The proverbial poker game played by QMJHL teams in pursuit of the President and Memorial Cups revealed the contenders and pretenders this holiday season. Some teams folded their hands and turned their eyes toward the future. Others pushed their chips further into the middle and went all-in on their quest for championship gold.
As 1:00 pm Atlantic struck and the trading period window closed, the Charlottetown Islanders found themselves in the latter category, firmly cementing themselves as one of the teams to beat in 2022.
Jim Hulton wore his general manager’s hat over the past three weeks, wheeling and dealing to bolster his lineup from top to bottom. When all was said and done, five new faces found themselves wearing Black and Harvest Gold, including three forwards added within the final few hours leading up to the deadline.
The movement started immediately on December 19th, when Hulton made a shrewd move to acquire Drummondville Voltigeurs starting netminder Francesco Lapenna. In return, the Isles dealt Drummondville a package of players and picks that included Jacob Goobie and Sam Oliver. The trade brings yet another highly-regarded goaltender to the island; Lapenna has a career .906 save percentage and 37 victories in 77 games since his debut with the Val d’Or Foreurs in 2019. He attended Toronto Maple Leafs development camp alongside Brett Budgell this past pre-season.
“I am a very competitive goalie who hates to lose, never gives up on a puck, and plays with a smile.” Said Lapenna on his style of play.
“We are very excited to add Francesco to our team. He is an elite veteran goalie with a proven track record.” Hulton stated following the acquisition.
“I’m extremely proud and happy to be an Islander. The players and staff have been exceptional and have made me feel at home since I’ve arrived. The city and its people are really nice” added Lapenna.
Next, Hulton bolstered a defense corps already regarded as one of the best across the league. The Isles GM struck a deal with the Rimouski Oceanic to acquire defensive stalwart Jérémie Biakabutuka in exchange for two second-round draft picks, a fifth-round draft pick, and young defender Mathis Aguilar. The 6’4 right-handed defender brings the size intangible that teams often seek; he projects to slide alongside Ryan Maynard to bring an incredible balance to the Charlottetown back-end.
“I am happy and excited to be joining the Islanders. It’s a great organization with a good group of players,” said Biakabutuka. “I am a two-way defenseman who can do everything. I skate well and have a big shot.”
“Jérémie is a big right-shot defenseman who can skate. He fits our team’s style and brings in playoff experience,” commented Assistant General Manager Guy Girouard at the time of the selection.
A lull in the action soon followed thanks to a combination of the Christmas holiday and rising COVID-19 cases across Canada. Despite the suspension of play, the Islanders remained steadfast in their approach to the trading period. That strategy eventually paid off; in the eleventh hour, the team added a mix of scoring ability and grit with the acquisition of three forwards.
The movement began with the Islanders acquiring 19-year-old forward Dawson Stairs from the Cape Breton Eagles in exchange for 16-year-old rookie Mathis Ouellet and a sixth-round pick. Stairs has been a bright spot for the Eagles this season, leaving his former team second in points with 24 in 31 games. Hulton expressed high praise for Stairs following the trade.
“We view Dawson as a pure goal scorer. He has a heavy shot and quick release. We think he’ll be a great complement to our existing group.” The Isles head coach stated.
“It’s exciting to join the team, they’re a top group and I’m really looking forward to what is ahead of us the rest of the year,” said Stairs on the move. “I’m a strong player; I like the physical play, I like to shoot, and I like to bring energy to the game.”
Stairs is expected to bring plenty of energy and offense to the Isles along with the next player Jim Hulton targeted at the trade deadline. A package of 3rd and 4th round picks was sent to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in exchange for 19-year-old forward Zachary Roy. Like Stairs, Roy was the Armada’s second-leading scorer with 36 points in just 30 games. His 25 assists are currently good for eighth among all QMJHL players.
Hulton’s final move of the day solidified the team’s depth, acquiring forward Owen Saye from the Shawinigan Cataractes in exchange for a ninth-round pick. Saye currently has 14 points in 30 games with the Cataractes this season, his first in the QMJHL. The 5’11 forward arrived in the QMJHL as a free agent after playing the 2019-2020 season with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. He was unable to play for the Sting last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m excited for this amazing opportunity to join such a great organization. I can’t wait to meet everyone and get started.” Said Saye.
When asked to describe himself as a player, Saye said he’s a power forward with offensive ability and plays hard on the puck.
When play resumes in the second half of the season, the Islanders will have numerous fresh faces, but the on-ice brand of hockey remains the same. Fans can expect a high work ethic, aggressive play, and attention to detail from the Isles. Stay tuned, the journey to the Memorial Cup has just begun.