CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. – The educated gamble paid off: Brett Budgell has joined the Charlottetown Islanders.
The Isles top pick from the 2017 draft committed and was on the ice for Tuesday's practice.
"It's a sense of relief more than anything," head coach and general manager Jim Hulton said following practice. "And then, when you watch him play, you get excited because now you remember why you drafted him that high — he's a really good player."
Charlottetown drafted the Paradise, N.L., native with a second-round pick, 25th overall. Budgell attended rookie camp, but left to retain his NCAA eligibility. He joined Chicago of the United States Hockey League for the first half of the season.
Hulton said they remained in contact with the Budgell family and things got intense during the last 48 hours.
"We put a lot of time and effort into it, right from ownership right on down," he said. "This wouldn't have happened without the flexibility, encouragement and support from our ownership."
Hulton added many ownership groups wouldn't have shown the same support his did after a top pick did not immediately report to the club.
Budgell said there were initially some concerns, including education, but the parties remained in contact since he was drafted.
"We worked all that stuff out and, I guess, here, I am. I'm an Islander now," the 16-year-old forward said.
The Islanders play during the first half of the season played a factor in his decision, but it was only part of the equation.
"Jim is obviously a great coach and he's a real big reason I came here," Budgell said. "He definitely made my decision easier to come here and seeing how well they did in the first half."
Budgell left Newfoundland and Labrador to play the 2016-17 season in London, Ont., with the Knights minor midget team. He was in Chicago to start the 2017-18 season and now is in Charlottetown.
Could this be home for the next couple of season?
"I sure hope so," Budgell said. "It's nice to finally settle down and hopefully it's in Charlottetown."
Budgell woke up at 4 a.m. on Tuesday, flew out of St. John's, N.L., arrived in Charlottetown, got to the rink and stepped on the ice with his new club.
"I just got in and got straight to the rink and on the ice," he said. "It's good to meet all the guys and finally get here."
So what are the Islanders getting?
"He's a Keith Getson type of player, and that's a pretty high compliment to give somebody," Hulton said.
He said Budgell is likely to follow a similar trajectory as a reliable player in all three zones and a great teammate.
"His offensive game will grow as his career goes."
Budgell said he can make plays and score goals, but is well-rounded player who works hard at both ends of the ice.
"I think I have a high compete level and I definitely want to win," he said.
Budgell plays centre and left wing, as does Nikita Alexandrov. The two attended rookie camp together and were paired up on a line on Tuesday.
"I liked his game and I thought we complemented each other," Budgell said. "He's a good linemate and he's a good player, so hopefully we get some chemistry throughout the season."