2016 QMJHL first round playoff preview: Part 1 – contenders vs. pretenders

·Mike Sanderson
Philippe Cadorette was acquired by  of the Shawinigan Cataractes to address their goaltending situation, and he has 60 career QMJHL playoff games to his credit. (CP / Ghyslain Bergeron)
Philippe Cadorette was acquired by of the Shawinigan Cataractes to address their goaltending situation, and he has 60 career QMJHL playoff games to his credit. (CP / Ghyslain Bergeron)

Welcome to Buzzing The Net’s preview of the first round of the QMJHL playoffs.

The OHL and the WHL have regional playoffs and conferences to fight though, but the QMJHL wants none of that in their own #RoadToRedDeer, so they opt for the 1-to-16 straight league seeding format. Here at Buzzing The Net, we’ll look at the first round of the Q playoffs in a two-part series, starting with the top contenders and ending with the middle matchups.

All series start with Games 1 and 2 on Friday and Saturday.

(4) Val-d’Or Foreurs (49-15-3-1, 102 points) vs. (13) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (26-32-8-2, 62 points)

Season series: Val-d’Or (5-0-1-0). Prediction: Foreurs in 4.

Series in a sentence: The Armada called up a Junior A goalie and scratched a number of players for their final game of the year to avoid playing the Foreurs and it backfired; much like how this series will go.

Why the Foreurs should win: They bring size and a lot of experience to the table.Mario Durocher’s men have been battling with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies for top spot in the league for most of the year, before falling back and conceding the league title. They have nine players over 200 pounds, and 16 players above six feet. They bring the physical play with speed, led by power forwardsAlexis Pépin and 2016 NHL draft-eligibleJulien Gauthier.

They also have a number of core players who were with the team when they made their trip to the 2014 Memorial Cup in London, like leading scorersAnthony Beauregard,Anthony Richard andNicolas Aubé-Kubel.

Etienne Montpetit is looking to rebound from a lengthy-but-average playoff last season and will have a stronger defence this time around, led by captainOlivier Galipeau and towersDavid Henley, Tyler Higgins and 6-foot-7Jack Van Boekel.

How the Armada can stretch out the series: Two words: Samuel Montembeault. Blainville-Boisbriand have the edge in goal, but he will need to have the series of his life for the Armada to have any chance at progressing through the Foreurs.

Their leading scorer, Kristian Pospisil, had only 40 points. Their most talented forward, pint-sized Philippe Sanche, missed half the year with a fractured tibia, and returned in the lineup in mid-March. He missed 33 games and was still the team’s third leading scorer. TJ Melancon and rookie Pascal Corbeil were bright spots on the blueline who could jump start some offence.

The Armada play a solid team game of defensive hockey and puck possession on offence, but they don’t have the horses to make a long run against a team that does everything they do at a much higher level than they do.

(3) Saint John Sea Dogs (42-20-6-0, 90 points) vs. (14) Acadie-Bathurst Titan (27-35-3-3, 60 points)

Season series: Saint John (6-1-2-0). Prediction: Sea Dogs in 6.

Series in a sentence: The Titan will battle their way to a couple of wins, but talent will ultimately rule the day, and the Sea Dogs have talent in spades.

Why the Sea Dogs should win: They have the edge in forwards, in defencemen and in depth. Saint John head coachDanny Flynn has a matchup nightmare up his sleeve no matter the matchup.

If the Titan can defend the top line anchored by top goal scorerSam Povorozniouk, Flynn can counter with another scoring line centered by leading scorerMatt Highmore. If Acadie-Bathurst withstands that, over the boards comes exceptional status rookieJoe Veleno with another pair of scorers, adding to that the punishing physical play of Boko Imama to the mix.

Flynn is also prone to mix and match his forwards, so any of Veleno, Highmore, Povorozniouk,Nathan Noel,Dan Del Paggio and captain Spencer Smallman could see time with each other, and all of them are effective with any combination. The Sea Dogs come in with six 20-goal scorers, with Smallman just missing at 19 goals.The Sea Dogs had trouble getting going in the early season, but turned it around and overcame the Moncton Wildcats for the Maritime Division title.

They counter that with maybe the league’s strongest blueline, with NHL first rounders Jakub Zboril and Thomas Chabot, future NHL pick Luke Green and Memorial Cup veteran Matt Murphy in the top four.

How the Titan can stretch out the series: Reilly Pickard beat out a couple veteran back-ups for the starter position as a 17-year-old this season, and he has been a very strong starter in front of an upstart team. He was the QMJHL goaltender of the month for February, and the defending CHL goaltender of the week for March 20.

Pickard gives the Titan the edge in goal over Marc-Antoine Turcotte. Pickard is so strong at tracking the puck and swallowing up rebounds that the Sea Dogs will have trouble on second chance opportunities. The Titan D just need to let Pickard see the puck, and he’ll do the rest.

The Titan work very hard for what they get, and head coach Mario Pouliot has the whole team buying into the system. Led by Jeffrey Truchon-Viel on the forecheck, they create space for their passing and create opportunities with their constant pressure.

The Sea Dogs will win on talent, but the Titan work as hard as anyone, and they took three games of nine in their season series.

(2) Shawinigan Cataractes (44-19-4-1, 93 points) vs. (15) Sherbrooke Phoenix (24-35-7-2, 57 points)

Season series: Shawinigan (4-1-0-0). Prediction: Cataractes in 4.

Series in a sentence: A disappointing end to a disappointing season for the Phoenix, getting blown out by a strong Cataractes squad.

Why the Cataractes should win: They bring a strength in numbers in every position. They have New York Islanders first rounder Anthony Beauvillier and Toronto Maple Leaf prospect Dmytro Timashov leading a dynamic, deep offence.

They added veteran blueliners Cavan Fitzgerald, Jonathan Deschamps andMatt Klebanskyj to top scoring Samuel Girard, who led the CHL in scoring for defencemen at 17 years old.

They addressed their question mark in goal with the best and most experienced goalie available, overager Philippe Cadorette, who opened the season in the ECHL and has 60 career QMJHL playoff games on his resumé.

Shawinigan is primed to make their best run since their Memorial Cup-winning team in 2012, and they may have an even better team than that year, which was led by Michael Bournival, Michael Chaput, Brandon Gormley and Morgan Ellis.

How the Phoenix can stretch out the series: Now is a little late for an epiphany, but the Phoenix were anticipated to make a good run at the league title this season. With a first rounder in goal in Evan Fitzpatrick, five first round picks on defence, led by Jérémy Roy and Carl Neill on defence, andGuillaume Gauthier added to a strong forward group led by Daniel Audette and Julien Pelletier, Sherbrooke seemed ready to make a big push to contender status for the first time in their history.

That’s not at all what happened, as the Phoenix struggled with inept play and injuries all year long, and one house cleaning later, with no offence to GM Jocelyn Thibault or head coach Stéphane Julien, nothing has righted the ship for Sherbrooke.

Shawinigan didn’t have the strongest second half, with chemistry issues and lethargic play leading to the ouster of coach Martin Raymond late in the year in favour of Claude Bouchard. If the switch can’t be flipped in time for the Cataractes, the Phoenix may be able to take advantage.

The Cataractes have also never won the President’s Cup, which could play into a massive monkey on the backs of the blue-and-yellow.

(1) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (54-9-3-2, 113 points) vs. (16) Drummondville Voltigeurs (27-39-2-0, 56 points)

Season series: Rouyn-Noranda (4-0-0-2). Prediction: Huskies in 4.

Series in a sentence: Rouyn-Noranda will swat the Volts away after more than doubling their regular season point total.

Why the Huskies should win: The Huskies were the most dominant team in the league this season, buying into Gilles Bouchard’s system and cruising through the season blasting teams quickly and brutally.

The Huskies are so strong defensively, led by the mobile two-way blueliners Jérémy Lauzon and Philippe Myers, and the acquisition of Nicolas Brouillard on the back end to give them a strong top-three.

Netminders Chase Marchand and Samuel Harvey have both been strong, as Harvey picked up the slack after Marchand went down. Harvey finished the year going 16-2 from December onward, and Marchand hasn’t lost in two months.

The Huskies were the only team to score over 300 goals this season, ending the year at 302. Francis Perron hit the 100-point plateau, one of only two players in the league to cross that mark, and Timo Meier was added at the mid-season trading period to an already robust forward core. Jean-Christophe Beaudin had a breakout year with 82 points. A.J. Greer was brought in from Boston University in late December and had nearly a point a game in his half-season. Martins Dzierkals, Julien Nantel and Gabriel Fontaine round out the key group.

How the Voltigeurs can stretch out the series: If Michael Carcone and Alex Barré-Boulet (89 points each) can have the games of their lives, Drummondville may have a chance at winning a game. They won’t have a chance of winning much else in this series. Netminder Anthony Dumont-Bouchard can only do so much.

The Volts already fired GM Dominic Ricard Monday. That says all that needs to be said about how Drummondville feels about their chances in this series.

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