Looking Ahead: QMJHL

Call it the “Sidney Crosby Effect”. Since the Penguins took Sid the Kid first over-all from the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, the league has developed no less than four first rounders in four of the five years since. Compare that to the six years prior in which the QMJHL had seen no more than three of their players selected in any first round, and it seems clear that the league has returned to relevance in the junior hockey world.

As Sportsnet.ca said in their preview of the ‘Q’, “parity remains the theme in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League [heading into] the 2009-2010 season. Much like last season, where four teams (the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Shawinigan Cataractes, Moncton Wildcats, and Quebec Remparts) all finished the regular season with more than 100 points, there is a great deal of balance among the teams at the top of the league.

However, most of the on-ice and off-ice headlines (at least early in the season) will belong to one man / family in particular. The surname Roy will be bandied around quite a bit, with the senior Patrick remaining behind the bench for the contending Remparts after a summer in which his name was linked to the vacant head coach position of the Colorado Avalanche, which later went to Joe Sacco.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Roy, the son of the Montreal Canadiens legend, faces an October 7 trial date as the defendant against charges of assault. Jonathan, goaltender for the Remparts at the time, was arrested following a beating administered to opposing netminder Bobby Nadeau (Chicoutimi Sagueneens) on March 22, 2008.

But there is some hockey to be played too.

For one thing, the Voltigeurs are back to defend their league title, minus their top two league-leading scorers from last season. Yannick Riendeau has graduated and will hope to catch on with the Boston Bruins, who signed him on the strength of his Q-best 126-point season, while high-scoring teammate Danny Masse is staying in Quebec as a Canadiens signee. Despite the losses, Drummondville should still be a formidable contender with C Chris DiDomenico, a Leafs draft pick and a member of Canada’s gold medal-winning 2009 World Junior team, and 2009 first round draft pick (14th over-all, Florida Panthers) D Dmitry Kulikov.

Following a season widely considered a disappointment, Roy’s Remparts, who Sportsnet.ca has said are “widely regarded as the top team in the league this season,” have reloaded with two key new pieces and will look to topple Drummondville. Quebec is fresh off a 4-1 ouster to the Cataractes in the QMJHL semis last year, which fuelled off-season moves that brought in starting goalie Peter Delmas and agitator / enforcer Danick Paquette. They will contribute defence and grit to a team already stacked with offensive talent, as forwards Kelsey Tessier and Marc-Olivier Vallerand return. In four games this season, Vallerand has already collected four goals and four assists.

The Cataractes and the Wildcats are both coming off of breakthrough seasons, and many observers are curious to see how they follow last year’s performance. The Cataractes fell one win shy of the franchise’s first QMJHL championship, falling 4-3 to the Voltigeurs after climbing back from a 3-1 series deficit. However, amidst the heartbreak, the regular season represented a 35-point jump in their record from the previous campaign.
That improvement was second to the Wildcats’ rise of 45 points between the ‘07-08 and ‘08-09 seasons. Though Moncton did not advance past the quarter-finals, but that could change this year due to the rapid improvement of blue chip defensive anchor Brandon Gormley. Gormley was the only player in the Q on CHL.ca’s list of top five NHL prospects heading into the 2010 draft.

With no single dominant force in the QMJHL along the lines of, say, the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, there are several teams who could make their mark as the league’s elite.

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