The Charlottetown Islanders have enjoyed a few weeks of practicing with a near-full roster following the return of the team’s veterans to Prince Edward Island. Normally, the next few weeks would be filled with more practice, more team bonding, and more chemistry-building in preparation for the pursuit of the President Cup.
This pre-season, however, the next few weeks will look a little different than usual.
Starting Wednesday, nine veterans will depart from Charlottetown to take part in NHL training camps. This number does not include Patrick Guay, who was invited by the Arizona Coyotes to their development camp but won’t go due to injury.
It’s common in major junior hockey for top players to showcase what they have to NHL teams in September; all 32 pro teams hold development camps and rookie camps to have a look at newly drafted prospects, to see how returning prospects have developed, and to hopefully uncover a diamond in the rough via an amateur tryout. Charlottetown, for example, sent two players into NHL camps in 2017 (Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Adam Marsh), two players in 2018 (Joseph, Hunter Drew), and four players in 2019 (Nikita Alexandrov, Thomas Casey, Xavier Bernard, Matthew Welsh).
“It’s really special to get an opportunity like this,” said Islanders captain Brett Budgell, who has joined the Toronto Maple Leafs for their development camp and rookie tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. “Obviously they don’t come very often; I’m very fortunate to have this chance and I’m looking forward to taking full advantage of it.”
As an undrafted 20-year-old, this is the first time that Budgell has taken part in such a camp. He’ll be one of a few players hoping to impress the Maple Leafs brass and earn a pro contract. Besides that, he says he’s also looking forward to learning all that the Toronto development staff has to offer.
“I’m going to go in and showcase my skills to the best of my ability … They’re going to have some great people on the ice, and there will be a lot of very skilled players too. I’m just going to try and soak in as much information that I possibly can.”
One player that Budgell will meet at the Traverse City Rookie Tournament is Oscar Plandowski. The smooth-skating right-handed defenseman was selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the 5th round, 155th overall in the 2021 NHL Draft. Like his captain, it’ll be his first time attending an NHL rookie camp. Despite that, he’s received some wisdom from his father Darryl, Arizona Coyotes Director of Amateur Scouting.
“He’s reminded me to just soak all the information in,” explained Plandowski. “He reminded me that it’s important for me to be my best self and show them what I can do. I’ve put in a lot of work to get here so I just have to stay calm, enjoy the moment, and perform the best that I can.”
It’ll be an Islanders reunion of sorts in Traverse City; joining Budgell and Plandowski at the fabled tournament are former teammates Nikita Alexandrov and Colten Ellis, who will suit up for the St. Louis Blues, and current teammate Ben Boyd, who became a feel-good story when the big forward was selected by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the sixth round of the 2021 NHL Draft.
“I’m a bit nervous heading in but I think that’s a good thing; the nerves keep you on your toes and help you play better,” said Boyd on this new experience. “Obviously I’m really excited but at the same time nervous. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Known more for what he can do with his gloves on the ice than on his hands, Boyd is aware of what he brings to the table and hopes to harness that throwback style of hockey to set himself apart.
“I just want to play my game; I know I play a different game than most so me playing how I play will help me stand out.” He said.
Traveling further south in the states, a pair of Islanders will exchange one Harvest Gold jersey for another. Lukas Cormier will head to Vegas Golden Knights camp on Tuesday, his first opportunity to step on the ice in Sin City due to the restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. His arrival is anticipated by Golden Knights fans who have been following his career since being drafted by Vegas in the 3rd round, 63rd overall, at the 2020 NHL Draft.
“I’m really excited; I’ve been waiting for a while,” said Cormier on the opportunity. “I’m not really sure what to expect at this point, but I’m really looking forward to getting there and meeting new people in the organization.”
He’ll be joined by new teammate Jakub Brabenec at camp. Charlottetown’s first pick in the 2020 CHL Import Draft, Brabenec has yet to suit up with the Islanders thanks to the pandemic. While they’ve yet to meet in person, Cormier says they’ve exchanged a few messages and are looking forward to meeting each other before both returning to Charlottetown.
Brabenec’s fellow countryman and Import player on the Islanders roster, goaltender Oliver Satny, arrives in Charlottetown to depart shortly thereafter. Charlottetown’s first pick in the 2021 CHL Import Draft arrives on PEI Thursday night only to depart for Buffalo Sabres rookie camp on Monday.
Meanwhile, Cormier’s defense partner has already departed for his first development camp. Noah Laaouan has taken off for Arizona to take part in the Coyotes development camp and rookie tournament, which includes a showdown against Cormier, Brabenec, and the Golden Knights on September 17th.
Back north of the border, two Quebec-born Islanders will live out the dream of many Quebecois hockey players. Defenseman William Trudeau and forward Xavier Simoneau will don the red, white, and blue of the Montreal Canadiens after both were selected in the 2021 NHL Draft. They’ll be joined by former teammate and reigning QMJHL Most Valuable Player Cédric Desruisseaux, who signed an AHL contract with Montreal’s farm team, the Laval Rocket, this past offseason.
Full List of Islanders Invited to NHL Camps:
F Brett Budgell (Toronto)
F Ben Boyd (Columbus)
F Xavier Simoneau (Montreal)
D William Trudeau (Montreal)
F Jakub Brabenec (Vegas)
D Lukas Cormier (Vegas)
*F Patrick Guay (Arizona)
D Noah Laaouan (Arizona)
D Oscar Plandowski (Detroit)
G Oliver Satny (Buffalo)
* Invited, but unable to attend due to injury
2020-2021 Islanders Invited to NHL Camps:
F Thomas Casey (Buffalo)
F Cédric Desruisseaux (Montreal)
G Colten Ellis (St. Louis)
The Islanders are back on the ice in pre-season action Friday night against the Acadie-Bathurst Titan at the MacLauchlan Arena. Tickets for that game are sold out, but you’ll be able to tune into the action live on YouTube!