Friday, February 09, 2007

QMJHL Update--West Division

The following is an update of the standings and players of note in the Q from January 19th thru February 8th. As part of it, I am reviewing the effects of deadline trades on the club.

West (Telus) Division

Val-d'Or ForeursCurrently first in the West Division, Val-d'Or is an excellent team that will be hard to beat down the stretch. Led by its captain and top prospect Kris Letang (PIT, 3rd round, 2005) on the blueline, the Foreurs are very well balanced, with several very good forwards to complement him.

Team Record: 33-17-3-2 (5-4)

Best Player: Jerome Samson. Since being traded from Moncton earlier this season, Samson has really stepped up his game. In the past 2 weeks, Samson has 17 points in 9 games. Currently the leader in points on the team, Samson was overlooked in last year's NHL draft, but will not be this June.

Best Rookie: Julius Sinkovic. Sinkovic decided to come over from Slovakia and play in No. America this season, and what a boon it has been for Val-d'Or. With 10 points in the last 2 weeks, and a +8 plus/minus, with a game-winning goal last Saturday night, Sinkovic is a player to watch.

Trades: Val-d'Or has been very active on the trade front all season. Cleverly giving up players that did not figure into the team's plans in exchange for draft selections in October, December found the team gaining more draft picks and players that would now have a huge affect on this year's team. Samson was one, and so was Felix Shutz, the centre with 15 points in 13 games with the Foreurs, and a +11 plus/minus over that time. Most importantly, Val-d'Or obtained a steady goaltender Jeremy Duchesne (PHI, 4th round, 2005) to work alongside the excellent rookie netminder Raffaele D'Orsi.

Gatineau Olympiques--The Olympiques have overtaken the Quebec Remparts to move into 2nd place in the division, but the play and the records of the 2 teams are so close, either team can easily pull away and solidify at least second place. With a game in hand on Val-d'Or and 2 on Quebec, the Olympiques have a really good chance to win the division outright. But there can be no more 3-game losing streaks like the team had at the end of January.

Team Record: 32-19-2-2 (5-3)

Best Player: Claude Giroux (PHI, 1st Round, 2006). Giroux has been on fire these past 2 weeks, with 16 points (7 G, 9 A) in 8 games, including 1 game-winning goal. Giroux has really progressed this season and should be ready for professional lay next year. If he makes the Flyers that's great; the problem arises if he does not--with a January 1988 birthdate, Giroux will most likely be back in the Q. Honorable Mention goes to Slava Trukhno (EDM, 4th round, 2005), who recently signed an NHL contract, and continues to be on a hot streak.

Best Rookie:Paul Byron. Byron is a very little guy, but this young centre can get it done. Over the last 2 weeks, he has 9 points (5 G, 4 A) including 2 game-winning goals.

Trades: The only real trade of note was the one on December 20, when the Olympiques picked up Ryan Mior from P.E.I. It was a costly trade for the Olympiques, in that they had to part with defenceman Benoit Gervais and the offensively prolific centreman Brett Morrison, but it was a deal that had to be done, or Gatineau would not have stood a chance in the playoffs.

Quebec Remparts–Currently in third place in the West, Quebec has 14 games left in the season. That is certainly enough time to step up play and be crowned the divisional champion. Currently only 6 points behind divisional leader Val-d'Or, and 1 point behind Gatineau, the Remparts need to push hard this next month to come out on top.

Team Record: 30-21-2-3 (5-3)

Best Player: Billy Bezeau. With 14 points in 8 games, Bezeau has really stepped up his play the last 2 weeks. He now is averaging a point a game (47 points in 47 games). Bezeau is outstanding with the extra man, and has excellent on-ice vision. A free agent (undrafted), he should be ready for professional play next season.

Best Rookie: The Bashkirov brothers. Hard to choose anyone else, as these brothers are scorchingly hot. Between them, they have 22 points in the last 2 weeks. Whilesometimess guilty of padding their numbers (when the game is already decided), the brothers are very skilled and should have no trouble getting drafted come this June. Kelsey Tessier is another rookie who deserves mention. The 2008 NHL draft-eligible center is a bit small, but he can finish and he sure can win face-offs. Watch for him to be a leading scorer next season.

Trades: Quebec was very active at the trade deadline, getting both draft picks and players. The most currently significant trade that the Remparts made during this period was to obtain Philippe Poirier as part of a swap of draftselectionss with Halifax. Not to mention the minor trade that brought Patrick Roy's son, Jonathan to the Remparts organization in exchange for an 8th round 2007 draft selection.

Victoriaville TigresThe Tigres are only 3 points behind the Remparts and have played 4 fewer games. In fact, only Drummondville has played as few games as Victoriaville. Winning 4 of the 7 games over the last 2 weeks (and losing one more in a shootout), the Tigres are still very much in the race fortheh divisional championship.

Team Record: 30-19-2-2 (4-3)

Best Player: Toby Lafrance. While Morton Madsen (MIN, 4th round, 2005) gets all the headlines and much of the points on this team, during the past 2 weeks Lafrance has been very impressive. An excellent face-off man, the diminutive center is putting points on the board too. With 7 goals and 3 assists, and one game winner to his credit over this time period, Lafrance is proving to be a finisher as well as a playmaker.

Best Rookie: Kevin Poulin. With 3 of 4 wins over this 2-week period, Poulin is an outstanding prospect in net. A top NHL prospect for the 2008 draft, Poulin had only one bad game over the period. If you have achancee to watch him, go do so. He is a star in the making.

Trades: There was one significant trade that the Tigres made prior to the draft deadline that deserves mention. That is the trade that brought Kyell Henegan (NJD, 7th Round 2006) to Victoriaville. The Tigres had to give up a second round draft selection this spring, but with 6 points in 14 games since the preChristmass trade, Henegan has really contributed to the team.

Baie-Comeau Drakkar--Ranked fifth of 10 in the West, the Drakkar are solidly in the playoffs.

Team Record: 28-17-1-7 (4-3)

Best Player: Ben Breault (BUF, 7th round, 2006). Breault has 64 points on the season (and is +24). Although he has nowhere near the point total of team leader Francois Bouchard (WAS, 2nd rd, 2006), Breault had 10 points in the last 2 weeks, including 4 shorthanded goals. He has really shown much higher level of play over that time. Weak on face-offs in the past, the centre has started to improve in this area, particularly in the game last Friday night against Val-d'Or.

Best Rookie: None for these 2 weeks, but for the year, there is no question that centre Mathieu Tousignant has put up the best numbers of all Drakkar rookies this season. Tousignant is an excellent face-off man, so even if he has not put up any impressive numbers over the past 2 weeks, he has contributed with his face-off wins. Rookie netminder Marco Cousineau looked like he had a lot of promise in net during the Drakkar's game against Rimouski on January 24th. As he gets more experience, Cousineau should get better and better. Great late round selection for Baie-Comeau in the 2006 QMJHL draft.

Trades:The Drakkar made 2 big trades at the deadline, the first one actually affecting the other. Obtaining defenceman Jean-Philippe Paquet (PIT, 6th round, 2005) in a trade with Shawinigan toward the end of December made Keven Dupont expendable. So just before the deadline, Baie-Comeau completed a deal with Rimouski to obtain a winger, Marc-Andre LaRoche for Dupont. LaRoche, with a 1989 birthdate, is NHL draft-eligible this summer, so the Drakkar have at least 2 more seasons with the big winger on the roster. He has already contributed to the offense of the team, with 3 assists in 2 Baie-Comeau's 2 games last week.

Rouyn-Noranda HuskiesJust one point out of fourth place, the Huskies are right in the middle of the divisional championship race. The problem the team seems to have is the inconsistency of netminder Jean-Philippe Levasseur (ANA, 7th round, 2005). If Levasseur can improve his play, and thedefensee in front of him can play better in its own zone, a divisional championship is not out of the question.

Team Record: 28-22-3-4 (4-3)

Best Player: Michael Dubuc. As Dubuc goes, so does this team. He had points in each of the Huskies wins this past 2 week period, and it is no coincidence. Rouyn-Noranda's leading scorer is also its best player all-around.

Best Rookie: Marc-Andre Bourdon. Bourdon has had a great year, and while these 2 weeks were not particularly outstanding, he showed why he should be a prospect on the radar screen for the 2008 NHL Draft.

Trades: The Huskies were very active at the trade deadline, with the most immediately important deal including the acquisition of Mathieu Carle (MON, 2nd 2006). Although Carle has not contributed much offensively to the team since he came aboard, he has enormous potential.

Chicoutimi SangueneensThe seventh place Sangueneens have no chance for the divisional championship and are in the process of rebuilding. Expected to be eliminated in the first or second round of the playoffs, Chicoutimi had a relatively good 2 week period, and is off to a good start for planning the future. Now if the team could only change the attitude of management and its fans toward teams that come into its barn.

Team Record: 26-26-4-1 (5-3)

Best Player: David Desharnais. No surprises here. Desharnais has been putting up numbers like crazy the last 2 years. This year is no exception.Thee problem is getting the scouts to believe that he is any more than ECHL material. He can produce offensively at this level, but at his size (and strength level), it is really unclear that he can be successful beyond the Q. We all wish that for him, but Desharnais is going to have to provehimselff at the professional level before anone really gives him a serious look.

Best Rookie: Kirill Tulupov (NJD 3rd round, 2006). With 6 points in 7 games, this freshman defenceman has shown that he can lead the charge from the blueline. He is impressive on the power play, but he still needs some work defensively.

Trades: The Sangueneens dumped some veterans at the deadline and picked up several draft picks and 2 young prospects of note, Olivier Painchaud and Luc-Olivier Blaine.

Drummondville Votigeurs -- Although Drummondville has played fewer games than most every team in the Q, it has too far to go to really make up for its poor season thus far to be a contender this year. So the focus has to be on next season, and how tomakee that a good one.

Team Record: 25-24-1-3 (4-4)

Best Player: Tomas Zohorna. Zohorna is having an excellent season, despite a lack of offensive support on the club. With 4 goals ad 5 assists, the young Czech player iscontinuingg to draw scouts' attention. Netminder Pier-Olivier Pelletier (PHO, 2nd round 2005)) has also done a great job over the past 2 weeks. With 4 wins and one regulation and one overtime loss, he showed poise and great presence in net.

Best Rookie: Eric Campeau-Charron. The big defenceman is coming into his own as the season goes along. In the past 2 weeks, he has played well defencively and scored a goal.

Trades:almostt exclusively sellers at the trade deadline, which makes sense, the Voltigeurs did add defenceman Sebastien Bernier in December.

Shawinigan Cataractes--Ranked ninth of 10 teams in the West (Telus) Division, Shawinigan will most likely make the layoffs and beeliminatedd early. But that does not mean that there is no talent on the team.

Team Record:21-29-2-3 (3-6)

Best Player: Kevin Maletto and Danick Bouchard. The diminutive netminder had an excellent 2 week period,particularlyy in January. As for Bouchard, his performance id no surprise. The overage winger is leading the team in total points, had 4 goals and 3 assists during the period. Overlooked during the NHL draft, at least partly because of his size, Bouchard has really stepped up his game this year. He still has serious defensive lapses, but should be ready for professional play next fall, most probably on the AA level.

Best Rookie: Pierre-Alexandre Vandall. Vandall is a star in the making. A late 1989 birthday, who is eligible for the 2008 NHL draft, he looks like a low to mid round selection. During the last 2 weeks, Vandall recorded 1 goal and 5 assists, started really improving on face-offs, and had a zero plus/minus.

Trades: The Cataractes made 5 transactions in the last month of trading. In one the Cataractes sent Ben McFarlane to Rimouski in exchange for overager Kevin Cormier and Gatineau's 6th round pick this spring. Since coming over, Cormier has 8 points in 12 games, with a plus/minus of 0. The trade has been good for Cormier and good for the Cataractes, plus Shawinigan got a draft pick too. Maletto and Boulianne are the netminders of the future for Shawinigan, so this is one of the better trades for a team that is going nowhere this season.

Rimouski OceanicLook out here comes Rimouski. Currently at the bottom of the division, in the last 2 weeks, the team has won 7 of 9 games, including a 6-game win streak. We all know that Rimouski is stocked with young talent, but few predicted that the Oceanic would really be a contender this year. Right now, the team is not in the playoffs, but with 17 games left, if Shawinigan continues to falter, who knows what could happen.

Team Record: 16-30-6-1 (7-2)

Best Player: Maxime Gratchev. With 2 game winning goals in the last week, and 12 points over the 2-week-period, Gratchev is on a tear. And he is the team's leading scorer with 56 points this season. NHL Draft-eligible this year, Gratchev is #27 overall on ISS' January draft list. If he keeps performing the way he has over the last few games, Gratchev is a sure first rounder in June.

Best Rookie: Michal Frolik (FLA, 1st round, 2006). After coming over from the Czech Republic, Frolik has played very well this season. Gonefromm the QMJHL for almost all of December (to participate in the World Juniors), he hasonlyy skated in 34 games in 2006-07. However, he is one of the rookie leading scorers (he ranks 6th overall). Frolik has really put up some great numbers in the last few weeks, 17 points in 9 games (7 G, 10 A). One can only imagine his numbers had he been around for 50 games.

Best Younger Rookie: Jordan Caron. With one game winning goal in the last 2 weeks, Caron is often ahighlightt reel himself. He managed 2 goals and 9 assists during the time period covered here, and just keeps piling on the points. Just as impressive is his ability to take care of his own zone. Caron is a future star, and is not even eligible for the NHL draft until 2009.

Trades: Rimouski was very active at the trade deadline, mostly picking up draft selections over the next 2 years. The team did trade for blueliner Keven Dupont, who has done a good job stabilizing the blueline. Also picked up was goaltender Ben McFarlane, who has been sharing the netminding duties with Tommy Legault since he came over from Shawinigan.