the month of October. Comtois is sixth in rookie scoring with 31 points in 29 games. The 6-foot-1, 189-pound rookie has size, pure offensive skill and will be the focal point of the Tigres now that Samuel Blais and Gabriel Gagné have been traded.
Runner up: Twin brothers Kevin and Kelly Klima, sons of former NHLer Petr Klima, made the Moncton Wildcats after training camp invites. Kevin is second in rookie scoring with 40 points while Kelly is 5th with 32 points.
Best Rookie, European edition
Russian forward Vitalii Abramov leads the Olympiques in scoring with 47 points in 34 games. The only other rookie to lead a team in scoring is Comtois with Victoriaville, and that’s only because the Tigres traded away their top scorer.
Abramov was the 13th-overall pick of the CHL Import draft in 2015 and is projected to go somewhere in the second or third round of the upcoming NHL draft. Abramov leads rookie scoring, thanks in part to starting his QMJHL career with a eight-game point streak where he put up 16 points.
Runner up: Toronto Maple Leafs third-rounder Martins Dzierkals has 33 points for Rouyn-Noranda in his first season in North America.
The first player granted exceptional player status in the QMJHL, Joe Veleno is off to a modest start as a 15-year-old. Through 29 games, he has five goals and 17 assists, ranking 11th among rookies with 22 points. He’s not exactly tearing up the league, but he hasn’t looked out of place either. Once he matures physically and finds more consistency, his game should take off.
Cape Breton’s top trio of Pierre-Luc Dubois (50 points), Maxim Lazarev (42 points) and Evgeny Svechnikov (39 points) had a stellar first half. It’s helped Dubois’s stock rise in his NHL year as he shows off his vision with a pair of creative Russians.
Dubois was cut from Canada’s world junior roster while Lazarev and Svechnikov are competing for spots for Russia. Once the trio is back together in the new year, it’ll be fun seeing if they can re-capture that same first-half magic.
Runner up: Val-d’Or’s second line of Anthony Richard (56 points), Anthony Beauregard (54 points) and Nicolas Aubé-Kubel (44 points) are first, second and third in team scoring. While the top line with Gauthier may get more attention, the second line of small forwards is fast and dangerous.