There’s something exciting brewing with Prince Edward Island’s major junior hockey team.
The Charlottetown Islanders landed one of the biggest fish available during last week’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League trade window.
Goalie Colten Ellis is a game-changer who is expected to provide elite level play in the blue ice next season – his final year of junior.
The Cape Bretoner, a St. Louis Blues’ draft pick, inherits the job held high by Matthew Welsh the past few seasons and will help mentor sophomore Jacob Goobie before the youngster takes the mantle as the franchise’s next top goalie.
They are three of the six goalies who have played for the Islanders since 2013-14 and worked with Empire Goaltending’s Brad MacCharles in Halifax. The others are Mason McDonald, Mark Grametbauer and Dakota Lund-Cornish. MacCharles is also the goalie coach/consultant for the Halifax Macs major midget squad, and the Isles drafted one of the team’s goalies Saturday with the selection of Sebastian Lever in Round 12.
You won’t win many playoff rounds without elite play from your goalie, and the Islanders have solidified the position before summer begins.
The price was high – it always is for top-shelf talent.
Charlottetown sent its first- and second-round picks in 2021, plus a third-round pick from 2020, to Rimouski to acquire Ellis. It might be the biggest investment the Islanders have ever made, right up there with the deals for Oscar Plandowski, Guillaume Brisebois, Alex Dostie and Oliver Cooper. Charlottetown does have some safeguards in place in case the season isn’t played due to the coronavirus (COVID-19 strain) pandemic.
The team wouldn’t have made the Ellis deal had it not previously acquired first- and second-round picks in next year’s draft in exchange for Pierre-Olivier (P.O.) Joseph and Xavier Bernard.
Landing Ellis also had another benefit.
They got the top goalie on the market and not the arch-rival Saint John Sea Dogs, who are stacking their lineup for playoff pushes the next couple of years. Saint John is expected to put a bid together to host the 2022 Memorial Cup in the Port City. They are likely the front runners if they bid, based on their history and a current roster bubbling with skill acquired in recent drafts, plus some astute deals.
Saint John and Charlottetown both building strong squads at the same time has some thinking back to the 2016-17 arms race when the teams had some great battles and loaded up around the 1997-born class. The hoped-for final didn’t materialize as the Isles were eliminated in the semifinal and the Sea Dogs won the President Cup.
Val-d’Or also made some moves to show it wants to be a serious contender next season. It has been in the bottom half of the 18-team league the past four seasons since compiling the second-best regular season record in 2015-16 only to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.
The Foreurs left draft weekend with one of the league’s top players in Jakob Pelletier (Moncton), a top European in Maxim Cajkovic (Saint John) and two overagers in Justin Ducharme and Gabriel Villeneuve from Chicoutimi.
Sherbrooke and Chicoutimi are also teams to watch and there are often a surprise team or two along the way, remember 2017-18 when everyone had Charlottetown missing the playoffs only to see them come a game away from getting to the final?
The Islanders could return much of its roster from 2019-20, but there’s still work to do.
They are excited about their top pick in Saturday’s draft, Sam Oliver, a centre from Quispamsis, N.B., and the rest of the draft haul. Those prospects and others will come to camp looking to earn a role. It means returnees better be training hard this offseason in order to retain their spot.
The squad still lacks that bona fide sniper – the guy who will find a home on the top power play unit, help drive play and strike a bit of fear in opponents.
Charlottetown might be able to find the player in the import draft or through an in-season trade. And they have the assets to get a deal done.
The Islanders are trending up. If they get returning players to take a step forward and stay healthy, they should be in a good position.
They also haven’t given up hope in landing defenceman Luke Vardy and centre Ryan Greene.
Greene has a verbal commitment to Boston University while Vardy is also considering his options south of the border. The Isles once got a top talent from Paradise, N.L., to come back to Canada in Brett Budgell. If they get another from his hometown in Greene to follow suit, teams around the league will take notice.
Jason Malloy is The Guardian’s sports editor. He has covered the Charlottetown Islanders since they were the P.E.I. Rocket in 2012-13.