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Prospect Watch: Huskies win QMJHL title, head to Memorial Cup

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As you might have heard by now, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies won the QMJHL Championship last week thanks in no small part to Avalanche prospects Julien Nantel, Jean-Christophe Beaudin and Anthony-John Greer. It was a dominating performance losing just 4 times, scoring 88 goals while letting in only 31 in 20 games. Besides the glory of hoisting the Presidents Cup Trophy, they also won a trip to Red Deer, Alberta to compete for the Memorial Cup against OHL champ London, WHL champ Brandon and the host team Rebels.

Instead of a dry recap and preview littered with stats you'll never remember, I decided to try something different and do a chat with friend of the show tigervixxxen, who has far more knowledge of the team than I do and writes about Avs prospects for the Burgundy Brigade.

Keep in mind this is an experimental format and I'm definitely no Dick Cavett so bear with me here, there's plenty of good info below. That said, let's get to it.

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earl06: I thought the 1st game of the finals showed how good the Huskies really were and might have been where they won it all. No Meier because of the stupid flying elbow in the final Moncton game and no Beaudin more or less from halfway in the 1st on, they buckled down and used what they had wisely. Chase Marchand was excellent in net and a clutch goal from Brouillard with less than 2 minutes remaining got them a win in a game where they were outshot and horrible in the faceoff circle. Good depth and a great game plan made on the fly got them the first victory and it carried through the whole series.

tigervixxxen: Pushing through adversity was really the story of the Huskies' championship run. They didn't have to come back in games often but when they did in Game 1 and nearly pulled it off in Game 4 the Huskies can just pull goals out of thin air when they needed them. They always bounced back after a loss with a strong effort and a win. For me, it was getting through the bizarre situation of Game 2 when the game was postponed after the first period due to one of the on ice workers puncturing a coolant hose and making the ice unplayable for the night. There was a lot of doubt if the game could resume in Rouyn-Noranda at all or if Game 2 had to be moved to Shawinigan. At one point the league announced even if they could play the following day in Rouyn-Noranda that their 2-1 lead would be wiped out and the game restarted at 0-0. After careful inspection of the rule book and the on ice repairs, the Huskies did resume the following afternoon and turned their 2-1 lead into a 4-1 victory. It must have been very unnerving and stressful through those 24 hours and neither Bouchard nor the team ever complained and they just went back out and finished their business. The Huskies also had to deal with not only their top center Beaudin going down in Game 1 but they were also without the services of their top defenseman Jeremy Lauzon since he suffered a life threatening cut to his neck from a skate blade in the last game of round 2.*** The Huskies incredible depth allowed them to pick up and just keep going even through suspensions to Timo Meier and Francis Perron at various points as well.

e: Yeah, If game 1 set the tone then game 2 was a gut punch for Shawinigan. It also was where AJ Greer really put his mark on the series, scoring what turned out to be the winning goal then backing it up with insurance 20 hours later. He was impressive against Moncton but the way he elevated his game in the finals was just awesome. In today's stat-heavy world, things that can't be measured like heart and attitude and confidence get dismissed too easily. Greer's got plenty of talent and the numbers to back it up now but the way he played in games 2 & 3 was a testament to his mindset and more than justified the Avs picking him at #39, which I can now honestly say worried me at the time. From where I sat he was the best player for Rouyn-Noranda in that series.

Just to add a note about Beaudin, first of all I was really bummed he couldn't play (much) because I think he too could have thrived in the finals plus I really wanted to watch him play. Second of all, his absence highlighted how good he is on faceoffs and how much that meant to the team. He was around 65% in the Moncton series, which is amazing, and I doubt the Huskies were above 50% in the finals with him out.

tv: It was really nice to see Greer get some attention and credit for the season he put together since arriving in Rouyn-Noranda. He had found his scoring touch in February but five goals in five finals games including one in each game they won is pretty incredible. Stephane Leroux from RDS said the media considered Greer for the playoff MVP award. Even though the Huskies added Timo Meier at the trade deadline, some of the media considered Greer the Huskies' best mid season addition. Greer is really the power forward they needed, to give them some size and bite in their lineup who can score goals too. It was incredible to see just how different of a player he was once he got to play his game.

When Beaudin went out I almost knew they'd win the Cup because of course it would be a bit bittersweet. He really should get credit for everything he does for that team and it's a bummer people couldn't see it. I'm glad Greer got his coming out party but Beaudin deserved one too. I'm glad you got to see what he can do vs. Moncton at least. I'm hoping the injury isn't that bad or else why try playing him and risking making it worse? Hopefully the 10 days or so off for him helps. I bet they run him out there in some capacity to give him the Mem cup experience but I hope it's more than that.

e: Moving to some of the earlier rounds, I wanted to get your take on the Moncton series. I thought that was much more even than the Finals and the games that the Wildcats were really physical (albeit generally dirty too) against RN were the ones that were the most troublesome. I thought for sure Shawinigan would try that approach but they either couldn't or just didn't.

Not much to say about Drummondville, the stats paint a picture of the bottom team in the bracket vs the top. I don't know what's more impressive, averaging over 8 goals a game or giving up only 4 total. Either way, that was pretty much a bye and got Sergei Boikov to San Antonio as quickly as possible.

Blainville-Boisbriand was another dominant run. Aside from getting shut out 1-0 in the 1st game they had a pretty easy time of it only allowing 2 goals in 5 games. I guess the impressive thing about the 1st 2 rounds was taking care of business and not playing down to the level of the opponent. Probably the toughest job Coach Gilles Bouchard had was keeping everyone's compete level up and staying ready for the tougher teams beginning in the 3rd round.

tv: It's funny originally I didn't want the Huskies to draw Drummondville in the first round. Not that I was really afraid of a first round upset but of the potential low seed opponents they were not my favorite draw. For whatever reason Drummondville was a thorn in their side as a division opponent and took the Huskies to OT three times over the course of the season and even beat then in a SO in one of their last losses before going on a 14 game win streak into the playoffs. Drummondville wasn't very talented but I figured through gooning it up and cherry picking they might get lucky a few times. So the fact that the Huskies held them to four goals and flat took care of business was most impressive.

The series against the Armada was tougher than on paper because they were another division opponent and had just knocked off the powerful Val-d'Or Foreurs. The Armada goalie Samuel Montembeault stood on his head in front of a team who was more than happy to play an extremely trappy style and the Huskies experienced a scoring drought after the light show that was the Drummondville series. This is where the Huskies defense and goaltending had to match the Armada's and they had to overcome the adversity of Perron's two game suspension.

I agree the Moncton series was the toughest and obviously stretched the longest even with the Huskies most dazzling and heroic series clinching comeback in game 6. It was the team that was able to put the most physical pressure on the Huskies coupled with the ability to convert on their opportunities. They were also the most unfamiliar opponent hailing from the Martimes and had also just knocked off a formidable foe themselves in the Gatineau Olympiques. Shawinigan was a skilled dream team put together at the deadline via something like 12 trades. I believe they fell in love with the hype over their skill and on paper potential. Certainly Shawinigan was tough to shut down entirely as they got their goals in game 4 but the Huskies were a much more complete team and it showed in the end.

e: Other than common fan paranoia, was there ever a time during the playoff run where you thought RN were in trouble as far as winning the President's Cup?

tv: I'm an anxious, prepare for the worst sort of fan to begin with but deep down no, not really. I knew this team was special from the very beginning and they always bounced back, they never even lost two consecutive games in the playoffs. Once Val-d'Or and Gatineau went out in rounds 1 and 2 respectively, those were the two teams with size, physicality and defense that might have created a tough series for the Huskies, their path was pretty clear and the Huskies were on a mission.

e: Yeah, the only time I was a bit concerned was in the 2nd period of game 6 vs Moncton. At that point you're still looking at a team that was 11-3 so... no biggie.

Before we get to some of our own guys I'd like to talk a little about Chase Marchand. Ever since that beautiful 1-0 shutout vs the Wildcats, I've been beating the drum for the Avs to seriously consider signing this kid. His stats in the playoffs were marvelous, 15 wins, 6 of them shutouts, and .946 Sv%. He had a couple shaky performances too but I was actually glad to see that because it showed that he was just playing normal rather than having "hot goalie" syndrome. The Avs have a hole to fill at goalie and he's at prime age to step into the 5th spot on the depth chart. Unlike with skaters I think signing with Colorado is attractive for goalies thanks to Allaire & Filiatrault. The Avs have to be vigorously pursuing Marchand, right?

tv: The Avs definitely have to figure something out for the 5th spot in their goalie depth chart especially with the departure of Roman Will and could certainly do worse than to look in Marchand's direction for help. His stats are of the eye popping variety and set several QMJHL records, which is a big credit to the Huskies' team defense in front of him but six shutouts is six shutouts. Marchand's journey really adds to the storybook quality of the Huskies' run. Twice waived, including one time he even ended up in the OHL to play in Mississauga with Spencer Martin, Marchand was just about out of options and resigned to go back to junior A. As fate would have it, one of the Huskies goalies quit a couple games into the season and they snagged Marchand off of waivers in their own desperation. Marchand was lights out most of the season but a concussion kept him out most of the final month of the regular season. Huskies' goalie of the future Samuel Harvey played very well in his absence to the point I wasn't sure if Marchand would get the net back for the playoffs. Credit to coach Gilles Bouchard for making the tough call there and it paid off with Marchand's dazzling performance start to finish.

e: Marchand just makes so much sense from both sides, I can't think of a good reason why it wouldn't happen other than the rookie year in Ft Wayne deal. Even so, whoever gets that spot will play ~10 games in San Antonio, which is nice.

Speaking of San Antonio, one guy we know will be there is Julien Nantel. He performed pretty admirably filling in for Beaudin but I was really impressed with him on the wing as a shutdown guy. He's very quick in the d-zone covering the points and starting the breakout. I loved the way as soon as he gets the puck away from an opponent he's just gone the other way. Lots of great instinct, skating and puck moving talent, maybe even some leadership and winning attitude that should help the Rampage out a bunch. What did you see over the course of the season as far as development and areas he improved?

tv: Nantel is truly one of those LW/C guys that can and have played both positions quite a bit. I like him on the wing better myself, like you said can really use his speed and creates more from that position. The Huskies might have used Nantel in more of a complimentary role this season but always turned to him when they needed a center or someone to move up in the lineup. I know the Avs asked Nantel to work on being more physical as well as consistency and I think he achieved both this season. He works well along the boards and uses his speed defensively. Another aspect where I saw improvement this year was better control of the puck when he would get a turnover and turn on the jets, in the past he seemed to want to go faster than the play would allow and now he can turn a play into a shot or a good pass more often. I'm very much excited to see what Nantel can do at the pro level with San Antonio next year, he should give them a good dose of speed and skill.

e: I'm really excited for Nantel's pro dev in San Antonio and that's pretty cool since he won't be like Mikko out there smoking the league. Maybe he's more like Reid Petryk, very solid at both ends of the ice and ends up being a player that keeps moving up the depth charts. I like guys like that in the AHL, it seems like what they bring at that level will translate better once they get a shot at NHL time.

One guy a lot of us like is Jean-Christophe Beaudin. I was so bummed that he was injured in game 1 of the Finals, really wanted to get more of a look at his progress since training camp plus he was fantastic in the Semis. This guy had a surprising year obviously (to me at least), but from what I saw he came a long way in developing his game. He's got amazing vision and passing ability, really makes his linemates better. I guess the gold standard for Avs 3rd rounders is Tyson Barrie, could Beaudin challenge that? There's still another year in the QMJHL before we get a look at his talent vs pros, thinking about he and Greer tearing up juniors together then moving up to pros just makes you want to laugh.

tv: The Memorial Cup is definitely bittersweet in regards to Beaudin. He could still play but even if he does it's probably in limited fashion and it's a shame he'll just be seen as a third line type when his game has grown so much more than that. It's not only the scoring but 82 points in 58 games should get him some more notice, add in the playoffs and Beaudin had over a 100 point season. I'm really glad you got to see Beaudin do his thing in the Moncton series at least. Like you said, he really makes the guys around him better and does the heavy lifting as he tied the line with Timo Meier and Francis Perron together beautifully. It's kind of crazy to think Beaudin has another year of junior left ahead of him because he already has such a large role on the team as the top center that does everything from key face offs to first unit PP, first penalty killer and also managed to score some unbelievably clutch goals. He's very much a lead by example type and I hope he has the opportunity to wear a letter next season and continue his progression as a well-rounded two-way center.

e: If Beaudin is going to get the minutes and role he had in his brief finals comeback I'd almost rather not see him out there, but I can't deny he deserves to have the experience. I'm really looking forward to seeing what he looks like alongside the Avs in camp this year. Hopefully the shoulder is all healed up and ready to go in September.

We've mentioned him a few times already but it's time to talk about AJ Greer just like everyone else is. Rewind to mid-December, we have a young prospect in a decent NCAA program plodding around in a 3rd line grinder role with one goal and a few assists. Didn't look good at all. He jumped ship to RN who embraced him with open arms, let him get up to speed with the system and conditioning and ended up with a guy that was a huge part of the team's success. The scoring speaks for itself - 16G/11A/33 games regular season, 12G/10A/20 games playoffs - but the improvement in his confidence and overall game was fantastic. I only got to see his first game with the Huskies and the last 2 series. What did you see as far as how he pulled his game together in between? Both the good and bad.

tv: It has been a treat to see Greer start to get attention for what he's done since arriving in Rouyn-Noranda and producing when the stakes were the highest in the finals. I knew he was going to find some offensive success with the Huskies but I thought he was still going to be on a bit of a longer development path and really find his game sometime in his second season in the Q, plus I didn't quite expect him to be the goal scorer that he is. It took Greer a couple weeks to get acclimated to the new league and the Huskies style and structure but I could tell he was really starting to come around when he first started producing assists and even if the puck wasn't finding the back of the net he was generating a lot of shots. Then all of a sudden the puck started going in and Greer just fed off of that confidence. He still gets a lot of goals by standing right in the goalie's kitchen, which is great for translating it to the pro level but I'd still like him to trust his shot more because he has a really good one. Greer embraces and embodies the true power forward role but I'd like him to keep working at being that physical force, an agitator and someone who is a bear to play against at both ends of the rink. Next season I hope to see him grow his defensive game and to use his size in that manner as well. For now it is Greer's coming out party on the big stage at the Memorial Cup and he's certainly earned the right to show people were wrong for writing him off and what his game is truly about.

e: Greer's going to have an interesting next year for sure. At his age starting and ending the year with the same team and in a role that fits will do wonders for him developmentally. I've become too much of a fan of his to be truly objective at this point but he's going to keep surprising people for sure.

Finally we get to the reward for being a league champion in the CHL, the Memorial Cup. I really enjoy this. A few years ago with Duncan and Mack/Jones, before we knew who was going to be wearing burgundy & blue, was awesome. Then we had Big Sam vs Corbs and Petryk. This year we are all in on Rouyn-Noranda, who the media seem to feel are really good but an unknown since they come from the baffling QMJHL. Other than a couple of the big names I know zilch about the other teams, besides the fact they're all pretty damn good too. What's your take on the competition and how things might play out?

tv: All the teams coming into the Memorial Cup are pretty much cut from the same cloth. Each were top teams in their league all season, dominated the playoffs and won their championship in 21 games or less, boast deep offsenses, strong defenses and solid goaltending. Even the host Red Deer Rebels truly believe they can win this tournament because even if they aren't quite up to the talent level of the league champions, they've been building their team for two years and can steal games in the one game winner takes all format. So all the teams are more or less on equal footing headed into the tournament.

The London Knights are the favorites in the tournament, most people will be familiar with their headline names and their top line of Christian Dvorak, Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk. The Knights are going to try to win with skill and firepower, no other line in the tournament is going to match what they can do. However they are a bit top heavy as there is a noticeable drop in production after the top line and they are going to have to prove their depth and defense come as advertised. The Knights also have a bit of a monkey on their back as this is the fourth time in five years they have appeared in the Memorial Cup and have not been successful in any of the previous trips, including a 0-3 drubbing in the round robin as hosts a couple years ago.

The Brandon Wheat Kings are the trendy not-so-much-an-upset pick as they are seen as the true complete team. Probable number one overall pick in the 2017 draft Nolan Patrick is expected to use the stage as his coming out party and everyone is excited to see the best defenseman in the tournament Ivan Provorov work his magic. While they do bring physicality, defense and skill to the table they are a bit inconsistent at times and are the team who might be hurt the most by the short format.

The Red Deer Rebels as I mentioned have been building the team for a couple of years, might not have the firepower but have brought in some big pieces such as Jake DeBrusk and a array of complimentary players and will do everything they can to sneak away with the trophy. They will no doubt be the team that tries to intimidate, hit and cycle the other teams to death. Ultimately it won't be offense that will let the Rebels down but their defense and goaltending will probably get exposed. The Rebels won't be favored in any game but they can certainly win any of them.

And of course the beloved Rouyn-Noranda Huskies are the team that are the least known by everyone, except us of course. Their lightning fast speed puck possession game will become apparent quickly. Surely teams have seen it on tape but to play against it will be something else. The Huskies' defense overall might be the best in the tournament (I know people will argue and say Brandon's is) and that element will definitely take people by surprise because the QMJHL is seen as the weakest of the league and certainly not known for defense. The Huskies will have to contend with the rough physical nature of the tournament and adjust quickly without sacrificing their style, I'm not as concerned that they won't be able to handle the skill level of the other teams. Even though it takes an incredible team to win any championship, I might be biased but this Huskies team is truly one of the most special group of players I've seen come together in a long time. They really have this transcendent quality where the sum is greater than the parts and its their storybook season. I think they've got just as good of a shot to do well in the tournament as the others and if they can grab the momentum after perhaps a little adversity they absolutely can win the whole thing. 

I'll guess Huskies vs. Brandon in the finale in a very evenly matched game and the Rebels will go further than people expect. So I guess that also means that I'm not buying into the London hype as their team just isn't built for this type of tournament. Huskies ride off back east into the sunset with the Memorial Cup trophy to cap off their 20th anniversary season.

e: That's what I'm hoping for. I'm sure the other coaches have some plans like being physical/grindy and getting their agitators to make Timo Meier go bananas again but the Huskies have a pretty even temperament and handle adversity well. Just to be a total idiot homer I'll say Greer, Nantel and Beaudin score a combined 10 goals and RN wins it all.

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Thanks to tigervixxxen for joining me here, filling in my very superficial knowledge of the QMJHL/CHL and being patient with this wacky format. Much as I don't mind generating my own balloon juice, it's interesting to bring others in for articles like this whether it's about amateur prospects, the Rampage, the Avs or whatever. Pending topics and guests availablilities, I'd like to make this a semi-regular thing going forward and suggestions from you, dear reader, are most welcome of course.

The Memorial Cup starts tonight with London vs Red Deer. The Huskies play Saturday, Sunday & Tuesday in the round robin portion. The eliminations are next weekend with the championship to be decided a week from Sunday. Full schedule can be found here. No TV in the USA I'm afraid but those with motivation and savvy should be able to find a way to watch. In Canada the games will be on SportsNet and TVA.