Hockey fix: Canadian juniors (cont.)
Founded in 1969, the 18-team, three-division Q is generally regarded as the third best junior circuit in the world. Teams are stocked with players ages 16-20 (the vast majority are 17-19) from Quebec, the Maritimes and the American East Coast. Each team is allowed to dress up to three 20-year-olds. Once a goalie factory, the league now primarily produces offensive-minded skaters. One first-round selection (forward Mikhail Grigorenko, Buffalo Sabres) was among the 19 players taken in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft who were trained there.
The 12 clubs in the Telus East and West divisions are based on Quebec. The Maritimes division features three from New Brunswick, two from Nova Scotia and one from Prince Edward Island. Each team plays a 68-game schedule, with the playoff champion taking home the President's Cup. Notable league alumni include Patrick Roy (Granby), Mario Lemieux (Laval), Luc Robitaille (Hull), Martin Brodeur (Saint-Hyacinthe), Sidney Crosby (Rimouski), Marc-Andre Fleury (Cape Breton) and Claude Giroux (Gatineau).
Quebec Remparts: Coach and GM Patrick Roy has assembled a deep and talented squad that starts the season at the top of the CHL rankings. Mikhail Grigorenko is the straw that stirs the drink, but the Remparts will rely heavily on a trio of watch-worthy 2013 draft prospects: Anthony Duclair (see below), American power forward Adam Erne, and skilled Danish winger Nick Sorensen. Tampa prospect Nikita Kucherov will be an interesting chip once he recovers from shoulder surgery.
Halifax Mooseheads: As a nickname it lacks the je ne sais quoi of Trio Grande, but The Big Three sounds just fine to fans of the Herd. With two likely top-five picks in high-scoring forwards Nathan McKinnon and Jonathan Drouin (and another first rounder in goaltender Zachary Fucale), Halifax will be the home-away-from-home for NHL scouts this season and a challenger for the league title.
Blainville-Boisbriand Armada: Coming off a surprise division title in 2011-12, the Armada should compete for the championship with a defense led by Xavier Ouellet (Detroit) and Samuel Carriere (Washington). Veteran Etienne Marcoux gives them a high-end solution in net when healthy. When Marcoux is out, keep any eye on 2014 draft-eligible Storm Phaneuf.
Val D'or Foreurs: The Drillers are a darkhorse title contender at best, but with two top-10 picks in last summer's QMJHL draft -- forward Nicolas Aube-Kubel and defender Carl Neill -- this is a side with a very bright future. Pittsburgh Penguins pick Anton Zlobin and power forward Anthony Mantha will provide the fireworks this season.
C Daniel Audette, Sherbrooke Phoenix: Expectations are high for the son of former Sabres star Donald Audette after he was taken first overall by the expansion Phoenix in the Q's 2012 midget draft. Small (5-8, 165) but speedy, he'll be the offensive focus for a team that could dress as many as 12 rookies some nights.
C Philip Danault, Victoriaville Tigres: The Chicago Blackhawks' 2011 first rounder (26th overall) got off to a hot start with nine goals in his first seven games and is a favorite to win the scoring title. His defensive play, especially on the PK, should earn him a role on Team Canada after being among the final cuts last year.
LW Jonathan Drouin, Halifax Mooseheads: He was brilliant in the playoffs last spring, scoring 26 points in 17 games, including the Game 7 OT clincher against Quebec, and he's kept up the pace this season. An explosive finisher who always seems to be in the mix, he'll be a top pick next summer.
LW Anthony Duclair, Quebec Remparts: Dynamic winger catches your attention every time he hits the ice. Coming off a point-per-game rookie season, he could double that total with first line and power play duties for the powerhouse Remparts.
G Zachary Fucale, Halifax Mooseheads: Fucale was Central Scouting's only A-rated goalie after setting a Q record of 32 wins as a rookie in 2011-12 and leading Canada to gold at the Ivan Hlinka tournament. With Team Canada's goaltending situation up in the air for the WJC, there's a chance he'll beat out some more experienced stoppers to snag the backup role.
C Mikhail Grigorenko, Quebec Remparts: The only Q prospect selected in the first round last summer (Buffalo, 12th), Grigorenko teased more often than he delivered. An immense talent, he has the potential to lead the Remparts to the Memorial Cup...if he stays focused.
C Jonathan Huberdeau, Saint John Sea Dogs: Florida's 2011 first rounder (third overall) would be breaking into the NHL now if not for the lockout. The 2011 Memorial Cup MVP has nothing left to prove in junior, so it'll be interesting to see how this plays out. Does he coast while skating with a diminished lineup or does he light up lesser competition?
C Nathan MacKinnon, Halifax Mooseheads: The latest sensation from Cole Harbour is ready to follow in Sidney Crosby's footsteps and go first overall in the next draft. A tremendous skater with an explosive first step and world-class vision, he's expected to guide the Herd deep into the playoffs.
RW Anthony Mantha, Val D'Or Foreur: He's not on everyone's draft radar just yet, but the 6-3 200-pound power forward could emerge as one of the season's big movers. His 21-goal rookie season, along with a strong performance at the Hlinka tournament, hint at a breakthrough campaign.
LW Stefan Matteau, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada: A surprise first round selection by the New Jersey Devils last summer, Matteau is a power forward with a mean streak. He'll have to make an adjustment coming from the USHL, where he finished second on the US U-18 team with 93 penalty minutes.
D Xavier Ouellet, Blainville-Boisbriand Armada: A second-round pick of the Red Wings in 2011, Ouellet will captain a team from which a lengthy playoff run is expected. He's the best puck-moving defenseman in the circuit.
Online webcasts: A complete season pass for online viewing is $199.95. Other plans allow you to follow a single team ($149.95) or buy single games live or through the archive.
Oct. 17, Saint John at Quebec: The league's top-two drafted stars, Huberdeau and Grigorenko, face off.
Oct. 17, Blainville-Boisbriand at Rimouski: No love lost between these two sides after a tense, seven-game series in 2012.
Nov. 5-7, Subway Super Series: The league's top players take on the touring Russian junior team at Blainville-Broisbriand and Val D'or.
Dec. 2, Rimouski at Saint John: Rematch of last spring's title series that saw the Sea Dogs romp.
Dec. 7, Baie-Comeau at Chicoutimi: Two teams that don't much like each other.
Dec. 31, Moncton at Saint John: The Rivalry Cup contested between the Q's two New Brunswick-based teams heats up with the second-half of a home-and-home series.
Jan. 26, Quebec at Halifax: Final meeting of the season between the top two contenders for the Q crown.
Mar. 13, Victoriaville at Drummondville: Might not mean much in the standings, but these matchups are always entertaining.