2018 QMJHL Playoff Preview: Round 1

Detroit Red Wings' Filip Zadina. (Terry Wilson/CHL Images)

The QMJHL season has come to an end and the playoff matchups are set. There will be no shortage of drama and great games ahead, so we get you prepared for all the action with a Round 1 preview.

The puck drops on the 2018 QMJHL playoffs and the race for the President Cup on Thursday, March 22.

(1) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada vs. (16) Val-d’Or Foreurs

Regular season series: Blainville-Boisbriand 7-0, Blainville-Boisbriand 5-1, Blainville-Boisbriand 5-3, Val-d’Or 5-2, Blainville-Boisbriand 4-2, Blainville-Boisbriand 2-1.

Draft eligible players

Blainville-Boisbriand: Luke Henman (C), Thomas Ethier (LW)

Val-d’Or: N/A

Player to watch

Blainville-Boisbriand: Drake Batherson, RW
Batherson is a textbook example of hard work paying off and his stellar year could get even better. The winger went undrafted in his first year of QMJHL eligibility in 2014, was a sixth-round flyer by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in 2015, but then was drafted by the Ottawa Senators 121st overall last June and became a Canadian world junior hero with seven goals in seven games this year. He returned to the ‘Q’ in January, was traded to the Armada and has a good chance to add President Cup winner to his resume as a 19-year-old sophomore. In 27 games with his new team, Batherson had 38 points.

Val-d’Or: David Noël, D
The St. Louis Blues prospect led the team in shots with 191 and had 46 points. The high volume of shots only led to 14 goals and Noël was a league-worst minus-53. Playing big minutes for the team that allowed the most goals all season is a tough task for any player and it won’t get any easier with Noël squaring off against a couple of the league’s top scorers.

How they match up: The QMJHL format of best against worst among the 16 qualifying teams leaves no hope for the Foreurs. The past seven years have featured a sweep by the regular season winner and that trend should continue here. The Armada’s Alex Barré-Boulet led the league in goals (53) and points (116) and Alain Alexandre had a third-best 87 points — those two should feast on a Foreurs team that scored the fewest goals and allowed the most in the regular season.

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(2) Acadie-Bathurst Titan vs (15) Chicoutimi Saguenéens

Regular season series: Acadie-Bathurst 5-1, Acadie-Bathurst 4-1

Draft eligible players
Acadie-Bathurst: Noah Dobson (D), Ivan Michal (D), Justin Ducharme (D)

Chicoutimi: Vladislav Kotkov (LW), Samuel Houde (C)

Player to watch

Acadie-Bathurst: Noah Dobson, D
Destined to go in the top 10 at the NHL Draft in June, Dobson enjoyed a breakout sophomore season going from 26 to 69 points. Solid on both sides of the puck, Dobson unleashed more shots from the blue line than any other player with 276. His 11 power play goals are a big reason why the Titan had a lethal power play that clicked at 25.4 per cent, second only behind the Armada (28.1 per cent).

Chicoutimi: Kevin Klima, C
Last year, the Sags acquired the Klima twins over the trading period. Now, in his first full season with the team, Kevin Klima led the way with 39 goals and 86 points. He’s been clutch, scoring nine game-winning goals, which includes four overtime winners since January 1. Perhaps even more telling, he’s one of four Sags players to finish with a plus-minus total in the positives with a plus-11 rating.

How they match up: The Titan loaded up at the trade deadline, bringing in top-scoring defenceman Olivier Galipeau, forwards Mitchell Balmas and German Rubtsov (PHI) along with goalie Evan Fitzpatrick (STL). Meanwhile, the Sags were clear sellers, moving Galipeau and Rubtsov to the team it now faces in the first round. Acadie-Bathurst went on a tear down the stretch with nine wins and an overtime loss in its final 10 games of the season, including a crucial 5-4 season finale win against the Halifax Mooseheads that clinched the Maritimes Division. Chicoutimi’s hope lies in the performance of Zachary Bouthillier, the CHL goalie of the week in early February.

(3) Rimouski Océanic vs (14) Moncton Wildcats

Regular season series: Rimouski 4-3 OT, Rimouski 8-3

Draft eligible players

Rimouski: Dmitri Zavgorodniy (LW)
Moncton: Anderson MacDonald (LW), Jeremy McKenna (RW)

Player to watch

Rimouski: Alexis Lafrenière, LW
It may seem premature to get excited about the 2020 NHL Draft, but it’s hard not to get giddy after watching the rookie score 42 goals and 80 points. Going first overall to the Océanic in the 2017 QMJHL rookie draft, it was easy to draw parallels to Sidney Crosby and the rookie lived up to the hype by being the first 16-year-old to reach 40-goals since Crosby. A threat to make something happen every time he has the puck, all eyes will be on the electric rookie in his first of what should be many playoff games.

Moncton: Jeremy McKenna, RW
There was no guarantee McKenna would ever play in the CHL when he went over to Austria to play after being drafted by the Moncton Wildcats in the fifth round in 2015. But after a 26-point rookie campaign with the league-worst Wildcats a year ago, the hard-working winger broke out in his sophomore season on the top line to lead Moncton with 36 goals and 77 points and help the team make the playoffs again.

How they match up: Up front, it’s all about Alexis Lafrenière, but another rookie played a crucial role in giving Rimouski the East Division crown. Goalie Colten Ellis led the league in wins while posting a .913 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average in his first season after a draft day deal with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. The defensive side of the ice gives Rimouski an advantage over a Moncton Wildcats team that finished with a minus-46 goal differential compared to plus-58 for the Océanic. A year after finishing last, the Wildcats have an exciting young group with McKenna, Jakob Pelletier, Mika Cyr and Alexander Khovanov, but are still a season or two away from being a serious playoff threat.

(4) Halifax Mooseheads vs (13) Baie-Comeau Drakkar

Regular season series: Baie-Comeau 3-2, Halifax 5-4

Draft eligible players
Halifax: Filip Zadina (RW), Jared McIsaac (D), Benoit-Olivier Groulx (C), Alexis Gravel (G)

Baie-Comeau: Gabriel Fortier (LW), Xavier Bouchard (D), Jordan Martel (RW)

Player to watch

Halifax: Filip Zadina, RW
The Czech rookie jumped into a Mooseheads lineup and scored big goals with consistency all season. Hyped as a potential top-10 pick coming into the season, a strong showing at the world juniors and a 44-goal, 82-point campaign caused his draft stock to shoot up. After a mini-slump of six goalless games at the end of February, Zadina closed out the season with five goals in his last five games.

Baie-Comeau: Gabriel Fortier, LW
It’ll be a family affair in the first round with sophomore Gabriel Fortier taking on a Halifax team captained by older brother Max Fortier. After an injury-shortened rookie campaign, Gabriel posted 59 points in his first full season. A three-point January was followed up by 14 points in February and eight in March.

How they match up: Playing in different divisions means these teams only square off twice a season, but there’s no love lost between the two rivals. Halifax beat Baie-Comeau in the 2013 President Cup final and both have been on a similar rebuild path recently. In 2016, Jared McIsaac told the media he wouldn’t report to the Drakkar so his hometown Mooseheads made a trade for the skilled defenceman. The trade gave the Drakkar a plethora of picks that helped improve the team, but Baie-Comeau fans don’t forget these sorts of snubs. Halifax finished 28 points ahead in the standings and have more firepower, but Baie-Comeau holds an edge with a .906 save percentage compared to a .895 for Halifax, according to prospect-stats.com. Mooseheads goalie and top-ranked draft-eligible North American goalie Alexis Gravel needs to return to his 2017 playoff form for Halifax to go deep.

(5) Drummondville Voltiguers vs (12) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

Regular season series: Drummondville 5-4, Drummondville 3-2 OT

Draft eligible players

Drummondville: Joe Veleno (C), Nicolas Beaudin (D), Xavier Bernard (D), Nicolas Guay (C), Robert Lynch (C), Olivier Rodrigue (G), Daniel Moody (G)

Cape Breton: Egor Sokolov (LW), Adam McCormick (D), Kevin Mandolese (G)

Player to watch

Drummondville: Joe Veleno, C
Last year, Veleno won the President Cup with the Saint John Sea Dogs on a veteran team so he already has 35 games of playoff experience as an 18-year-old. Acquired over the trading period, the centre’s experience and skills are crucial for the Volts. After scoring six goals with the Sea Dogs, Veleno turned up the scoring with 16 in 33 games with his new team and averaged 1.45 points per game. If he can maintain that pace in the playoffs, the Voltiguers will be hard to slow down.

Cape Breton: Kevin Mandolese, G
The dual between draft-eligible goalies Mandolese and Drummondville’s Olivier Rodrigue will be interesting to watch. The pair, along with Gravel of Halifax, are the highest-ranked CHL goalies, but there’s no clear-cut choice. This matchup could give scouts a clearer indication as to who to pick, although Mandolese doesn’t have as much support on a Cape Breton team with a goal differential of minus-24.

How they match up: It’s a battle between buyers and sellers. Drummondville brought in Joe Veleno while Cape Breton shipped out Drake Batherson to Blainville in January. It’s the second year in a row Cape Breton has traded away it’s prized forward (Pierre-Luc Dubois also went to Blainville the year before) yet the Screaming Eagles still haven’t bottomed out completely. Meanwhile, the Voltiguers led the league in scoring with 274 goals and boast 10 players with 40-plus points. Coached by Dominique Ducharme, who has a Memorial Cup win on his resume and knows how to squeeze the most talent out of young teams under pressure, Drummondville will be a tough playoff team.

(6) Victoriaville Tigres vs (11) Gatineau Olympiques

Regular season series: Victoriaville 2-1 OT, Gatineau 6-3, Victoriaville 3-2, Victoriaville 5-2

Draft eligible players

Victoriaville: Tristan Côté-Cazenave (G)
Gatineau: Shawn Boudrias (RW)

Player to watch

Victoriaville: Vitalii Abramov, C
After leading the league in scoring last season, expectations were Abramov (CBJ) would be traded from the rebuilding Gatineau Olympiques and, sure enough, the highly skilled forward was flipped to Victoriaville. In 40 games with his new team, Abramov became the highest-scoring European in QMJHL history and added 33 goals and 78 points. His 104 overall points were second in the league, 91 of them being primary points according to prospect-stats.com. Now he’ll open the first round against his former team.

Gatineau: Shawn Boudrias, RW
Passed over in the NHL Draft last June, Shawn Boudrias went to the Boston Bruins rookie camp, but left without a contract. With Gatineau trading off its top players throughout the winter, it was the 6-foot-5, 2017-pound power forward who stepped in to help fill the void. The size and skill should be enough to grab the attention of more NHL teams this time around.

How they match up: For the longest time, the Olympiques were a notoriously difficult team to face in the playoffs regardless of where they finished in the standings. That’s not the case this year as the team sputters into the playoffs with one regulation win in its last 10 games. Meanwhile, the Tigres have won 11 in a row led by the one-two punch of Abramov and Maxime Comtois (ANH) up front. The Tigres also brought in 20-year-old goalie Etienne Montpetit, who had 33 games of playoff experience with the Foreurs. Victoriaville had a league-high PDO of 103.45 according to prospect-stats.com, so it will be interesting to see if this red-hot team keeps up the pace in the playoffs.

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(7) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies vs (10) Sherbrooke Phoenix

Regular season series: Rouyn-Noranda 4-1, Sherbrooke 2-1 OT, Rouyn-Noranda 7-4, Rouyn-Noranda 4-1, Sherbrooke 6-2, Sherbrooke 3-2 OT

Draft eligible players
Rouyn-Noranda: Samuel Harvey (G), Zachary Emond (G)

Sherbrooke: N/A

Player to watch

Rouyn-Noranda: Samuel Harvey, G
A late-bloomer who has been passed over in the NHL Draft, Harvey emerged as one of the QMJHL’s best goalies this season — his 2.10 GAA and .930 save percentage were tops in the league. His play earned him an invite to Canada’s world junior selection camp as the only undrafted player there. He’s already won a President Cup as a backup to Chase Marchand in 2016 and knows what it takes to win in the post-season.

Sherbrooke: Luke Green, D
The 2014 first-overall pick in the QMJHL Draft was injured at the Winnipeg Jets’ training camp in September and didn’t make his season debut until February 8, but in 14 games the skilled blueliner had five goals and 10 assists. The goal count matched his total from 60 games last year split between the Phoenix and Sea Dogs, and is a reminder that Green can be a difference maker when he uses his creativity. Green missed the last two games of the regular season with an injury, but should be back for the playoffs.

How they match up: Rouyn-Noranda still has a handful of players left from the 2015-16 President Cup-winning team, and that experience is something the Phoenix lack completely. Now in its seventh year as a franchise in the league, Sherbrooke has three total playoff wins. There may be hope for an upset as the Phoenix beat the Huskies in their last two meetings of the regular season. With a 13-1 record down the stretch, the Phoenix are hot at the right time and a second-lowest PDO of just 98 suggests the team could perform better.

(8) Québec Remparts vs (9) Charlottetown Islanders

Regular season series: Québec 6-5, Charlottetown 3-2

Draft eligible players

Québec: Philipp Kurashev (C), Matthew Grouchy (RW)

Charlottetown Islanders: Saku Vesterinen (D)

Player to watch

Québec: Pascal Laberge, C
A fresh start was needed for Laberge (PHI) to find his scoring touch again. Acquired in December, Laberge had 11 goals in 33 games, an improvement over the six in 31 games with Victoriaville. The talented forward struggled with concussions last season after being on the receiving end of a cheap shot. It’s just another obstacle for a player who knows how to push through adversity.

Charlottetown: Brett Budgell, LW
The Islanders knew there was a chance Budgell would never wear its sweater, especially when he left training camp after 48 hours to preserve his NCAA eligibility. After starting the year with the Chicago Steel in the USHL, Budgell returned to Canada in the New Year and played 32 games for Charlottetown. The skilled winger instantly made an impact with 10 goals and 12 assists.

How they match up: Nestled back-to-back in the standings, the Remparts finished five points ahead of the Islanders and also had a better goal differential of plus-26 compared to minus-14. Scoring is the biggest issue for a Charlottetown team that finished with an 8.66 shooting percentage according to prospect-stats.com, which was the worst mark in the league. Part of that stems from a sluggish power play unit hat converts 15.3 per cent of the time, second-worst in the QMJHL. The Islanders scoring attack is led by winger Derek Gentile, who came over from Québec at the trade deadline for forwards Gregor MacLeod and Matthew Grouchy. Goaltending could decide this matchup, with the Remparts relying on the duo of Antoine Samuel and Dereck Baribeau (MIN) and the Islanders leaning heavily on 18-year-old Matthew Welsh.

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