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Oceanic, Remparts should provide drama as QMJHL season set to begin

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Much of the drama in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season may play out between the Rimouski Oceanic and their East Division rivals, the Quebec Remparts.

The Oceanic, whose history includes titles won with superstars Vincent Lecavalier, Sidney Crosby and Brad Richards, are good again, with Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Frederic Gauthier up front, the towering pair of Samuel Morin and Loic Leduc on defence and Philippe Desrosiers in goal.

The Remparts, who will play host to the Memorial Cup tournament in May, beefed up their roster in the off-season and should be a force.

The league's 46th season opens Wednesday with the gutted defending champion Val d'Or Foreurs raising their banner before the visiting Rouyn-Noranda Huskies.

All 18 clubs are in action two nights later.

Val d'Or knocked off the powerhouse Halifax Mooseheads in the semifinals in the spring and then beat the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the final to win a trip to the Memorial Cup in London, Ont., where they lost in the semifinals to the eventual champion Edmonton Oil Kings.

But league scoring leader and most valuable player Anthony Mantha, who turns 20 on Sept. 16, is expected to jump to the Detroit Red Wings organization and top defenceman Gauillaume Gelinas is past junior age, putting the Foreurs in rebuilding mode.

The Mooseheads, who open against the Titan at Acadie-Bathurst on Friday night, expect to see 2013 third-overall draft pick Simon Drouin move up to the Tampa Bay Lightning, although they should still have flashy forward Nikolaj Ehlers, this year's ninth overall pick by the Winnipeg Jets, and 2013-14 goalie of the year Zach Fucale.

The Remparts were among the busiest teams this summer as coach and general manager Philippe Boucher looked to get bigger and better around a team led by scoring stars Anthony Duclair and Adam Erne.

Among his moves, Boucher dealt a prospect and two draft picks for the Foreurs' big and experienced defenceman Ryan Graves and picked up Los Angeles Kings prospect Taylor Burke, a physical centre with a right-hand shot, from the Gatineau Olympiques.

"We think it was the price to pay for a big guy who we feel will be an important piece," Boucher said of Graves on his team's website. "Now we are bigger, more physical and we have more leadership."

He also got defenceman Nikolas Brouillard from the Drummondville Voltigeurs and 20-year-old forward Marc-Olivier Roy from the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.

The Remparts won the Memorial Cup in 2006 with Patrick Roy as coach and general manaager and a team that included Marc-Edouard Vlasic on defence and Alexander Radulov and Angelo Esposito up front.

The Oceanic didn't sit still, adding forwards Vincent Dunn from Gatineau and Christopher Clapperton from the Armada.

The six-foot-five Mantha led the league with 57 goals and 63 assists in 57 games last season. Ehlers was fourth in league scoring with 104 points while Duclair was fifth with 50 goals and 99 points. Both should in the race for the scoring title this season.

Baie-Comeau saw coach of the year Eric Veilleux, who brought them to consecutive finals, take an assistant coaching job with Norfolk of the American Hockey League. The new coach is Marco Pietroniro, formerly an assistant with Val d'Or. Veilleux led the Shawinigan Cataractes to a Memorial Cup on home ice in 2012.

In Gatineau, bench boss Benoit Groulx will be head coach of Canada's team at the world junior championships starting Dec. 26 in Montreal and Toronto.

Other season openers on Saturday have the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles visiting the Moncton Wildcats, the Saint John Sea Dogs at the Charlottetown Islanders, the Remparts visit the Sherbrooke Phoenix, Shawinigan at Chicoutimi Sagueneens, Blainville-Boisbriand at Baie-Comeau, Rouyn-Noranda at Drumondvile, Val d'Or at Gatineau and the Victoriaville Tigres visit Rimouski.

The league will have 160 games televised this season, and cameras were being installed so that all 612 regular-season games will be webcast on the league's site.

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