Carl Neill in uncharted waters

Veteran excited, but not satisfied, to make it to second round for first time in QMJHL career


Published on April 5, 2017

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – Carl Neill has played 339 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, but not one of them has come in the second round of the playoffs.

That will change on Thursday.

“It’s cool to be on a contending team like this,” the Charlottetown Islanders defenceman said after Tuesday’s practice. “The second round is fun to get to, but there’s still a lot more hockey to be played after and the ultimate goal is, obviously, to be playing late into May.”

Islanders head coach and general manager Jim Hulton said it is always neat to see players like Neill get past the first round.

“It’s like they're a rookie all over again,” he said. “Uncharted waters for him, and we’re hoping together we can push to a third and fourth round.”

Neill hasn’t been to the second round since he played midget hockey. He was drafted ninth overall by the Val-d’Or Foreurs in the 2012 draft and traded to the expansion Sherbrooke Phoenix before the season started.

He spent the next four and a half seasons with the Phoenix, but his longest playoff run lasted all of six games. It came to a sudden end when Charlottetown Islanders winger Spenser Cobbold scored in double overtime in Sherbrooke, Que., in 2015.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Neill said. “That was a heartbreaker for us.”

He enjoys being a member of the home side at the Eastlink Centre compared to a visitor.

“When we came here, it was never easy playing in this building,” he said. “Guys are working their butts off (this year), and we’re hoping to make it hard on the visiting teams coming in here, too.”

With Sherbrooke struggling this season, the Phoenix listened to offers for Neill, who was leading the league in points among defencemen at Christmas time. Neill said Phoenix general manager Jocelyn Thibault kept him in the loop about a possible swap.

“When he told me Charlottetown was interested I was very excited because, obviously, they were making some moves,” he said.

Hulton said Neill has been a mature leader on and off the ice while providing a steady, calming influence.

“Steady, reliable, great teammate, good in the community, good in the dressing room, so pretty much everything you’re looking for in an overage (player),” Hulton said.

The Islanders had swapped Will Thompson for Nicolas Meloche in a December deal and moved overage blue-liner Cody Donaghey as part of a package for overage forward Francois Beauchemin.

In acquiring Neill, Hulton said he was looking to improve its defensive dependability.

“We wanted to make sure our projected top-four was rock solid as possible,” Hulton said. “We knew giving up Thompson to acquire Meloche filled a big hole but left a little bit of a void.”

Neill has been paired with Pierre-Olivier Joseph behind the shutdown duo of Meloche and captain Guillaume Brisebois.

“This guy is a hell of a person, but a hell of player, too,” Joseph said of Neill. “I’m really grateful to have him by my side.”

Neill is bilingual and has been able to communicate well with both the French and English players inside the Islanders room. The dynamic can sometimes be challenging for junior teams throughout the league.

“French guys, English guys, everyone is one family,” Neill said of the Islanders room.

Neill’s offensive numbers haven’t been what they were in Sherbrooke, but the two-way defender doesn’t bat an eye when it’s pointed out to him.

“Team success has been off the charts, so I can’t be any happier,” he said. “I want to go as far as I can in the playoffs.”

For that to happen, Neill said the Islanders have to play with more consistency in the second round than it did in Round 1 against Baie-Comeau.

 

Need to know

Carl Neill

Who – A defenceman with the Charlottetown Islanders.

Size – Six-foot-one, 200 pounds.

Birthplace – Lachute, Que.

Experience – Has played five seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Was drafted by the Vancouver Canucks in 2015, but hasn’t signed.

Acquired – Neill came to Charlottetown in exchange for an eighth-round pick in 2018, second- and third-round picks in 2019 and a second in 2020.

Did you know? Neill hasn’t played in the second round of the playoffs since midget.

Neill said: “I’m lucky to get a second chance, another kick at the can here, and im more than grateful.”

Coach Jim Hulton said: “When things were getting out of control in the Baie-Comeau series at different times, you could have Carl on the ice . . . (and) you knew he was going to be that cool head. He was going to probably calm the situation down.”

Statistics

Season        GP      G         A         Pts.

2016-17         67       13       56       69

2015-16         64       8        42       50

2014-15         63       14       26       40

2013-14         65       4         18       22

2012-13         61       3          17       20

Big night – Murray Harbour’s Brad Richards will be inducted into the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Hall of Fame tonight in Quebec. Also being inducted are Luc Lachapelle (posthumously), Jean-Sébastien Giguère, Francis Bouillon and Gaston Therrien. As part of the celebration, the league will also present its golden puck awards. Here’s a look at Islanders up for awards:

Michael-Bossy Trophy (top professional prospect)

Maxime Comtois, Victoriaville Tigres.

Nico Hischier, Halifax Mooseheads.

Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Charlottetown Islanders.

Émile (Butch) Bouchard Trophy (best defenceman)

Guillaume Brisebois, Charlottetown Islanders.

Thomas Chabot, Saint John Sea Dogs.

Samuel Girard, Shawinigan Cataractes.

* Note the Charlottetown Islanders already received the Luc Robitaille award as the top offensive team.