2023 QMJHL Playoff Preview | WESTERN 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.
(CLICK HERE FOR EASTERN PREVIEW)
- SHERBROOKE PHŒNIX (1st West)
Regular Season Record – 50-13-3-2 – 105 pts, 317 GF, 172 GA
The Phœnix, who last year reached the QMJHL semifinals for the first time in franchise history, has consistently been among the league’s best teams all season long. Only a late season charge by the Gatineau Olympiques prevented the club from running away with top spot in the West. Already a challenge to face with difference makers Joshua Roy and Tyson Hinds, the Phœnix bolstered its lineup by acquiring forwards Jacob Melanson and Jakub Brabenec, defenseman Marc-Andre Gaudet and goaltender Olivier Adam, who they hope will lead the way in nets. The Phœnix is deep at all positions, tops in both penalty killing and on the power play and, with Stephane Julien behind the bench, one of the best coached teams in the league.
- GATINEAU OLYMPIQUES (2nd West)
Regular Season Record – 49-12-5-2 – 105 pts, 304 GF, 197 GA
It’s been a long wait for a winner in Gatineau, at least by the Olympiques standards. Head Coach/GM Louis Robitaille is hoping to end a 15-year title draught with a team that comes at the opposition in waves, with plenty of speed to burn. The acquisitions of Riley Kidney and Alexis Gendron, combined with fellow newcomer Olivier Nadeau, has led to a lethal trio over the season’s second half, while Zach Dean leads yet another star-studded line up front. The acquisition of goaltender Francesco Lapenna was among the league’s biggest moves at the deadline. While Q defensive scoring leader Tristan Luneau will be expected to lead in all situations, the loss of shutdown blueliner Noah Warren may prove costly, particularly as the postseason stretches on.
- VICTORIAVILLE TIGRES (3rd West)
Regular Season Record – 40-20-2-6 – 88 pts, 244 GF, 190 GA
A year removed from missing the playoffs, the Tigres were the surprise of the season. With breakout campaigns from forwards Maxime Pellerin and Tommy Cormier, combined with the addition of veterans Thomas Belgarde and William Veillette, the Tigres unleashed a first-rate power play, engineered by no stranger to scoring, Head Coach and former Victoriaville star Carl Mallette. On defense is one of the most underrated players in the league in Pier-Olivier Roy, who can be relied upon for well over 30 minutes of steady service every night. The addition of Frederic Brunet added much needed blueline depth. Though results have been mixed against some of their top opponents, the Tigres’ mix of strong special teams and smart, well coached hockey will cause headaches for any opponents they face.
- ROUYN-NORANDA HUSKIES (4th West)
Regular Season Record – 37-24-4-3 – 81 pts, 240 GF, 227 GA
A blend of impressive veterans and solid up-and-comers has led to the formation of a Huskies squad that has impressed throughout the season. In the undersized but tenacious Edouard Cournoyer on defense, leading scorer Tristan Allard up the middle and netminder Thomas Couture between the pipes, one of the league’s best trios of 20-year-olds resides in Rouyn-Noranda. A 40-goal campaign from Daniil Bourash, savvy play in both ends from Dyllan Gill and impressive performances in big roles from rookies Thomas Verdon and Bill Zonnon, produced a balanced attack that ensured the future is bright for these dogs. They also don’t give away any points; if you want to beat the Huskies, you’re going to have to work hard to get it done.
- SHAWINIGAN CATARACTES (5th West)
Regular Season Record – 29-34-2-3 – 63 pts, 209 GF, 236 GA
The 2022 President Cup Champions may have seen a drop in talent level since last year, but certainly not a decrease in compete level. Led on defense by four holdovers from last year’s run – Jordan Tourigny, Isaac Menard, Angus Booth and Loris Rafanomezantsoa – the Cataractes can play a tight defensive game that allows them to frequently hang around with the league’s best in any given game. Veterans Stephane Huard Jr and Lorenzo Canonica, balanced by rookie Felix Lacerte and an offensively engaged group of blueliners, has led to several timely goals. Combined with the return of veteran netminder Antoine Coulombe from injury late in the year, the Cataractes can easily cause trouble for teams that may be expecting a quick series out of them.
- DRUMMONDVILLE VOLTIGEURS (6th West)
Regular Season Record – 29-34-4-1 – 63 pts, 205 GF, 251 GA
An eight-point drop in the standings from last year was the last thing the Voltigeurs expected on their expected climb up the charts. A chaotic season off the ice – which saw the replacement of Head Coach Steve Hartley and the resignation of GM Philippe Boucher – translated to the ice, where the Volts showed flashes of brilliance from the likes of Xavier Fortin, Luke Woodworth, Tyler Peddle and Jeremy Lapointe but seldom the consistency to make a serious charge. However, the club enters the postseason having won four of its last five outings, defenseman Maveric Lamoureux rounding into form after missing the first half of the season to injury and sporting a late season surge from netminder Riley Mercer. Can this clearly talented club catch its first-round opponent off guard?
- SAINT JOHN SEA DOGS (Ranked 7th in West – Finished 9th in East)
Regular Season Record – 24-38-5-1 – 54 pts, 233 GF, 318 GA
The defending Memorial Cup Champions are on a long road back to contention. However, along the way, they’ve earned the chance to gain valuable playoff experience for the group that will be counted upon to lead the charge in years to come. While veterans Brady Burns, Peter Reynolds and Charlie DesRoches have played a key part in putting the Sea Dogs into the postseason. The club has essentially been playing playoff games for the past three weeks, earning points in eight of their last ten games. Earning a playoff berth represents a terrific opportunity for rookies such as defenseman Nicholas Bilodeau and forwards Cole Burbidge, Noah Reinhart and Eriks Mateiko to get a taste of the post-season that should pay dividends when the Port City rises once again.
- BLAINVILLE-BOISBRIAND ARMADA (8th West)
Regular Season Record – 22-37-6-3 – 53 pts, 206GF, 261 GA
Like the Sea Dogs, the Armada didn’t punch a playoff ticket until the final day of the regular season. This wasn’t the way things were expected to go back in September, however. Between the loss of players to unexpected pro graduation, numerous long-term injuries and a series of mid-season trades, Bruce Richardson’s crew is now looking ahead. The key to remaining competitive in the first round for the Armada rests largely on opportunities and momentum. With workhorses such as Mikael Denis, Xavier Sarrasin, James Swan and Max Streule to rely on, translating work ethic into converted chances will be critical. The longer the club can maintain that momentum, the closer the results will be. In nets, Charles-Edward Gravel should remain the formidable foe he was throughout the season.