Samuel Blais is looking to help boost the Charlottetown Islanders offence and spark a second-half run.
The 19-year-old left-winger had his first practice Sunday with his new club since being acquired Dec. 20 from the Victoriaville Tigres in exchange for Alexandre Goulet.
“I’m excited to be an Islander and I’m going to be ready for tomorrow’s game,” Blais said. “I can’t wait to win hockey games with Charlottetown.”
The Islanders left Sunday for Sydney, N.S., where they will play the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles Monday at 7 p.m.
Blais has 17 goals and 23 assists for 40 points in 30 games this season. He was skating Sunday with centre Filip Rydstrom and right-winger Daniel Sprong, who was making his return to the club after spending the first half of the season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Sprong’s a good player,” Blais said. “It’s going to be good to play with him and Rydstrom.”
Head coach Jim Hulton said the line would likely start together for Monday’s game.
He liked having Rydstrom, a north-south player who gets to the dirty areas on the ice and is defensively responsible, play with the two highly skilled offensive wingers.
“I think you’re going to have to let Blais and Sprong have some educated gambles away from the puck, that’s what makes them effective and backs people off,” he said.
Line combinations were a little scattered on Sunday with forwards Mitchell Balmas and Bradley Kennedy remaining in Nova Scotia. Matthew Welsh was also in Halifax. The three rejoin the team today and Welsh will start Monday’s game.
Guillaume Briand-Briere, the lone goalie at Sunday’s practice, will be Welsh’s backup. He is looking forward to an opportunity to help the team win.
“I’m a pretty competitive goalie,” he said. “I’m big and I want to win.”
Mason McDonald and Filip Chlapik are at the world junior tournament playing for Canada and the Czech Republic, respectively. Kameron Kielly remains out of the lineup after having surgery in November.
Hulton said he saw enthusiasm return to the team’s practice on Sunday.
“I think the break was good from a mental perspective. Everybody seemed fresh and in good spirits,” he said. “Just getting Daniel back out there increased the speed and the skill immensely.”
Hulton said Guillaume Beaudry would provide a steady, calming influence on the back end. Beaudry, 19, was acquired on Christmas Eve from Baie-Comeau for a third-round pick in 2017.
“You could see his experience and his patience and his poise,” Hulton said. “He held his position, he didn't run around.”
The left-handed shot defenceman is expected to start with Dexter Weber.
The Islanders (13-19-2-1) are in 17th place in the 18-team league and are fighting for a playoff spot.
“Every game is huge from this point on,” Hulton said. “We have a lot of ground to make up and no better time to start than a four-pointer in Cape Breton.”
Monday’s game is only worth two points, but an Islanders win would mean two points the Screaming Eagles (19-15-3-0) don’t get.
Blais said things can be turned around in Charlottetown.
“They have a good team here,” he said. “They’ve made some trades and with Sprong back I think we can be a dangerous team.”