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Kia CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Islanders sinking the competition

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No team has won more games this season than the Charlottetown Islanders.

Sitting atop the QMJHL with a 12-2-0-0 showing and 24 points, the Islanders have had a superb start to the 2020-21 campaign, led by an even better beginning by fourth-year forward Cedric Desruisseaux.

Recording at least one point in all 14 appearances this season, the Victoriaville, Que., native has found the back of the net an astounding 19 times – already five more than last year and just another five back of his all-time career high – while also chipping in with eight helpers to sit second in league-wide scoring with 27 points.

Often overlooked due to his diminutive stature, Desruisseaux was a key return to the Islanders after the club parted with former captain and Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Pierre-Olivier Joseph in 2018.

“When we made that trade back with P.O. this was one of the central figures and it was for his 19- and 20-year-old seasons,” Islanders head coach and general manager Jim Hulton told Jason Malloy of the Charlottetown Guardian. “(He is now playing with) confidence. He was really snake bitten the first half of last year. He put a lot of pressure on himself being a high-profile part of that P.O. trade.

“He has got a bit of swagger back to him that you have to have to be an elite offensive player. He likes the big moments, he likes the power plays, he likes game-on-the-line situations, and that is what leadership is in today’s game. He has done a terrific job and we sure hope it continues.”

Up front, Desruisseaux has assumed a bigger role this season following the departure of import forward Nikita Alexandrov, a 2019 second-round selection of the St. Louis Blues who will join the pro ranks following a successful third year with the Islanders in which he led the club with 54 points.

Still, Desruisseaux won’t be alone in leading the offensive charge in Charlottetown whose lineup also counts returning centre Brett Budgell, who finished second in team scoring last season and is off to another solid showing this year in tallying above a point-per-game pace with four goals and 13 assists across 14 outings, as well 19-year-old left-wing Thomas Casey, who this season stands just four points back of Desruisseaux in the league-wide scoring race.

Meanwhile, the Islanders are also eager to introduce Czech-born left-wing Jakub Brabenec, the club’s top pick in the 2020 CHL Import Draft, who is among 113 CHL talents to be recognized as Players to Watch by NHL Central Scouting ahead of the coming NHL Draft. There is also excitement around import selection and fellow Czech forward Matous Mensik, who like Brabenec will join Charlottetown once permitted.

“The signings of Jakub and Matous are an important step in our roster build for the next three seasons,” Hulton said in a statement. “Both are elite level 17-year-old players who will play a significant role on our team now and for future seasons.”

In Charlottetown, the talent then continues on the back end with Lukas Cormier, a third-round selection of the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2020 NHL Draft who inked his entry-level contract with the club last month. A new-age defenceman who moves the puck with efficiency, Cormier led all Charlottetown rearguards and finished fifth in team scoring last season after recording six goals and 30 assists through 44 appearances.

Originally chosen with the fourth-overall selection in the 2018 QMJHL Entry Draft, Cormier has impressively progressed during his career with the Islanders, and has made another step this season in already tallying 21 points to top the charts among all QMJHL blue-liners.

While Cormier is primed to carve out a role with the Golden Knights down the road, back in Charlottetown he is seen as veteran voice on a blue line that continues to integrate its next wave of talent including sophomore rearguards Oscar Plandowski and William Trudeau, both of whom are earmarked for selection in the 2021 NHL Draft and who will ready for draft day by taking on elevated roles this season.

Rounding out the group, the biggest change in Charlottetown comes in the blue paint following the graduation of longtime netminder Matthew Welsh, who last season set the QMJHL all-time mark with 13,080 career minutes played. That left the Islanders to turn to another experienced hand, adding star goaltender Colten Ellis from the Rimouski Oceanic in a June deal.

A 2019 third-round selection of the Blues, Ellis was a top performer over his three years with the Oceanic, finding the win column in 78 of his 126 outings. Ellis has now brought that winning pedigree to Charlottetown, coming away with a victory in all nine of his appearances this season that have also seen him record a 2.33 goals-against average, .908 save percentage, and one shutout.

With play set to resume later this month, the Islanders look to keep up their winning ways backed by solid offensive support, a burgeoning blue line, and a steady veteran presence between the pipes.

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