Already stocked with some of the QMJHL’s top young talent, the Halifax Mooseheads are Maritimes Division leaders entering a weekend home-and-home clash with the second place Charlottetown Islanders.
Leading Charlottetown by a five-point margin, Cam Russell’s Mooseheads were quiet during this past week’s QMJHL’s trade deadline while the Isles added veterans in Daniel Hardie, Cameron Askew and Derek Gentile.
Halifax enters the weekend showdown on a five-game winning streak after draft eligible Czech star Filip Zadina made a successful return from the World Juniors with the winning goal in a 6-5 win over Acadie-Bathurst on Sunday.
The 11th overall pick of the 2017 CHL Import Draft, Zadina sits tied with overage teammate Maxime Fortier for second in QMJHL scoring with 48 points (25-23–48) in 33 games.
Fortier, who is currently third in Mooseheads all-time scoring, captains a young team in good shape for this season, but is also built for the future as the franchise has already expressed its intent to bid on hosting the 2019 Mastercard Memorial Cup.
“We’ve been working on this the past couple of years and it’s a long process that doesn’t happen overnight,” GM Russell told The Chronicle Herald’s Willy Palov. “It’s always been our philosophy to try to draft well and then chip away at the pieces and make trades here and there if we need to. I like our players and what we’ve put together.”
“Obviously we’re applying to host the (2019) Memorial Cup and that’s extremely important to us but at the same time it’s important to us to win right now,” he added.
Zadina and teammates Benoit-Olivier Groulx and Jared McIsaac have turned Halifax into a scouting hotbed this year as all three were assigned ‘A’ ratings on NHL Central Scouting’s November ‘Players to Watch’ List for the 2018 NHL Draft.
The first overall pick of the 2016 QMJHL Draft, Groulx has scored 18 goals and added 16 assists for 34 points in 41 games this season while McIsaac, chosen with the second overall pick, has 24 points including five goals and 19 assists in 39 contests. Both players represented the QMJHL in the 2017 CIBC Canada Russia Series.
Additionally, Halifax boasts more long-term skill in a pair of 2017 first round QMJHL Draft Selections including fourth overall pick Xavier Parent (10-11–21) and 13th overall choice Justin Barron (2-10–12) who mans the blue line.
Third-year Finnish centreman Otto Somppi sits third in QMJHL assists with 31 and holds the league’s second best plus-minus of plus-24. The Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick joins other veterans in Arnaud Durandeau and fifth-year overage winger Connor Moynihan in giving the Mooseheads a competitive edge down the stretch. New Jersey Devils draftee Jocktan Chainey and recently added 19-year-old Chicago Blackhawks prospect Jake Ryczek see key assignments on the back end.
“I think there’s a lot of parity in the league this year and a lot of teams that are close to each other in the standings,” added Russell, who is in his 10th season as general manager of the Mooseheads. “I don’t think there’s any team out there that’s going to run away with it so we feel we’ve got an excellent chance to win right now with this group and we’re also going to have a very strong team next year.”
In goal, overage veteran Blade Mann-Dixon has put together his best season to date with a 16-4-2-0 record, a 2.74 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. He is playing in front of one of Canada’s top young goaltending prospects in Alexis Gravel, a 17-year-old who was recently named to the upcoming 2018 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Guelph, Ont.
Things are getting interesting in the Maritimes Division as the Mooseheads are midway through a stretch of 20 consecutive games against divisional opponents, going 8-1-0-0 in those encounters. They look to seize an opportunity to pull further ahead of Charlottetown with wins on Thursday and Friday.
Though we’re coming up on five years since Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin, Zach Fucale and the 2013 Mooseheads raised both the President Cup and the Memorial Cup, things are taking shape in Nova Scotia’s capital as the club sets its sights on championship contention both this year and into the future.
OTHER CHL TOP-10 SPOTLIGHT FEATURES:
Sept. 28, 2017 – Regina Pats
Oct. 5, 2017 – Victoriaville Tigres
Oct. 11, 2017 – Victoria Royals
Oct. 18, 2017 – Sarnia Sting
Oct. 25, 2017 – Swift Current Broncos
Nov. 1, 2017 – Blainville-Boisbriand Armada
Nov. 8, 2017 – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Nov. 15, 2017 – Moose Jaw Warriors
Nov. 22, 2017 – Quebec Remparts
Nov. 29, 2017 – Hamilton Bulldogs
Dec. 6, 2017 – Brandon Wheat Kings
Dec. 12, 2017 – Rimouski Oceanic
Dec. 28, 2017 – Drummondville Voltigeurs
Jan. 3, 2018 – Kitchener Rangers