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AROUND THE Q: Fresh faces in new places

There are three new head coaches in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2019-20, including Cape Breton Eagles bench boss Jake Grimes.
There are three new head coaches in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2019-20, including Cape Breton Eagles bench boss Jake Grimes. - David Jala

New QMJHL season always brings change to junior circuit

Every new hockey season brings change, and the turnover may be even greater in junior hockey with age restrictions that push players out of the league. In addition to high-profile new skaters, each new year brings new faces behind the bench as well.

There are three new head coaches in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in 2019-20, including with both Nova Scotian clubs. In Cape Breton, Jake Grimes is replacing Marc-André Dumont, who before being fired by the Eagles had been in the same place longer than every QMJHL bench boss except for Rimouski's Serge Beausoleil, who is back with the Océanic this fall. Grimes has never been a head coach in major junior but did spend 15 years in the OHL as an assistant coach, split between Belleville and Guelph, winning the OHL championship with Guelph last May.

Grimes's new rival across the causeway is Mooseheads coach Jean-Jacques Daigneault, who fans remember from his 998 games in the NHL including a Stanley Cup championship with Montreal in 1993. Just like Grimes, he hasn't been a head coach in the QMJHL — or a coach at the junior ranks at all. Daigneault spent seven years as an assistant coach in the AHL, and six as an assistant with the Canadiens in the NHL.

Jon Goyens is the third rookie head coach in the 'Q,' taking over the position with Baie-Comeau. He had spent the last 10 campaigns leading the Lac St-Louis Lions in the Quebec midget 'AAA' league, winning the league title twice and each time winning a bronze medal at the national stage.

Sometimes when teams make coaching changes, there is a realistic hope it could lead to immediate major success. Rookie players to the leagues rarely offer that impact but a first-round pick is usually the cornerstone of a team's future and can occasionally feature in important secondary roles right away.

Fifteen of 18 first round picks from the 2019 QMJHL draft were on opening night rosters. Saint John's Joshua Roy was chosen first overall, but the fastest starter has been Moncton's Zachary L'Heureux. The third overall pick in the draft recorded nine points in his initial five games. Fans in Gatineau on Friday night were treated to a show from the league's premier 16-year-olds as L'Heureux and the player drafted behind him, Zachary Dean of the Olympiques, both scored twice.

Players dabbling with playing NCAA played a major role in the QMJHL's opening round. A player's NCAA eligibility is void if he chooses to play in the QMJHL, so some 16-year-olds choose to play elsewhere. Evan Nause, drafted sixth overall by Val-d'Or, and Guillaume Richard, tabbed seventh by Victoriaville, have both elected to play in the United States to begin 2019-20.

A pair of Nova Scotians, Cameron Whynot and Oscar Plandowski, looked to be headed down the same path after they were chosen eighth overall (by Sherbrooke) and 18th overall (by Chicoutimi), respectively. In both cases a deal was reached to send the future stars to a team in the Maritimes, with Whynot heading to Halifax and Plandowski to Charlottetown.

The absences may not hurt the two Quebec based clubs. Sherbrooke acquired Xavier Parent, himself a former first-round pick and potential breakout player, and Chicoutimi picked up a first- and a second-round choice. Both the Phoenix and the Saguenéens are in the title conversation and having a would-be scorer like Parent, or extra draft picks to use as bargaining power come trade deadline time, could prove valuable.

Another initial no-show from the first round was Zachary Bolduc (14th overall to Rimouski) who initially started September in the United States Hockey League, like Nause. But earlier this week news broke that Bolduc has changed his mind and will report to the Océanic after all.

One way teams can get a bigger impact from a fresh face is to draft an older import player. (And unlike the entry draft, players entering their 16-year-old season cannot be chosen in the import draft.) In total, eight 18-year-import rookies are in the QMJHL this fall. However, six of those are players who were passed over in June's NHL draft. Rimouski forward Adam Raska (from Czech Republic) and Drummondville defencemen Thimo Nickl (from Austria), due to have birthdays later on the calendar, are not eligible for NHL selection until 2020.

Some of those imports could surprise and become immediate game-breakers. Even for those that don't, tracking the development of new faces around the league is a highlight of any season.

Patrick McNeil is the play-by-play announcer with the Cape Breton Eagles. He's congratulating AEW for winning the week one ratings battle. Email him at cbsepbp@gmail.com, or Twitter: @cbse_pbp.

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