CHL Playoff Preview, Part 6
by Bob Davis(NHL)
Posted on April 2, 2006, 10:28 AM
NOTE: This column was originally posted in the RCC on Wednesday, March 29th.
The battle for the 2006 Memorial Cup has begun in Canada. Three junior hockey leagues each run through a gruelling, 70+ game season; then host a four-round playoff system to crown 3 league champions. The respective league champions then travel out to a designated city to compete against the host team to crown the annual national junior champion. This year, the champions from the Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will compete against Moncton in the New Brunswick city for the Memorial Cup.
The Memorial Cup is the biggest stage for these young prospects to showcase their talents to potential NHL teams. Some of these players will become household names in the NHL; and a select few will win the Stanley Cup. Over the next few days, I will introduce you to some of the players in each of the three leagues who are hoping to jumpstart their NHL careers by leading their teams to the Memorial Cup Final. I’ll also put my psychic abilities to the test and put my predictions out for each of the first round series.
Part 1: The WHL Eastern Conference.
Part 2: The WHL Western Conference.
Part 3: The OHL Eastern Conference.
Part 4: The OHL Western Conference.
Part 5: The QMJHL Eastern Conference.
QUEBEC MAJOR JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE.
In the 18-team QMJHL, the top 9 (out of 10) teams in the Western conference qualify for the playoffs; as do the top 7 teams in the 8-team Eastern Conference. The defending league champions and former stomping grounds of star draft pick Sydney Crosby, Rimouski Oceanic, were the only team in the 10 team Western Conference to miss the playoffs, meaning that the league will see a new champion.
Series E: Quebec Remparts vs. Val d’Or Foreurs
The Western Conference actually had 2 teams tied for first overall, however Quebec gets the nod over Chicoutimi by virtue of the Rempart’s 52 wins. The offensive power of the Remparts was demonstrated throughout the season, as Quebec lead the QMJHL with 349 goals scored on the year. Meanwhile, Val d’Or finished the year 5 points ahead of 9th place Victoriaville, wrapping up the campaign with 28 wins and 59 points.
The Remparts have a superstar in the making within their ranks. Nashville Predators’ prospect Alexander Radulov made headlines, and wrote his name into the history books on the final day of the QMJHL season by scoring 7 goals and 4 assists in a 16-3 thrashing of Rimouski. His 11 point outburst, ranked second all-time in Canadian Hockey League history, put the finishing touches on a 61 goal and 152 point season for the 19-year-old left winger. The 6’1, 183lb Russian hopes to crack the Nashville roster next season; but he may spend a little time down in Hamilton with the AHL’s Bulldogs.
Remparts’ coach, Patrick Roy, has a second superstar to help develop. 17-year-old Angelo Esposito finished second among rookies in the QMJHL with 98 points in just 57 games. The 174lb Montreal native is destined to follow Crosby’s path as the number 1 pick in the 2007 draft, and Roy believes that Esposito will have a fantastic career in the NHL. For now, the former NHL great is ecstatic to have Esposito on his team, and Roy hopes that the 6’1 centre will lead the Remparts to the Memorial Cup.
Not to be outdone, Val d’Or has a potential star in the making on their roster as well. 20-year-old centre Olivier Latendresse led les Fureurs in scoring through the 05-06 season, potting 41 goals and 125 points in 70 games. The Phoenix Coyotes prospect, signed by the NHL club as a free agent in 2005, nearly matched his point totals from the previous 2 seasons combined. Latendresse, from LaSalle, Quebec, tips the scales at 185lbs; however his limited height may be a concern to Coyotes management. At 5’10, Gretzky’s squad will need to see that Latendresse’s heart and perseverance will lead to great things at the NHL level.
Latendresse took a step towards the NHL in game 1, posting a hat-trick to lead Val d’Or to a 6-3 shocker. In game 2, Latendresse posted a goal and an assist in the first period as les Fureurs jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, but Esposito led the team back to even in the third period; and the Remparts took the game 4-3 in overtime. Game 3 saw the Remparts take the game to Val d’Or; Radulov assisted on the eventual game winner as Quebec took a 3-1 victory and a 2-1 series lead. Latendresse has posted 5 goals and 1 assist in the first 3 games, but Quebec’s firepower has been too much for the team to handle in the last 2. Val d’Or won’t quit in this series, but Esposito and Radulov will take over the offensive roles and force les Fureurs to tap out.
PREDICTION: Quebec survives, winning 4 games to 3.
Series F: Chicoutimi Sagueneens vs. Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Chicoutimi was just edged out by Quebec for first overall. The 2 teams actually finished the year with identical totals of 106 points, but Chicoutimi was relegated to second because they were victorious in only 51 games, compared with the Remparts’ 52 wins. On the other hand, the Drakkar concluded the year with 30 wins and 38 losses, good for 62 points and 7th overall.
The Sagueneens’ top line was responsible for 150 of the team’s 321 goals on the season. 20-year-old right winger Stanislav Lascek, a 5th round pick by Tampa Bay in 2005, led the team with 88 assists and 135 points. Second place went to 21-year-old Maxime Boisclair, who potted 70 goals and 130 points in 70 games for Chicoutimi. The centre of the line, 20-year-old David Desharnais, accounted for 33 goals and 85 assists in 63 games this season.
The Drakkar will counter with an explosive tandem of their own. The 1-2 punch of Francois Bouchard and Alexandre Picard-Hooper combined for 202 points in 05-06. The 17-year-old, 6’ tall Bouchard posted 69 assists and 102 points for Baie-Comeau in 69 games. 18-year-old, 5’10” Picard-Hooper posted 57 goals en route to hitting the century mark for the Drakkar this season. Left winger Bouchard and centre Picard-Hooper are hoping to post a first-round upset of Chicoutimi.
In game 1, it was the Sagueneens’ top line who took control, potting a combined 2 goals and 2 assists to lead Chicoutimi to a 5-4 overtime victory. Game 2 featured more of the same, as Lascek erased a 1-0 deficit in the second, and Chicoutimi cruised to a 5-2 victory. Boisclair put the Drakkar on the brink of elimination with the game winner in a 3-1 Chicoutimi victory. The Drakkar have too much pride to be swept out of round 1, but they will just prolong the inevitable ousting by a couple of days.
PREDICTION: Chicoutimi defeats Baie-Comeau 4 games to 1.
Series G: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies vs. Shawinigan Cataractes
The Huskies skated their way to a successful season, racking up 43 wins and 91 points over the 70 game season. Shawinigan had an identical win-loss record over 70 games as #5 seed Drummondville possessed; however the Voltigeurs took the higher ranking because of a better goal differential. Shawinigan took the final regular season meeting with Rouyn-Noranda by a 3-2 margin.
Rouyn-Noranda is backstopped by Anaheim prospect Jean-Philippe Levasseur. The 19-year-old 7th round pick posted a 3.42 goals against average in 69 games with the Huskies. The 6’ 190lb goalie stopped 89.1% of the shots he faced on his way to a 35 win season. HockeyFutures.com states that Levasseur is well on his way to becoming a late-round draft steal for the Mighty Ducks, but Levasseur will need a strong showing in the playoffs to add credence to that statement.
Alex Bourret and the Shawinigan Cataractes are aiming to prevent Levasseur’s stock from rising. The 19-year-old right winger led the Cataractes in scoring in 2005-06, posting a career-best 44 goals, 70 assists and 114 points on the season. Atlanta’s first-round, 16th overall pick in the 2005 entry draft, Bourret is a relatively small forward with a lot of power to drive his ability. Bourret checks in at a miniscule 5’9”, but his 209lb frame allows him to play an extremely physical game, and leads to a lot of quality scoring opportunities for his team. Bourret is hoping that his intense style of hockey will not only lead to success in the playoffs, but also a shot on the Thrashers’ roster next season.
Game 1 of this battle went to Levasseur, who stopped 33 Shawinigan shots to lead Rouyn-Noranda to a 4-1 victory. In game 2, the Cataractes erased a 2-0 second period deficit with 3 unanswered goals for a 3-2 victory to even the series. Game 3 saw Bourret assist on the eventual game winner, and add a pair of insurance goals as Shawinigan blanked Rouyn-Noranda 5-0. The Huskies are going to have to step up their game in a big way, or they will find themselves on the outside wondering what went wrong. I sense some soul-searching in their future.
PREDICTION: Shawinigan upsets Rouyn-Noranda 4 games to 2.
Series H: Gatineau Olympiques vs. Drummondville Voltigeurs
Les Olympiques struggled slightly down the stretch, dropping their final 2 games to finish 4 points back of Rouyn-Noranda for 3rd overall. Despite winning 6 of their last 10, Gatineau finds itself in a tough series against Drummondville, who finished 5th overall with 37 wins and 79 points on the year.
The Olympiques are looking to star first-year right winger Claude Giroux to lead them past the Voltigeurs. At just 18 years of age, Giroux lead the team in scoring in 2005-06, potting 64 assists and 103 points in 69 games in his rookie year. The 5’11, 163lb right winger displayed better than normal 2-way play, finishing the season at +30. Giroux is eligible for the 2006 entry draft, and will likely be taken before the third round of this year’s draft.
Drummondville will counter with a one-two scoring tandem in Derick Brassard and Guillaume Latendresse. The 18-year-old Brassard led the way in scoring, marking 72 assists and 116 points. The 6’ centre also scored a career-high 44 goals in 58 games with the Voltigeurs. Latendresse, drafted 45th overall in 2005 by Montreal, put up 43 goals and 83 points in 51 games. The 19-year-old 216lb right winger scored 16 power play and 8 game-winning goals on the season.
Giroux led the way in game 1 for the Olympique, posting 2 assists as Drummondville fell 4-3 to Gatineau. In game 2, David Krejci, a Boston Bruins prospect from the 2004 draft, notched 2 goals and 3 assists in a 6-4 Gatineau victory. Game 3 saw Krejci continue his domination, scoring a hat-trick to lead les Olympiques to within 60 minutes of a round 1 sweep of Drummondville with a 4-2 victory. Krejci is using this series to make the Bruins wish he was on the NHL club this season; the domination will continue and Gatineau will sweep the series.
PREDICTION: Drummondville hits the golf course after tonight. Gatineau wins 4-0.
Eastern Conference: Moncton over Victoriaville 4 games to 1
P.E.I. over Acadie-Bathurst 4-3.
St. John’s over Cape Breton 4-2.
Lewiston over Halifax 4-2.
Western Conference: Quebec over Val d’Or 4-3
Chicoutimi over Baie-Comeau 4-1
Shawinigan over Rouyn-Noranda 4-2
Gatineau over Drummondville 4-0.
We’ll find out the results of some of my predictions very soon. Across the country, the Canadian Hockey League playoffs are continuing tonight, with a number of teams having a shot at closing out their first round series, including Gatineau and Medicine Hat; the Barrie Colts have already booked their flight into the second round. I’ll be back later tonight to take a look at how the remaining rounds are shaping up; and take a look at some of the prospects who are on teams that did not make the playoffs this year, including the Rimouski Oceanic, Prince Albert Raiders and the Missassauga Ice Dogs.