After finishing 15th overall in the regular season, the Chicoutimi Saguenéens opened eyes around the QMJHL by taking the Acadie-Bathurst Titan to six games in the first round of the playoffs. The Titan, whose lineup included former Sags defenceman Olivier Galipeau, went on to win the President Cup and Memorial Cup.
Knowing they held their own against the eventual national champions, the Sags hope to build on that momentum this season. They have a solid core of returning players, along with first-round draft picks Hendrix Lapierre (first overall) and Théo Rochette (seventh).
The other big catch of the off-season came when Chicoutimi nabbed Russian defenceman Artemi Knyazev in the CHL Import Draft. The 17-year-old brings ample international experience, having played for his country at both the under-17 and under-18 levels.
“People are very excited,” Chicoutimi head coach and general manager Yanick Jean said about the buzz surrounding his squad. “We have a good, young core and having that experience [from last year’s playoff series against Acadie-Bathurst] is a good step forward for our team. We were happy about [how we played], but if you get stuck on it, you’re not going to move forward.”
Jean expects the Sags to have more team speed, a trait he hopes will boost the attack. Only three teams scored fewer goals than Chicoutimi last season (Shawinigan, Saint John and Val-d’Or), with overager Kevin Klima setting the pace with 39 goals and 86 points.
A pair of 18-year-old forwards, Vladislav Kotkov (21-28-49) and Samuel Houde (16-16-32) should help pick up the slack this season. The Montreal Canadiens drafted Houde in the fifth round of the latest NHL Draft, while Kotkov signed with San Jose as a free agent.
Chicoutimi’s other NHL draft pick is goalie Zachary Bouthillier, selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the seventh round. In those six playoff contests against the Titan, Bouthillier posted a 2.76 goals-against average and a .931% save percentage. Alexis Shank, who recorded 15 of Chicoutimi’s 28 regular-season wins last year, returns to complete what Jean considers “the best goaltending duo in the league.”
Jean is confident veteran leadership will come from 20-year-olds Morgan Nauss and Zachary Lavigne, as well as Jesse Sutton who was acquired from the Quebec Remparts.
“We’re very happy with our overagers because those three guys are great kids, great students and they have great attitudes,” the bench boss said. “They will help our younger players grow in a positive way. Your 20-year-olds aren’t always your best players, but they’re your best leaders.”
Jean, who has 412 career coaching wins to his credit, guided the Sags to the semifinals in 2017. He also played for Chicoutimi’s last championship team in 1994. The second-year defenceman was then drafted by Washington before a four-year career in the ECHL. He knows winning another President Cup would be extra special in the city where his QMJHL journey began.
“When I arrived here, I said all along I wanted to win a championship,” Jean said. “This is a team goal, but we have 18 teams that want to win. It’s a process, and if you work hard at the process, hopefully the results [will come].”
Hendrix Lapierre (QMJHL 1st Round Pick)
Théo Rochette (QMJHL 1st Round Pick)
Artemi Knyazev (CHL Import Draft Pick)
Jesse Sutton (Trade with Quebec)
Justin Ducharme (Trade with Acadie-Bathurst)
Kevin Klima (Tucson-AHL)
Kelly Klima (Tucson-AHL)
The Sagueneens in 2017-18:
Record: 28-35-4-1 (61 pts)
Overall rank: 15th
Goals for: 200
Goals against: 233
Playoffs: First round exit against Acadie-Bathurst (4-2)
Kevin Klima (39-47-86, not returning)
Vladislav Kotkov (21-28-49)
Kelly Klima (18-18-36, not returning)