Friday, April 2, 2010

QMJHL Second-round Preview

The second round of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs begins tonight. If anyone's counting, I went 8-for-8 in first-round predictions, although a lot of the first-round matchups were mismatches. The second round will be a lot tougher to predict, particularly two of the series. After playing divisional opponents, the teams are now re-seeded 1 through 8, with division winners taking priority. Here’s a quick preview of the four quarter-finals:

Saint John Sea Dogs (1st) v. Gatineau Olympiques (8th) – The top team in the league survived a minor scare in the first round, bouncing back from a Game 2 loss at home for a convincing five-game series win over the Prince Edward Island Rocket. Draft-eligible goalie Maxime Clermont (.918 save percentage in first round) might be able to steal a game or two for Gatineau, but the deep Dogs should march to the league semifinal. Ottawa Senators prospect Mike Hoffman, the league MVP, leads a long list of weapons, and Anaheim Ducks prospect Marco Cousineau (.923 first-round SP) is strong in goal. Gatineau’s power play (11-for-33 in the first round) could be a wild card, as the Saint John penalty kill has struggled at times this season. PREDICTION: Sea Dogs in 5

Drummondville Voltigeurs (2nd) v. Rimouski Oceanic (7th) – Drummondville is set up for another likely sweep. The powerhouse Voltigeurs breezed past the Lewiston Maineiacs and waited for Rimouski to barely knock off the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. Rimouski has some weapons: Czech draft prospect Peter Straka, the league's rookie of the year, is the top rookie scorer in the playoffs (3-8-11). Veteran Felix Lefrancois also has 11 points, and undrafted defenceman Ryan Kavanagh continues his tear, posting six goals and 10 points in seven playoff games after racking up 57 points in 58 regular-season games. Drummondville has no shortage of scoring options, with Maple Leafs prospect Chris DiDomenico getting healthy in time to post 10 points in four playoff games. Regular-season scoring champ Sean Couturier, meanwhile, notched seven points in the first round. The biggest difference could be in goal: St. Louis Blues prospect Jake Allen (.932 SP in first round) is arguably the league’s best, while Rimouski’s Matthew Dopud limped to an .863 save percentage in the first round. PREDICTION: Voltigeurs in 4

Quebec Remparts (3rd) v. Victoriaville Tigres (6th) – I think Victoriaville is actually the favourite here, but as a division winner, Quebec gets to keep the top seed. It could be a long series, but it’s more likely to serve as a round of seasoning for promising Remparts goalie Louis Domingue. If Victoriaville wins, it will mess up a potential third-round Battle of New Brunswick between the Sea Dogs and Wildcats, although those teams could still end up meeting in the final. Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (3-8-11) was Quebec’s top scorer in the first round, while Dimitri Kugryshev (Washington Capitals), Ryan Bourque (New York Rangers) and Mikhail Stefanovich (Toronto Maple Leafs) had nine points each. Philip-Michael Devos had three goals and 10 points for the Tigres, while New York Islanders prospect Kevin Poulin had a sparkling .941 save percentage while facing 35.5 shots a game, tops among teams advancing. These teams have the two best power plays so far in the playoffs. Victoriaville went 10-for-26 while Quebec was 13-for-35 in the first round. The Tigres also have the best penalty kill, allowing just one goal on 31 chances. PREDICTION: Tigres in 6

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (4th) v. Moncton Wildcats (5th) – This is probably the most evenly matched series. I might have called it in Rouyn-Noranda’s favour if the Huskies didn’t drop two first-round games to the lowly Val-d’Or Foreurs and Moncton didn’t polish off contender Cape Breton in five games. The Cats just have too many weapons, from last year’s MVP Nicola Riopel (Philadelphia Flyers) in goal to their deep defence and forward lines. Slovak rookie Marek Hrivik led the Wildcats with 10 first-round points, while Boston Bruins prospect Jordan Caron racked up six goals and 13 points for Rouyn-Noranda. The Huskies will need better goaltending from Nicholas Champion (.838 SP in first round). Rouyn-Noranda went 13-for-39 on the power play in the first round, so Moncton will have to stay out of the box, as they did better than any team in the first round. PREDICTION: Wildcats in 6

NOTES: Defenceman Brandon Gormley of the Wildcats was named the league's top professional prospect. Click here for a full list of award winners. ... The Baie-Comeau Drakkar won the draft lottery over the Halifax Mooseheads and will have first overall pick at the QMJHL Entry Draft June 5 in Drummondville. ... Next year's draft will be held in Victoriaville. ... QMJHL Central Scouting published its official rankings of prospects here

No comments: