With just over two weeks left in the regular season, the QMJHL playoff picture is starting to become clearer. And while the final post-season positions won’t be determined until March 18, here’s what the branches of the playoff tree would look like if the season ended on March 1.
Saint John Sea Dogs (1) vs. Sherbrooke Phoenix (16)
The Sea Dogs, 2-0 versus Sherbrooke this season, entered March as the league’s top team thanks to a balanced lineup that has fans anticipating the Port City squad’s first President Cup since 2012. Nineteen-year-old netminder Callum Booth was among the league leaders entering March, sporting a .908 save percentage and 26 wins.
A deep defence corps is led by Thomas Chabot, the MVP of this year’s world juniors as a member of Team Canada, along with Jakub Zboril and Simon Bourque. Team Canada forwards Mathieu Joseph and Julien Gauthier are part of a deadly attack up front, along with Matthew Highmore, Spencer Smallman, Bokondji Imama and Nathan Noel.
Sherbrooke’s roster includes rookie Anderson MacDonald (25-12-37), who played his midget hockey for the Saint John Vito’s. Former Sea Dogs defenceman Luke Green is also with the Phoenix.
Rouyn Noranda Huskies (2) vs. Drummondville Voltigeurs (15)
The defending-champion Huskies boast a veteran defence corps that includes Philadelphia Flyers prospect Philippe Myers, who suffered a concussion while playing for Team Canada at this year’s world juniors. But the 6-foot-5 blueliner has returned to form in the second half, picking up two assists in the Huskies’ 5-2 win over Drummondville on Feb. 28.
The Huskies have won four of six meetings against Drummondville and hold a 27-15 scoring edge. With 35 goals and 74 points, Antoine Waked is the Huskies’ leading scorer, while Jean-Christophe Beaudoin is right behind with 72 points. Russian forward Pavel Koltygin (21-23-44) has carried the offensive load for Drummondville
Shawinigan Cataractes (3) vs. Rimouski Oceanic (14)
Although the East Division rivals have split their six meetings, the reality of the matchup was evident in the last two contests. The Cataractes won both, including a 4-2 triumph on Feb. 1 in Shawinigan and a 6-2 victory on Feb. 24 in Rimouski.
Nashville Predators prospect Samuel Girard quarterbacks Shawinigan’s defence corps and entered March with a league-leading 60 assists. Cataractes goaltender Mikhail Denisov began March with league-leading totals in save percentage (.910) and wins (28), while the Russian was second in goals-against average (2.41) and tied for second with four shutouts.
Dennis Yan led Shawinigan with 41 goals and has an experienced cast with him from last year’s run to the final. Rimouski’s offence revolves around the 20-year-old tandem of Tyler Boland, who had a league-leading 97 points entering March, and Dylan Montcalm, whose 56 assists were second overall.
Charlottetown Islanders (4) vs. Val-d’Or Foreurs (13)
The teams split their two meetings, with Charlottetown winning the second contest in convincing fashion, 7-1. The Foreurs’ victory came in early December, before both rosters underwent major overhauls.
The Foreurs, who were sellers during the trade period, sent forwards Francois Beauchemin and Adam Marsh to Charlottetown. Beauchemin began March with a team-leading 39 goals. But Charlottetown’s offence revolves around Czech star Filip Chlapik, who started March with 84 points. Kameron Kielly (65 points) is having a career year as an overager, while the defence corps includes veterans Carl Neill, Nicolas Meloche and Guillaume Brisebois.
Islanders goalie Matthew Welsh started March with 22 wins, fifth in the league. The Foreurs’ scoring leader is overager Alex Pepin, who had a team-leading 43 points.
Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (5) vs. Halifax Mooseheads (12)
The Armada are 2-0 against the Mooseheads, with both games coming before Christmas. Since then, the Armada have made significant upgrades.
Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois joined the club after playing for Team Canada at the world juniors, and he has 29 points in 20 games. Alex Barre-Boulet is averaging a point per game after coming over from Drummondville.
The Armada boast the goaltending tandem of Francois Leclerc and Samuel Montembeault. Leclerc has a league-leading 2.29 goals-against average and his .909 save percentage is third.
Montembeault’s five shutouts are first in the circuit and his 23 wins rank fourth. Their efforts helped the Armada enter March tied with Shawinigan for fewest goals allowed.
Halifax has a core of young players that should make the club formidable in the near future. In the current campaign, it’s 19-year-old Maxime Fortier leading the way offensively. Fortier started March with 82 points, fifth in the league. Swiss sensation Nico Hischier was next with 81 points.
Acadie-Bathurst Titan (6) vs. Gatineau Olympiques (11)
The Titan, which won both games against Gatineau, used the trade period to upgrade their defence corps with the additions of Zachary Malatesta and Adam Holwell from the Moncton Wildcats. That tandem added skill, experience and depth to the back end, which is led by the solid goaltending duo of Anthony Dumont-Bouchard and Reilly Pickard.
Up front, the Titan are led by overager Christophe Boivin, who had a team-leading 40 goals and 81 points entering March. The Olympiques have some punch up front, namely Vitalli Abramov, whose 91 points were second in the league entering March. Zack MacEwan (27-35-62) and Yakov Trenin (25-33-58) are also dangerous offensively.
Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (7) vs. Quebec Remparts (10)
Cape Breton went 2-0 against Quebec thanks in part to overager Giovanni Fiore, who started March with a league-leading 47 goals. Fiore had a goal and an assist in a 4-0 win over the Remparts on Jan. 28, and he had the same totals in a 5-2 triumph on Feb. 14.
Fiore also had a league-leading 16 power-play goals entering March. Fellow overager Massimo Carozza began the month with a team-leading 35 assists, while the Cape Breton defence corps includes steady veterans Olivier LeBlanc, Jordan Ty Fournier and former Rempart Ross MacDougall.
Despite moving key players during the trade period, the Remparts have been hanging tough. Twenty-year-old defenceman Raphael Maheux had appeared in all 60 games entering March.
Chicoutimi Sagueneens (8) vs. Victoriaville Tigres (9)
Just two points separated the East Division rivals entering March. Chicoutimi had won three of five, with two of those wins going to shootouts and a one-goal victory in regulation.
Chicoutimi’s attack is led by Nicolas Roy (32-39-71), who had 14 power-play goals entering March. Roy, who played for Team Canada at the world juniors, is supported by Joey Ratelle (69 points), one of several key trade acquisitions. Others include Olivier Galipeau, along with Kevin and Kelly Klima.
Victoriaville’s main man is Alexandre Goulet (35-45-80), who began March with 15 power-play goals. The Tigres will look to even the season series when they visit the Sags on March 12.