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2016-17 QMJHL Season Preview: East Division

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In part two of our season preview, check out how the East Division shapes up before the puck is dropped on Thursday.

Victoriaville Tigres v Blainville-Boisbriand Armada Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

In part one of our 2016-17 QMJHL season preview, we observed the teams that make up a difficult West Division, including the reigning President’s Cup winners: the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.

Now we shift our focus to the rest of the league’s Quebec-based teams in an East Division boasting a couple of serious title threats who will be focused on dethroning last season’s champions.

East Division

Baie-Comeau Drakkar

Unfortunately for fans in Baie-Comeau, the Drakkar will not be among those teams in contention this season as they continue a rebuild that saw them finish outside of a playoff spot in 2015-16.

The future is certainly bright in Baie-Comeau, although there is some cause for concern as fourth-overall QMJHL draft pick Gabriel Fortier is expected to miss four-to-five months with an injury. Fifth-overall selection Xavier Bouchard, however, will make up part of an interesting defensive unit which also includes NHL draft hopeful Matteo Pietroniro.

Offensively, the Drakkar lack any sort of real firepower. Fortier may have helped in that regard, but the team may now need to rely on Russian forward Ivan Chekhovich, who was selected third overall in the import draft and will be making his debut in North America.

Chicoutimi Saguenéens

The Sags represent a bit of an unknown in the East Division, with a somewhat shallow lineup that still features some very dynamic players. Likely set to take a step back from last season’s performance, Chicoutimi is nevertheless home to too much talent to finish in the basement.

Julio Billia is the backbone of the Saguenéens roster, posting the league’s top save percentage at .919 last year. Returning as a 20-year-old this season, Billia should once again haunt opposing offences. The only question is whether or not he will spend the entirety of the season in Chicoutimi.

Chicoutimi Sagueneens v Gatineau Olympiques Photo by Francois Laplante/FreestylePhoto/Getty Images

The one-two punch of Nicolas Roy and Dmitry Zhukenov will provide the bulk of scoring for the Sags. The team will need to cope with the loss of Jonathan Bourcier, who was traded over the summer to Acadie-Bathurst. Roy recorded 48 goals last season; a total the Carolina Hurricanes draft pick would do well to reach again.

Frederic Allard had an incredible season in Choutimi last year, scoring at a click of just under a point-per-game, earning him a selection in the third round of the NHL draft. He will once again need to shoulder the load of an otherwise weak blue line.

Quebec Remparts

A good Remparts team is good for the league, considering the size of the market. Unfortunately, that is not what this team is. At least, not yet. The Remparts are clearly looking toward the future and could conceivably finish below the Drakkar this season and miss out on a playoff spot.

Callum Booth is an excellent 19-year-old goaltender who won’t be able to do it all on his own this season, and may instead be moved along to one of the league’s various contending teams with netminding woes.

Quebec has a few solid defencemen in their lineup, truth be told, including over-agers Aaron Dutra and Raphael Maheux, as well as third-year player Ross MacDougall. Without a real game-changer on the blue line, however, things still aren’t altogether promising.

The Remparts could find help in the form of two new imports, including Dmitry Buinitsky who played 22 games in the KHL last season, and Swiss forward Philipp Kurashev. Andrew Coxhead also joins the team, the 16-year-old Halifax-native being persuaded to join Quebec rather than prep school as he had initially intended.

Still, the team won’t have much in the way of support for 30-goal-scorer Matthew Boucher and will likely have trouble finding the back of the net this season.

Rimouski Océanic

After claiming the President’s Cup in 2015, the Océanic struggled to stay competitive last season. Still finishing second in their division, Rimouski was ousted in the opening playoff round and will hope for a better post-season fate this year. But they will need to overcome the loss of starting goaltender Louis-Philip Guindon.

Of particular interest to Montreal Canadiens fans will be this Océanic team, who are led by Habs prospect Simon Bourque on defence. Replacing Michael Joly as captain, Bourque could well improve on his 46-point performance from last season.

Bourque is joined by a fairly strong top four on the blue line, including a couple of young players in Dominic Cormier and Charles-Edouard D’Astous, both of whom will be expected to take a big step forward this season.

The real strength of Rimouski’s lineup is the makeup of their top-six forward group, including Samuel Laberge (who is attending Dallas Stars camp) and three over-agers who posted near-or-above a point per game last year as 19-year-olds, giving the Océanic a number of dangerous scoring threats.

Shawinigan Cataractes

Surely among the top teams in the QMJHL this season are the Shawinigan Cataractes, who made it all the way to the finals before losing in five games to Rouyn-Noranda last year. With a number of talented returnees, the Cataractes will be looking to win their first ever President’s Cup.

Shawinigan may boast the most lethal first line in the league as both Anthony Beauvillier and Alexis D’Aoust have the ability to top the Q in scoring. The team will lose Dmytro Timashov, who was so useful to them in the playoffs last season, but with the likes of 32-goal scorer Dennis Yan still in the fold, the Cataractes have little to worry about.

On the defensive end of things, the Cataractes rely heavily on Samuel Girard — and for good reason. The Nashville Predators draft choice is a pure offence generator, as evidenced by his 64 assists this past year. Also featuring steadily producing veterans Nicholas Welsh and Jonathan Deschamps, Shawinigan’s defensive unit is certainly a strength.

The only real problem the Cataractes may run into this season is in goal, as they lose Philippe Cadorette, who played as an over-ager last year. With no proven options at this time, Shawinigan may have to look to the trade market to find a reliable puck-stopper.

Victoriaville Tigres

The Tigres could challenge Victoriaville for tops in the East Division this season, thanks to the high-profile names that make up their offence.

Scouts filled the Colisée Desjardins to watch Pascal Laberge last year, leading to his being drafted in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft. That will be amplified this year, as Maxime Comtois projects as a top-five pick next June, and could bring with him all of the same hype that surrounded Pierre-Luc Dubois in months past.

With highly touted Russian import Ivan Kosorenkov joining the team, and the possibility that Alexandre Goulet could return for his 20-year-old season, the Tigres look like a team with the potential to become an offensive powerhouse.

Victoriaville has a number of steady performers on defence, including Tristan Pomerleau, but do lack the presence of a truly elite number one. The team brought in Jeremie Beaudin over the summer to round out their depth at this position, and while defence is far from a weakness, the Tigres will need to rely on their offence if they are to challenge for a President’s Cup this season.