QMJHL Round 2 Preview: Who will move on?


Ottawa Senators prospect Thomas Chabot. (Francois Laplante/Getty)

Predictably, the first round of the QMJHL playoffs was a lopsided affair. Five teams — Saint John, Charlottetown, Blainville-Boisbriand, Acadie-Bathurst and Chicoutimi — easily disposed opponents in four games. But hands up if you predicted the third-place Shawinigan Cataractes would lose to the 14th-place Val-d’Or Foreurs in six games.

Now with quarterfinal matchups set, the contenders will be separated from the pretenders and it’ll become clearer who has a realistic shot of taking home the President Cup.

Here’s a look at the four second-round series:

Saint John Sea Dogs (1) vs. Val-d’Or Foreurs (14)
As expected, the first-place Saint John Sea Dogs rolled through the first round, scoring 22 goals and allowing eight in a sweep of the Rimouski Océanic. The usual suspects put up big offence including elite prospect defenceman Thomas Chabot who leads the team with three goals and 10 points.

Bokondji Imama’s breakthrough season continues with three post-season goals after the 20-year-old only had one in the previous 34 games. Selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning 180th overall in 2015, Imama is making a solid case for an entry-level contract.

It’s hard to find too many flaws in Saint John’s game after one round. The team showcased its depth with 11 different players scoring at least one goal and only trailed once all series.

It’ll be interesting to see what big centre Julien Gauthier does against a Val-d’Or team, for whom he played parts of four seasons before a trade in January. The Carolina Hurricanes 2016 first-round pick has a career goals per game average of 0.463, but that dips down to 0.157 in the playoffs. A freight train with a big shot, there’s a sense the best is yet to come for Gauthier in the playoffs.

An upset, you say?
A year after being on the losing end of the biggest upset in QMJHL playoff history, it was the Foreurs’ turn to play spoiler, sending home the third-place Shawinigan Cataractes in six games.

As can be expected when an upset of this magnitude happens, goaltending was a major factor. Étienne Montpetit faced 223 shots in the series, including 23 in the first period of the Game 6 with Shawinigan fighting to stay alive. He’ll have to be near-perfect once again as the Foreurs face another team loaded with depth and fire power.

While he’s a long-shot to go in the 2017 NHL Draft, Russian centre Maxim Mizyurin scored two game-winning goals in the first round and two goals on the power play. The Foreurs had the best power play unit in the first round, going nine for 24 (37.5 per cent).

And the winner is…
Saint John in five.

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (2) vs. Chicoutimi Saguenéens (8)
The defending QMJHL champs got through the first round, but it wasn’t exactly a dominating performance against the 15th-place Halifax Mooseheads. It took six games and two overtime wins to knock off a young Mooseheads squad that received lights-out goaltending from rookie Alex Gravel and scoring from top NHL prospect Nico Hischier.

The Huskies suffered a huge blow in the first round after leading goal-scorer Antoine Waked went down with an injury in Game 1 and is expected to miss six weeks. The duo of Chicago Blackhawks prospect Alexandre Fortin and Gabriel Fontaine stepped up in his absence, combining for six goals and nine assists.

As close as the series was, the Huskies showed their experience in Game 5, erasing a two-goal deficit in the final four minutes to force overtime and eventually win in triple OT to take a series lead. This is a resilient and experienced group that looks unfazed by adversity.

In net, the Huskies could use a little more stability. Olivier Tremblay has three wins, but head coach Gilles Bouchard turned to Samuel Harvey to close out the series.

An upset, you say?
On paper, Chicoutimi’s matchup against the ninth-place Victoriaville Tigres looked like a tossup, but the Sags easily won the series in four games. Centre Nicolas Roy had four goals in the sweep — in his 15 previous playoff games he had five goals — and he’ll keep the Huskies defencemen busy as they try to contain his 6-foot-4, 209-pound frame.

Appearing in his fifth QMJHL playoffs, goalie Julio Billia moves on to the second round for the first time in his junior career. He’s been a solid puck stopper his whole career and has the ability to steal games for Chicoutimi.

Philadelphia Flyers 2016 first-round pick German Rubstov was unable to play against Victoriaville and then it was announced he would miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery in Philadelphia. After coming over from the KHL, the Russian centre had nine goals in 16 games.

And the winner is…
Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in six.


Charlottetown Islanders (4) vs. Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (7)
The Charlottetown Islanders rolled through the opening round by sweeping the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in a series that was more entertaining on the ice than off after Drakkar general manager Steve Ahern was fined $2,500 for making a comment about hoping Charlottetown would win the President Cup since the team would probably relocate anyways.

We’ll see how good this Charlottetown team is when it plays another island-based team, the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. While 14 points separated the teams in the standings, Cape Breton won six of nine regular season meetings. Both teams can score goals — the Islanders finished first with 303 and Cape Breton was fifth with 270 — but Charlottetown has the clear edge on defence with NHL prospects Carl Neill, Nicolas Meloche and Guillaume Brisebois.

Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Daniel Sprong continues to dominate junior hockey, putting up eight points to become the franchise’s all-time playoff scoring leader with 39 points.

The Islanders have gone to the second round three straight years now, but have yet to advance to the semi-final. It’s now or never for a loaded team.

An upset, you say?
After jumping out to a 3-0 series lead, it took an overtime winner from Jordan Ty Fournier in Game 7 for Cape Breton to eliminate a pesky Gatineau Olympiques. In fact, it took extra time for Cape Breton to pick up three of its wins. Now the team faces a rested Islanders squad that the Screaming Eagles beat six times in the regular season, including two overtime wins in the last two meetings. Clutch goals have helped carry Cape Breton this far and that’ll need to continue to stand a chance against the regular season’s highest-scoring team.

Rookie Drake Batherson quietly had a 58-point rookie season and kept the momentum rolling in the post-season with a league-best seven goals in Round 1. Over-age forwards Giovanni Fiore and Massimo Carozza continue to carry the offence, posting eight points each in the first round. Fiore unloaded 42 shots against Gatineau, 23 of them considered dangerous.

This is a Cape Breton team that keeps surprising a year after gunning for a championship and the team should thrive in an underdog role against a team they had no trouble with in the regular season.

And the winner is…
Charlottetown Islanders in six.

Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (5) vs. Acadie-Bathurst Titan (6)
With a first-round sweep of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada were able to erase the memory of embarrassment from the year before.

One place in the standings and eight points separated the Titan and Armada. The Titan finished third in regular-season scoring with 284 goals while the Armada allowed the fewest goals in the QMJHL with 171. A top offence against a stingy defence — something has to give in this series.

Florida Panthers prospect Samuel Montembeault started all four games and allowed one goal in each allowing a single each for a 1.00 goals-against average and .946 save percentage. After facing more than 20 shots only once in the first round, Montembeault will face a Titan team that averaged 42.25 shots per game against the Québec Remparts.

Pierre-Luc Dubois, the third overall pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, had a goal and two assists but was suspended a game for kneeing. He’ll need to play disciplined and put up points to keep the Armada afloat.

An upset, you say?
The Titan scored lots of goals in the regular season and the trend continued in the playoffs with nine players combining for 21 goals in the sweep. After going goalless in five playoff games last year, big Russian winger Vladimir Kuznetsov led the way with five in the first round.

Speaking of big international players, 6-foot-5 Latvian centre Rodrigo Abols had a point in each game and led the team with 11 dangerous shots. The Titan’s top-six forward group has size, skill and could cause some damage in the second round.

Rookie defenceman Noah Dobson, draft-eligible for the 2018 NHL Draft, made a name for himself against Québec with four assists and is a league-best plus-8.

Acadie-Bathurst didn’t make any major moves at the trade deadline, but picking up veteran goalie Anthony Dumont-Bouchard for defenceman Jérôme Gravel and a third-round pick is looking like a pretty savvy move. He started all four playoff games and has a 2.00 GAA and 0.901 save percentage.

And the winner is…
Acadie-Bathurst in seven.

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