The opening month-and-a-half of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season is always an interesting time as teams go without some of their best players to start the year.
With top draft picks and over-agers often missing at least part of September and into October at NHL training camps, it theoretically gives other teams a brief chance to compete on a more level playing field.
In practice, however, the dominant teams are dominant for a reason, and they have shown that thus far.
The Shawinigan Cataractes have been the class of the league throughout October, posting a record of 12-2-0 through their first 14 contests and ranking as the top team in the entire CHL to close out the month. Somewhat surprisingly it has been a pair of defenders leading the charge for the Cataractes, with Samuel Girard and Cavan Fitzgerald recording 20 and 19 points, respectively. Girard, a draft-pick of the Nashville Predators, managed to accomplish that in just nine games.
Very little separates the middle of this division, as the Quebec Remparts punch a little above their weight early on. The Victoriaville Tigres, who were identified as the probable second-best in this division in our season preview, trail the Remparts by just two points, but have been doing without Philadelphia Flyers prospect Pascal Laberge for a number of games now after the forward was sidelined with a concussion.
Sitting fourth in the division are the Rimouski Oceanic, led of course by Montreal Canadiens draft pick Simon Bourque. Bourque has been off to a great start individually with just over a point-per-game, though his team has struggled to stay above .500 in the season’s early goings. You can read more on Bourque’s offensive play in Dan Kramer’s weekly prospect update, and get some in-depth insight into his defensive work courtesy of Mitch Brown.
Rouyn-Noranda were President’s Cup Champions last season and have so far shown that they’re perfectly capable of repeating. With 11 wins on the season already, the Huskies are right in the thick of things alongside the Cataractes, making for a very interesting month to come as the division leaders look to separate from the pack.
Right there with them, however, have been the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. A bit of a wildcard heading into the season, the Armada have gotten off to a great start and have erased any doubt about being one of the better teams in this division. That is thanks in large part to goaltender Samuel Montembeault, who has posted a stunning .941 SV% over 10 games.
President’s Cup favourites to start the season were the Saint John Sea Dogs, and while they sit atop the Maritimes Division, they haven’t been as dominant as originally anticipated. As expected, the Sea Dogs do boast one of the league’s most potent attacks, but they haven’t had the same quality at the other end of the rink with starting goaltender Alex Bishop putting up a save percentage of .890, ranking 21st in the league as of this writing.
Charlottetown, meanwhile, burst out of the gate and has been one of the more exciting teams to watch all season. Ottawa Senators prospect Filip Chlapik has returned to his draft-year form with 23 points in 13 games, helping the Islanders score more goals than any team through the season’s opening month-and-a-half.
Pierre-Luc Dubois was the player to watch last season in the QMJHL, and many doubted he would return to the league this season after being selected third-overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Since being sent back to Cape Breton, however, Dubois hasn’t looked quite himself - registering just four points through seven games played in October on a Screaming Eagles team that has had little trouble finding the net since his return.
Just as Dubois did last year, Maxime Comtois will draw the attention of scouts all season long as one of the top-ranked players eligible for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. With 11 points in 17 games, Comtois hasn’t had the hottest of starts for a player so highly-touted, but undoubtedly he has plenty of time to improve those totals. A natural goal-scorer with a physical presence and a strong team around him, Comtois is attractive for a lot of reasons.
Nico Hischier, however, may give Comtois a run for his money as the most sought-after player coming out of the ‘Q’. The Halifax Mooseheads’ import from Switzerland edged out Comtois by one spot, slotting in at sixth in Sportsnet’s most recent draft rankings, thanks in large part to having a much better start to the season. Hischier has done more with comparatively little support, tallying eight goals and 20 points in the month of October.
Acadie-Bathurst Titan forward Antoine Morand is a much different type of player when compared to Comtois or Hischier, but is incredibly talented. While some may fault him for his size, nobody will for his speed or passing ability, which make him the league’s best shot as a third option to be selected in the first round this June. With 18 points thus far, Morand trails only 20-year-old Christophe Boivin for the lead on his team.
Joel Teasdale is a bit of a dark-horse in this draft class, as it’s difficult to say when he might hear his name called. A year ago Craig Button had the Armada forward ranked 11th in the entire draft, and while that’s unlikely to play out at this point, the Quebec-native is a versatile player who NHL teams will have interest in.
A name we heard little about coming into the season, but should hear at least a little more of as it goes on, is Yaroslav Alexeyev. The diminuitive Russian winger has had his skill on display since joining the Sherbrooke Phoenix this year, which is his first in North America. Recording a point-per-game through 14 of them, Alexeyev will need to overcome the “Russian factor” come June, but remains one of the more intriguing eligible players to watch until then.