2023 QMJHL Playoff Preview | EASTERN CONFERENCE
The 2023 Gilles-Courteau Trophy Playoffs kick off on Friday night with all eight series getting under way. Before the puck drops on the first slate of games, QMJHL Reporter Will MacLaren has collaborated with a member of the NHL scouting fraternity to provide a preview of what to expect from the sixteen teams looking to punch a ticket to this year’s Memorial Cup in Kamloops, British Columbia.
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- QUEBEC REMPARTS (1st East)
Regular Season Record – 53-12-1-2 – 107 pts, 286 GF, 160 GA
For the second straight year, the Jean-Rougeau Trophy resides in Quebec’s provincial capital. Next up is another run at the league championship trophy that’s eluded the city since 1976. To earn that, Patrick Roy has carefully crafted a lineup that is not short on talent. With strength at each position, including 50-goal scorer Zachary Bolduc, captain Theo Rochette and skilled rearguards Evan Nause and Jeremy Langlois, one of the most pivotal players in the Remparts arsenal may be Nathan Gaucher. Versatile, defensively savvy and capable of shutting down the top lines and players in the circuit, his presence will be especially valuable to a Quebec squad aiming for a long run. Between the pipes, William Rousseau has been a consistent competitor over the past two seasons.
- HALIFAX MOOSEHEADS (2nd East)
Regular Season Record – 50-11-4-3 – 107 pts, 335 GF, 196 GA
The Halifax Mooseheads have set themselves up well for both this year and next. However, next year might be a tough act to follow, no matter what happens. An explosive offense has carried Halifax to the second-best record in franchise history, led by the league’s top three scorers in Jordan Dumais, Josh Lawrence and Alexandre Doucet. Behind that skill is a solid blueline that includes San Jose draftee Jake Furlong and Czech import David Moravec. In nets, the squad may have the league’s most underrated goalie in Mathis Rousseau. Management in Halifax has put together a squad that, beyond all the flash and dash, has played all the top teams very tough throughout the season.
- MONCTON WILDCATS (3rd East)
Regular Season Record – 35-29-2-2 – 74 pts, 255 GF, 249 GA
The Wildcats have earned home ice advantage in a playoff series for the first time in six years, but they ended up doing it the hard way. One of the streakier teams in the Q, the Cats are a team built on work ethic. As critical as production from the likes of Vincent Labelle, Yoan Loshing, Max Barbashev and Etienne Morin will be, the ability for players such as Anthony Hamel to grind opponents down over a seven-game series may ultimately make the difference for this squad. Add in championship experience from former Shawinigan star Charles Beaudoin, plus the discovery of Jacob Steinman in nets, and the Wildcats may be poised to reach their next milestone on the climb back to the top.
- CHICOUTIMI SAGUENEENS (4th East)
Regular Season Record – 33-31-3-1 – 70 pts, 234 GF, 281 GA
Over the past year, the Sagueneens have assembled one of the best young cores in the league. Though built for the years ahead, contributions from the likes of Maxim Masse, Andrei Loshko and Emmanuel Vermette, all of whom are counted on for key minutes in all situations, has ensured the future is arriving a little earlier than scheduled in the Saguenay region. Ultimately, however, the consistency behind what has been a strong power play so far and the ability of the blueline to step up in the postseason may be what makes or breaks Yanik Jean’s crew. Despite that youthful appearance, one of the keys to success relies on a veteran in arguably the most critical positions, as Charles-Antoine Lavallee brings championship credit to the Sags crease.
- RIMOUSKI OCEANIC (5th East)
Regular Season Record – 32-31-3-2 – 69 pts, 213 GF, 216 GA
Much like their division rivals and first-round opponents in Chicoutimi, the Oceanic is a well-coached team on the rise. Serge Beausoleil has put something both special and understated defensively. Now, the overall ability of this club without the puck, which features dynamic sophomore Luke Coughlin and no lack of size with Charles Cote and Simon Maltais, will be put to the test behind an offence that features exactly one player from the league’s top 50 scorers; William Dumoulin, who tied for 50th. If the likes of Xavier Filion and Jan Sprynar hit their stride early on, and Patrik Hamrla is on his game in nets, this challenging Oceanic crew could find a way to slide into round two.
- BAIE-COMEAU DRAKKAR (6th East)
Regular Season Record – 30-32-4-2 – 66 pts, 205 GF, 244 GA
Ask any player over the past quarter-century or so – playing in Baie-Comeau as a visitor is a tall order. Doing so in the playoffs is even more daunting. Those Drakkar fans will be cheering on a team that plays a very simplistic, structured style. While they will rely heavily on results from superb rookies Matyas Melovsky and Justin Poirier, as well as Latvian rearguard Niks Fenenko and goaltender Olivier Ciarlo, the primary characteristic of this squad is a grinding, defensively sound game. That suits not only the reputation the Drakkar holds as a tough squad to beat at home, but also the typical “solid road game” that is needed to navigate through the postseason.
- CAPE BRETON EAGLES (7th East)
Regular Season Record – 30-34-3-1 – 64 pts, 224 GF, 275 GA
The path the Eagles traveled to the playoffs was anything but typical. After a disastrous start to the season, the club rallied under new Head Coach Jon Goyens, particularly in the second half. Now, they’re the team that has nothing to lose as it gets ready to face its provincial rival from Halifax in round one. While veterans Ivan Ivan, Samuel Johnson, Zach Biggar and Oliver Satny will be driving the bus for the Eagles, first- and second-year appetences such as Tomas Lavoie, Cam Squires and Olivier Houde, among others, will be soaking up valuable experience while no doubt chipping in along the way. If this flock of Eagles can fly under the radar a bit, while not putting much pressure on themselves, a surprising result or two in round one wouldn’t be shocking.
- CHARLOTTETOWN ISLANDERS (8th East)
Regular Season Record – 26-33-6-3 – 61 pts, 189 GF, 267 GA
League finalists last spring, the Islanders are realistic about what this postseason berth means. The biggest positive is the experience the developing group of newcomers will gain. Perhaps the most intriguing storyline lies in nets however, where overage netminder Jakob Robillard completes his junior career with something to prove after his release from the Sherbrooke Phoenix earlier this year. With strong netminding, opportunistic play from the likes of Giovanni Morneau, Michael Horth and Jeremie Biakabutuka, plus Head Coach Jim Hulton employing a tight system, sticking to the game plan will be critical for any success the Isles may earn in the second season.