QMJHL Preview: Chicoutimi poised for a takeover

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The Sagueneens have a great deal of talent at different positions and were the unanimous pick to win the league. They’ll have to fight off a number of challengers however, including Rimouski star Alexis Lafreniere, the top prospect for the 2020 NHL draft.

From left: Hendrix Lapierre, Artemi Kniazev and Vladislav Kotkov|Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Welcome to my annual QMJHL season preview power rankings. After an all-Q final at the Memorial Cup that saw Rouyn-Noranda beat host Halifax, attention will still be on the eastern-most junior league in the CHL thanks to a certain left winger from Rimouski. Yes, Alexis Lafreniere is front and center for the 2020 draft and he’ll try to get the Oceanic as far as he can take them – with a pretty nice cast surrounding him.

Consider the following to be power rankings – I am not including divisional breakdowns here. I did survey a number of QMJHL-based journalists to get these rankings and hopefully this gives you a pretty good idea of how the teams stack up heading into the season, which begins tonight. I am also including a name or two for each team to watch out for, mainly NHL draft picks or kids who are on the radar for the 2020 draft. I will also note that this season’s No. 1 team was a unanimous selection from the panel. Let’s get to it.

 

  1. Chicoutimi Sagueneens: Veteran scorer Rafael Harvey-Pinard (MTL) joins the Sags from champion Rouyn-Noranda and he won’t be alone up front: Hendrix Lapierre (2020) had a sizzling start to his fall at the Hlinka-Gretzky tournament for Canada. On the back end, Artemi Kniazev (SJ) returns with his own offensive upside.
  2. Sherbrooke Phoenix: Samuel Poulin (PIT) may be the only NHL draft pick on the roster, but the leader and power forward will have a lot of size and experience around him. Skinny center Taro Jentzsch will play for Germany at the world juniors.
  3. Cape Breton Eagles: They dropped the ‘Screaming’ from their name, so the Eagles will let their play do the talking instead. Industrious Mathias Laferriere (STL) and lanky netminder Kevin Mandolese (OTT) lead the charge.
  4. Moncton Wildcats: Olivier Rodrigue (EDM) comes over from Drummondville to give the Cats top-end goaltending, while smart and skilled Jakob Pelletier (CGY) will lead the offense until Alexander Khovanov (MIN) returns from leg surgery in a couple weeks.
  5. Rimouski Oceanic: Alexis Lafreniere (2020) is the jewel in the crown, but he’s not alone. Dmitri Zavgorodny (CGY) can also ring up points, while goaltender Colten Ellis (STL) will be in charge of keeping pucks out of the net.
  6. Halifax Mooseheads: No hosting hangover for this crew; The Herd is still dangerous. Benoit-Olivier Groulx (ANA), Raphael Lavoie (EDM) and goalie Alexis Gravel (CHI) all stuck around, while Jared McIsaac (DET) will boost the ‘D’ once his surgically-repaired shoulder heals for the second half.
  7. Val-d’Or Foreurs: Defenseman Maxence Guenette (OTT) has been growing his offense, as has left winger Jeremy Michel (STL). Defenseman Jeremie Biakabutuka (2020) is the nephew of former NFLer Tim Biakabutuka.
  8. Charlottetown Islanders: Nikita Alexandrov (STL) is a Tyler Bozak-kind of center entering his third year in the ‘Q’, while Xavier Bernard (NJ) brings back some great size to the blueline.
  9. Victoriaville Tigres: It’s all about the imports in Victo, where the crafty Mikhail Abramov (TOR) and dangerous Egor Serdyuk (PHI) both return to propel the offense.
  10. Shawinigan Cataractes: Center Mavrik Bourque (2020) has first-rounder potential and Valentin Nussbaumer (ARI) gets a chance to build off his first North American season. Watch out for new import Vasily Ponomarev (2020); he could be a game-breaker.
  11. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies: The reigning champs lost some key members over the summer, but they still have the talented Alex Beaucage (COL) up front and Zachary Emond (SJ) in net. Emond will get a chance to shine with veteran Samuel Harvey gone.
  12. Quebec Remparts: Patrick Roy’s squad gets a huge boost from Rouyn-Noranda veteran scorer Felix Bibeau (NYI), while Japanese-born Yu Sato (2020) comes over after stops in Finland and Russia.
  13. Gatineau Olympiques: The Piques have an interesting mix of young and old this season, with Russian defenseman Yevgeni Kashnikov (2021) bringing a lot of promise.
  14. Baie-Comeau Drakkar: Versatile Gabriel Fortier (TB) and heavy-hitting Nathan Legare (PIT) lead the offense, while big Xavier Bouchard (VGK) is the marquee name on defense.
  15. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada: Luke Henman (CAR) is a smart player up front and Samuel Bolduc (NYI) brings a great physical package back to the blueline.
  16. Saint John Sea Dogs: The lottery-lucky Dogs are still young and along with first overall pick Joshua Roy (2021), they also have talented Maxim Cajkovic (TB) returning up front and Zach Bouthillier (TOR) doing the heavy lifting in net.
  17. Drummondville Voltigeurs: The Volts lost a lot of talent over the summer, but right winger Dawson Mercer (2020) is poised for attention after last season’s offensive breakout.
  18. Acadie-Bathurst Titan: They finished last overall in 2018-19 and there may be some more pain for the Titan again. Swiss import Noah Delemont (2020) brings some excitement to the defense corps, however.