Forward is captain of a Charlottetown team that is expected to contend for a title
The Charlottetown Islanders kicked off a new hockey season Friday night in Moncton, N.B., and it couldn’t have come quick enough for the Isles’ new captain, Brett Budgell, who is from St. John’s by way of Paradise.
Even if the matchup against the Wildcats was the first of what figures to be an arduous six-game road trip to open the new Quebec Major Junior Hockey League season for Charlottetown.
This year is setting up to be a special one for Budgell. Pundits have the Islanders as one of the favourites in the QMJHL’s Maritimes Division. An undrafted free agent, a big year could go a long way for Budgell, a 19-year-old centre entering his fourth season in Charlottetown.
Budgell was overlooked in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft after entering the selection process ranked 156th amongst North American skaters by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau.
While failing to get drafted may seem like the end of the world to some young hockey players, it actually sets up Budgell pretty good as an undrafted free agent.
It’s not unreasonable to assume a big year with the Islanders could lead to some contract offers next summer. Or maybe he could go in this year’s draft next Tuesday and Wednesday, or even in the 2021 draft, for which he would eligible.
NHL Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano, for example, was an undrafted free agent.
“I’m in a pretty good situation,” said Budgell, coming off a 24-goal, 49-point 2019-20 campaign with the Islanders.
“With our team expected to be very competitive this year, and hopefully making a run (for a President’s Cup QMJHL championship), I think it’s setting up nicely for me to have a great season, and either get a contract or get drafted.”
The Islanders are on the road for a while because their home rink, the Eastlink Centre, was used throughout the summer as a COVID-19 clinic, and it will take a few weeks before it is ready for hockey.
The Islanders’ first home game is Oct. 23 against the Saint John Sea Dogs.
The league has changed this season, realigned into three six-team divisions, with a reduced 60-game schedule played only within each team’s division.
Charlottetown is in the Maritimes Division with Moncton, the Saint John Sea Dogs, Halifax Mooseheads, Acadie-Bathurst Titan and Cape Breton Eagles.
“We’ll be an exciting team to watch,” promises Budgell, born and raised in St. John’s before moving to Paradise for a couple of years. “We’re strong from back end out.”
Goaltender Colten Ellis is entering his fifth season in the QMJHL. Defenceman Lukas Cormier is a potential first-round NHL draft pick next week, fellow rearguard Noah Laaouan has 67 points in 177 career QMJHL games and William Trudeau is considered one of the league’s top shut-down defencemen.
“We’re definitely going to be a contender this year,” Budgell said.
Earlier this week, the Islanders announced Budgell as the team’s new captain. He’s the ninth player to wear the ‘C’ in the team’s history.
He served as an assistant captain since the 2018-19 season.
“It’s something special when your peers vote for you to be captain,” Budgell said.
In 163 career QMJHL games, Budgell has 52 goals and 52 assists for 104 points. He has spent his entire junior career with the Islanders after being selected 25th overall in the 2017 QMJHL Draft.
Budgell isn’t the only Newfoundlander on the Islanders. He’s joined by Brendan McCarthy of the Goulds, who was invited to camp on a tryout.
“We thought rather than make our team younger, we’d take a look at an older guy,” head coach and general manager Jim Hulton told the Charlottetown Guardian. “We’ve had some success in the past with bringing in some veteran guys.”
McCarthy, a seventh-round pick of Shawinigan in 2017, played two seasons with Stanstead College in Quebec and last year with the Hawkesbury Hawks junior A squad in Ontario, where he had 22 points in 60 games.
The Sea Dogs are also expected to make a run for the President’s Cup this season. Saint John also features a Newfoundlander in the lineup, Liam Leonard of Clarenville.
Leonard split the 2019-20 season, his second full year in the QMJHL, between Moncton and Bathurst.
The rest from this province in the QMJHL
In addition to Budgell, McCarthy and Leonard, there are 10 other Newfoundlanders on QMJHL teams this season:
• Mark Rumsey of St. John’s (Acadie-Bathurst)
• Lucas Fitzpatrick of St. John’s (Baie-Comeau Drakkar)
• Dawson Mercer of Bay Roberts (Chicoutimi Sagueneens)
• Connor Shortall of St. John’s and Riley Mercer of Bay Roberts (Drummondville Voltigeurs)
• Zack Dean of Mount Pearl (Gatineau Olympiques)
• Kyle Petten of Bay Roberts and Lucas Robinson of Rocky Harbour (Halifax Mooseheads)
• Brandon Casey of Grand Falls-Windsor (Rimouski Oceanic)
• Alex Drover, who was born in Port aux Basques and raised in Hammonds Plains, N.S. (Saint John)