Heading in to the 2017 QMJHL Draft, once again the Charlottetown Islanders found themselves in an unfamiliar situation.
After a strong start to the season with a veteran core, head coach and general manager Jim Hulton made a calculated risk at the Christmas trading period. In an attempt at a deep playoff run, Hulton added a number of key pieces via trade, including Francois Beauchemin, Alex Dostie, Nicolas Meloche, Carl Neill, and Mark Grametbauer. The moves were costly; the Isles were left without their own first round pick in the next three drafts, including 2017.
Despite the cost, the run was considered a success; the Isles made the third round of the QMJHL playoffs for the first time in team history, only to be thwarted by the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada. Unfortunately, many of the team’s top stars would be graduating from junior hockey, leaving the Isles in a search for new building blocks for their franchise.
The 2017 draft class was regarded as a strong one, particularly at the top; Alexis Lafreniere was regarded as a franchise-altering player and already being heralded as the #1 selection of the 2020 NHL Draft. Beyond him, there were a number of high-end forwards including Jakob Pelletier, Samuel Poulin, and Nathan Legare.
In their search for quality building blocks, the Isles took another calculated risk with their first selection, taking Brett Budgell with the 25th pick of the draft. Hulton was elated to get Budgell, saying his staff had the Newfoundlander as the seventh-best player available overall.
“To walk out with him at 25, we’re thrilled,” Hulton said to The Guardian following the draft. “We’re walking away thinking we got a first-round pick in the second round.”
By now the story has been told a number of times; in order to protect his NCAA eligibility, Budgell left his first training camp early and began his 17-18 season with the Chicago Steel of the USHL. At the Christmas break, Budgell made the decision to join the Islanders and has become an integral part of the team’s future, serving as an assistant captain at just 17-years old.
Not scheduled to be on the clock again until the start of the fourth round, the Islanders made their first move to replenish the cupboards. The team traded Grametbauer and a 5th round pick to the Moncton Wildcats in exchange for a package that included defenseman Noah Massie, forward Samuel Meisenheimer, the 53rd and 90th picks of the draft, and a 2018 3rd round pick. Charlottetown would use that 53rd pick to select local product Brad Morrissey.
Like Budgell, The Tignish native, who had just finished a very successful rookie season with the Notre Dame Hounds, would opt to protect his NCAA eligibility and leave Charlottetown’s training camp after 48 hours. Unlike Budgell, however, Morrissey has stayed the course. As of this writing, he’s slated to play this next season with the University of Maine after one season with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL.
The Isles were back on the clock with the 56th pick of the draft. At that pick they’d select defenseman Antoine Leblanc. The Collège Notre-Dame Albatros product impressed the Isles with his steady defensive aptitude and work ethic. By the start of the 2018-2019 season, Leblanc was traded to the Acadie-Bathurst Titan in a sequence of trades that eventually brought Kevin Gursoy to Charlottetown. Leblanc spent the season in Bathurst, recording two assists in 25 games.
With two picks in the fifth round, Hulton made a move to slip in to the fourth round one more time. Flipping those two fifth rounders to Chicoutimi for the 66th pick of the draft, the Isles drafted Drew Johnston out of Saint John. The tenacious forward, who combined offensive skill with aggressive play in the corners, would impress in his first training camp before making the Isles permanently in 2018-2019, recording 8 points in 48 games this past season.
After selecting goaltender Nolan Boyd in the sixth round and defenseman Greg Kehoe in the eighth round, the Isles had two picks in the 10th round. While the late rounds don’t often produce QMJHL talent, Hulton and his scouting staff appear to have found diamonds in the rough with a pair of Zac’s: defenseman Zac Arsenault and forward Zac Beauregard.
Arsenault has been an affiliate player with the Islanders for the past two seasons and was named winner of the NBPEIMMHL’s Luc Bourdon award as the league’s top defenseman. Beauregard, meanwhile, highly impressed with his speed, aggressiveness, and two-way play in his first season with the Isles, recording 21 points this season.
Overall, the Islanders would make twelve picks in the 2017 draft, with three players already playing full seasons with the Islanders, with another (Leblanc) playing a season elsewhere in the league and leading to a full-time player for the Isles (Gursoy). There’s also still time for players like Arsenault to make an impact at the QMJHL level.
The Islanders had minimal picks at the top of the 2017 QMJHL Draft, and while it may still be too early to form an overall opinion on the quality of the draft, early returns show that Jim Hulton and his staff made the most of the cards that they were dealt.
Round 2 – #25 – F Brett Budgell
Round 3 – #53 – F Brad Morrissey
Round 4 – #56 – D Antoine Leblanc
Round 4 – #66 – F Drew Johnston
Round 6 – #108 – G Nolan Boyd
Round 8 – #131 – D Greg Kehoe
Round 10 – #179 – D Zac Arsenault
Round 10 – #180 – F Zac Beauregard
Round 11 – #198 – F Connor Lovett
Round 12 – #216 – F Drew Bennett
Round 13 – #234 – G Thomas Gale
Round 14 – #252 – D Braden Doyle
- American defenseman Braden Doyle, drafted with the Isles’ final pick, is currently ranked #40 among North American skaters in the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft!