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Charlottetown Islanders: Three burning questions for 2019-20 QMJHL regular season


CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. —

The whole is greater than the sum of the part for this year’s Charlottetown Islanders.
The squad wants to roll four lines and three defence pairs in order to have success in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. It starts tonight when they host the Moncton Wildcats at 7:30 p.m. at the Eastlink Centre.
“The biggest strength of this team will be our depth, and that means everybody contributes,” head coach Jim Hulton said Thursday. “We have to be that tenacious, in-your-face, hard-to-play-against group that forechecks hard. No free space anywhere. I think that’s going to be our key and that’s going to take a bit (of time) to develop.”
Xavier Bernard rejoined the Islanders on Thursday after attending the New Jersey Devils camp. The Isles will have everyone available to play tonight with the exception of centre Nikita Alexandrov, who is dealing with a bruised shoulder sustained during a rookie tournament with the St. Louis Blues.
Fifth-year Islander Matthew Welsh will get the start in the crease for the home side tonight.

Here’s a look at three burning questions heading into the season:
1. The power play was abysmal last season. It was successful 16.4 per cent of the time, ranking 17th in the 18-team league. Its top marksman, Daniel Hardie, had eight power-play goals, but he graduated from junior hockey, leaving some wondering can the team be better with the man advantage this year?
“Not only can it, it definitely will be,” Hulton said. “We’re already in a better spot. We had a lot of issues last year getting chemistry. We’ve spent a ton of time on it in the pre-season. (Lukas) Cormier is a big, big part of that. (Cedric) Desruisseaux coming over in the trade, he played in a bit of a specialist role last year. (Gaetan) Jobin is has been a big part of it, and (Brett) Budgell and Nikita are going to be part of the first unit. They’ve already had a lot of great looks in pre-season. It was a huge point of emphasis as our staff over the course of the summer, both special teams.”

2. The team struggled in the faceoff circle a year ago, leaving the team chasing the play too often as soon as the puck was dropped. The team’s best returning player in the faceoff circle is Brett Budgell, who won 47.5 per cent of his draws. How does the team improve that aspect of the game?
“One of the attractive things when we hired Kevin Henderson, not only did he play centre, but he learned from guys like Mike Ricci and different guys at the pro level,” Hulton said. “A year older and a year stronger from certain players will make a difference.”
Budgell has won more than 60 per cent of his draws in the pre-season and the team is looking for improvements from Nikita Alexandrov, Zac Beauregard and Xavier Fortin.

3. The Islanders have lost more games than they won during the first 10 games the past two seasons. They went 4-5-1-0 in 2018-19 and 3-6-1-0 in 2017-18. With the conference expected to be very competitive, how important is it to start strong?
“The quicker you can have success the more it breeds the confidence in the team. (But) it’s not crucial. You don't ever want to overreact,” Hulton said. “It’s going to be really hard, I think, to make up a ton of ground this year, in particular, with the parity that appears to be in our conference."

Related links:

    • VIDEO: Charlottetown Islanders ready for opening night

    • Super sophomore Lukas Cormier excited to help Charlottetown Islanders take next step

    • PHOTOS: Meet the Charlottetown Islanders


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