2021-22 QMJHL Preview: One question for every team

Xavier Bourgault of Shawinigan Cataractes. (Ghyslain Bergeron/CP)

The 2020-21 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season wasn’t an easy one across the league with teams facing COVID-19 restrictions and schedule changes at the blink of an eye.

While the COVID-19 pandemic isn't over yet, teams across the QMJHL and across the Canadian Hockey League are looking forward to getting back to some sort of normal season in 2021-22.

With the regular season in The Q opening this week, we take a look at some of the questions surrounding each team across the league.

Acadie-Bathurst Titan: Titan general manager Sylvain Couturier has gone on the record speaking to the depth of the Acadie-Bathurst roster this season. The question will be how far can that depth carry the team? On the blue line, the Titan have six defencemen on its pre-season roster with QMJHL experience. The development of that group will go a long way in determining the direction of the season for a team that boasts some high-end talent up front including Calgary Flames prospect Cole Huckins and Washington Capitals prospect Hendrix Lapierre, who was added in a summer trade.

Baie-Comeau Drakkar: The COVID-19-affected 2020-21 season wasn’t an easy one for the Drakkar, who posted an 8-26-1-1 record. With a young roster heading into the season, adding veteran goaltender Olivier Adam to the mix in a trade with Blainville will be important. A lot of eyes will be on 2021 first-round picks Vincent Collard (third overall) and Nathan Baril (18th overall) as well. With a potentially young core, how will the youth adjust to the grind of a longer season following interruptions last season due to COVID?

Blainville-Boisbriand Armada: With graduation meaning the loss of five of its top seven scorers from last season, who will step up in the absence of that group? In Luke Henman (Seattle Kraken) and Mathias Laferriere (St. Louis Blues), the team also loses its top two goal scorers from last season. Forward Simon Pinard and defenceman Miguel Tourigny are the top returning goal scorers from last season and will be looked to for another gear offensively.

Cape Breton Eagles: Goaltender Nicolas Ruccia got into 22 games last season. How the 17-year-old adjusts to a heavier workload in a full season is one thing to focus on in Cape Breton. Ruccia will team up with fellow 17-year-old Remi Delafontaine in goal for the Eagles. The duo will play behind a group of defencemen that includes some key experience in Jeremy Langlois and Sean Larochelle among others.

Charlottetown Islanders: The graduation of Colten Ellis means an increased role for Jacob Goobie between the pipes. In 16 games last season, the 18-year-old Goobie posted 12 wins and a solid 2.82 goals-against average and he has 33 games of QMJHL experience under his belt. Goobie will lean on that experience as he takes on a bigger workload in 2021-22 and how he handles the added workload remains to be seen.

Chicoutimi Sagueneens: The loss of Dawson Mercer (New Jersey Devils) to graduation and dealing Lapierre to Acadie-Bathurst means the team will look to others to step up offensively. The question will be which of the current group will take the next step forward. A team that gave up just 77 goals last season, Chicoutimi will look to Russian goaltender Sergei Litvinov to take over from Alexis Shank between the pipes. Will Litvinov be ready for the added workload this season?

Drummondville Voltigeurs: After a solid rookie season, what will Justin Cote do for an encore? The 2022 NHL draft prospect scored 17 times in 34 games last season. The former second-rounder finished last season on a tear with 12 goals in his final 11 games, which included a stretch where he scored seven times in a three-game period. A lot of eyes will be on 2021 second overall QMJHL pick Tyler Peddle as well to see what the 16-year-old brings to the table.

Gatineau Olympiques: Goaltender Remi Poirier’s game took a step forward in the 2020-21 season as the Dallas Stars prospect posted the best numbers of his career in 24 games. Will the veteran netminder be able to further that and show additional improvement in a full season in 2021-22? Emerick Despatie provides the Olympiques with a quality duo between the pipes as well.

Halifax Mooseheads: With its top four scorers returning, Halifax stands to be potent offensively this season with Elliot Desnoyers (Philadelphia Flyers), Zachary L’Heureux (Nashville Predators), Robert Orr (Carolina Hurricanes), and Markus Vidicek (2022 NHL draft eligible) combining for nearly 43 per cent of the Mooseheads goal total last season. The 152 goals scored by Halifax were second in the league and with that group returning, what they will be able to produce in a full season could be interesting.

Moncton Wildcats: The Wildcats will enter the season with a pair of rookies between the pipes in Vincent Filion and Thomas Couture. Couture got into three games with Rimouski during the 2019-20 season and was a training camp invite by the Wildcats in 2020 while Filion was acquired in a trade last season that sent Jordan Spence to Val-D’Or, and got into six games in Moncton. How the pair adjusts to full-time minutes in major junior remains to be seen.

Quebec Remparts: Returning their top two scorers in centres Nathan Gaucher and Theo Rochette, the Remparts stand to be a tough team to play against this season based on offence alone. Adding St. Louis Blues first-round pick Zachary Bolduc in a trade with Rimouski, Quebec stands to be a dangerous team offensively. Coming off a strong year in 2020-21 with a deep roster returning, one would thing is clear: it’s Memorial Cup or bust for the Remparts in 2021-22.

Rimouski Oceanic: Rimouski is one of a handful of teams that will enter the season with limited experience in goal. Carolina Hurricanes prospect Patrik Hamrla will look to step in and lead the way between the pipes. How the Czech product adjusts to the league will be a key question for the Oceanic this season.

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies: A common theme for a number of teams across the league this season is youth and Rouyn-Noranda is no different. With nearly half of its roster on opening night made up of rookies, the Huskies will look for its younger players to lead the way this season. Overage goaltender Samuel Richard, who is coming off his first full season in the league, will play an added role on a team that is relatively inexperienced.

Saint John Sea Dogs: The 2022 Memorial Cup hosts enter the regular season with a new head coach and high expectations. The team completed a handful of summer deals prior to learning of its successful bid to host the tournament, one of which saw the team acquire overage goaltender Jonathan Lemieux from Val-D’Or. The big question surrounding the team will be exactly what moves will be made between now and the trade deadline to tinker with the roster ahead of the event.

Shawinigan Cataractes: When it comes to Shawinigan, one might ask whether there will be enough pucks to go around for the forward group? Import forwards Lorenzo Canonico and Marek Sramaty along with NHL prospects Mavrik Bourque (Dallas Stars), Xavier Bourgault (Edmonton Oilers), and Olivier Nadeau (Buffalo Sabres) appear poised to have strong offensive years.

Sherbrooke Phoenix: Whether it’s in goal or on the blue line, Sherbrooke is relatively inexperienced on the defensive end of the puck. All eight defencemen on the roster are entering their first or second QMJHL season and that includes overage blue liner Maxime Blanchard. The team is also entering the season with a pair of rookie goaltenders. The big question in Sherbrooke to start the season looks to be how well the young group will learn on the fly.

Val-D’Or Foreurs: After going 29-3-2-2 last season, the Foreurs feature a lot of new faces this year, including Maxime Desruisseaux behind the bench. With some heavy turnover from last season, the depth from last season is going to come into play in 2021-22. Exactly how some of the veterans handle increased roles will go a long way in determining what kind of success Val-D'Or has this season.

Victoriaville Tigres: On the heels of a playoff title last season, the roster in Victoriaville stands to look very different in 2021-22. As the regular season opens this week, the team has eight rookies on its roster at forward heading into the new season. With experience up front at a premium, the rookies in the group have an opportunity to leave a mark early. Will they take advantage?

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