QMJHL Season Preview: Sagueneens ready for title run as Lafrenière looms

Chicoutimi Sagueneens forward Hendrix Lapierre. (Credit: André Émond)

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League produced just two first round draft picks at June’s NHL Draft, but if early indications stand, there could be plenty of players from the league called on Day 1 next summer in Montreal.

With the 2019-20 season starting Thursday in Rouyn-Noranda — home of the 2019 Memorial Cup champions — here’s a look at all 18 teams, their notable players and sorted by where we think they’ll finish.

EAST DIVISION

Chicoutimi Sagueneens
Chicoutimi is poised for a big season after acquiring Rafael Harvey-Pinard from Rouyn-Noranda shortly after he won the Memorial Cup and making him captain. Harvey-Pinard adds leadership on a team with young talent including draft-eligible prospects Hendrix Lapierre and Théo Rochette.

Notable players:
-Hendrix Lapierre (C)
-Rafael Harvey-Pinard (C – MTL)
-Artemi Kniazev (D – SJ)

Rimouski Oceanic
All eyes will be on 2018-19 CHL player of the year Alexis Lafrenière as he enters his draft season. He had 37 goals and 105 points last season as Rimouski reached the third round of the playoffs. Can he maintain his status as the potential No. 1 overall draft pick come June?

Notable players:
-Alexis Lafrenière (LW)
-Colten Ellis (G – STL)
-Dmitry Zavgorodniy (RW – CGY)

Rimouski Oceanic winger Alexis Lafreniere. (Vincent L. Rousseau)

Baie-Comeau Drakkar
The Drakkar will be back for more after a Game 7 defeat to Moncton in the first round of last year’s Q playoffs. Top scorer Ivan Chekhovich is gone, but Gabriel Fortier and Nathan Légaré return and will lead the team’s offence.

Notable players:
-Gabriel Fortier (C – TB)
-Nathan Legare (RW – PIT)
-Xavier Bouchard (D – VEG)

Quebec Remparts
GM/Head coach Patrick Roy is finally able to put his own stamp on the Remparts again after re-joining the team before last season. He acquired sniper Felix Bibeau from Rouyn-Noranda and made some interesting selections at the import draft. The addition of James Malatesta from Midget AAA will be an interesting one.

Notable players:
-Felix Bibeau (C – NYI)
-Yu Sato (LW)
-James Malatesta (C)

MARITIMES DIVISION

Moncton Wildcats
Moncton may have lost leading scorer Jeremy McKenna to the pros, but it will have plenty of solid players returning. Flames first-round pick Jakob Pelletier looks to build off an 89 point season in 2018-19 while Alexander Khovanov and Mika Cyr will also be threats. Adding Olivier Rodrigue in net will also be a boost.

Notable players:
-Jakob Pelletier (LW – CGY)
-Olivier Rodrigue (G – EDM)
-Jordan Spence (D – LA)

Halifax Mooseheads
The Mooseheads are fresh off a trip to the Memorial Cup final on home ice and look in good shape to go far again this year. New head coach J.J. Daigneault takes over a team which returns players like Raphael Lavoie and Benoit-Olivier Groulx. Star defenceman Jared McIsaac could potentially be out until December after shoulder surgery which leaves space for draft eligible prospect Justin Barron to flourish.

Notable players:
-Raphael Lavoie (RW – EDM)
-Benoit-Olivier Groulx (C – ANA)
-Justin Barron (D)
-Alexis Gravel (G – CHI)

Cape Breton Eagles
Fresh off dropping Screaming from their team name and naming a new coach, the Eagles are an intriguing team to watch this season. Mathias Laferrière is back after finishing second in team scoring last year with 74 points while Egor Sokolov should provide a threat up front after scoring 30 goals last year.

Notable players:
-Mathias Laferrière (C – STL)
-Egor Sokolov (LW)
-Kevin Mandolese (G – OTT)

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Charlottetown Islanders
Charlottetown is looking to rebound after an early exit in last year’s playoffs with a young squad. Nikita Alexandrov and Thomas Casey should lead the offence while veteran goaltender Matthew Welsh will need to be solid in net if the team is going to succeed.

Notable players:
-Nikita Alexandrov (C – STL)
-Oscar Plandowski (D)
-Xavier Bernard (D – NJ)

Saint John Sea Dogs
After being the youngest team in the Canadian Hockey League last season, there’s no where to go but up for the Sea Dogs. Saint John selected centre Joshua Roy first overall in the QMJHL draft after he put up a league-best 88 points in 42 games last season in midget. The Sea Dogs also have several players in draft eligible seasons.

Notable players:
-Maxim Cajkovic (RW – TB)
-Joshua Roy (C)
-Zachary Bouthillier (G – TOR)

Acadie-Bathurst Titan
The rebuild continues in Acadie-Bathurst after winning the Memorial Cup in 2018. The Titan had three selections within the first 20 picks of June’s QMJHL draft in Riley Kidney, Cole Huckins and Tristan Roy. Noah Delemont, picked third overall in the import draft, will be a player to watch.

Notable players:
-Evan MacKinnon (C)
-Riley Kidney (C)
-Noah Delemont (D)

WEST DIVISION

Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
The Armada are coming off a first-round playoff exit and return with a little more experience following a season where most of their defencemen were rookies. The progression of blueliner Samuel Bolduc, a second-round pick of the New York Islanders, will be something to watch. A pair of departures have created holes on offence.

Notable players:
-Samuel Bolduc (D – NYI)
-Luke Henman (C – CAR)
-Adam Capannelli (F – OTT)
-Yaroslav Likhachev (W – ARI)

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
The Memorial Cup champions will take a step back this season after several players graduated to the pro ranks. Should Noah Dobson return from New York Islanders camp, the Huskies would be able to acquire some good futures at the trade deadline.

Notable players:
-Justin Bergeron (D)
-Jakub Lauko (LW – BOS)
-Noah Dobson (D)

Gatineau Olympiques
Another team with questions on offence. Zach Dean, selected fourth overall by the Olympiques at the draft, should help in that department after finding the back of the net several times during pre-season competition.

Notable players:
-Metis Roelens (C)
-Zach Dean (C)
-Mathieu Bizier (C – attending Red Wings camp)

Val-d’Or Foreurs
Coming off a first-round exit in the playoffs and lost top scorers Julien Tessier and Felix Boivin to U Sports. Justin Robidas, a centre drafted second overall at June’s draft, should help spark the rebuild and had a solid pre-season. Maxence Guenette will guide the team on defence.

Notable players:
-Maxence Guenette (D – OTT)
-Justin Robidas (C)
-Jeremy Michel (RW – STL)

CENTRAL DIVISION

Sherbrooke Phoenix
One of the most intriguing teams in the league who are poised for a big season. Pittsburgh Penguins first round pick Samuel Poulin is looking to build off his 76 point campaign last year and adding Xavier Parent from Halifax should add even more offensive attack.

Notable players:
-Samuel Poulin (W – PIT)
-Xavier Parent (LW)
-Benjamin Tardif (LW)

Pittsburgh Penguins select Samuel Poulin during the first round NHL draft at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

Victoriaville Tigres
A pair of Russians are poised to lead the Tigres up front including Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mikhail Abramov. He had 54 points last season — nine fewer than compatriot Yegor Serdyuk, who led the team in scoring.

Notable players:
-Mikhail Abramov (C/RW – TOR)
-Yegor Serdyuk (RW – PHI)
-Tristan Côté-Cazenave (G)

Drummondville Voltigeurs
The Voltigeurs fell to Halifax last year and will have a tough hill to climb after losing Maxime Comtois up front along with Marc-Olivier Duquette and Nicolas Beaudin on the back end. Joseph Veleno is most likely headed to the AHL as well.

Notable players:
-Dawson Mercer (RW)

Shawinigan Cataractes
Shawinigan drafted Vasili Ponomaryov ninth overall in the European import draft and he helped Russia win the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup with a goal and assist in the final against Canada. Ponomaryov is eligible for next June’s draft and could be an interesting name to watch.

Notable players:
-Vasili Ponomaryov (C)
-Valentin Nussbaumer (LW – ARI)
-Mavrik Bourque (C)

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