A period of careful construction has the Saint John Sea Dogs ready to rise out east.
The eighth-slotted team in the preseason edition of the Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings, the Sea Dogs boast NHL primed talent that begins on the back end with a pair of 2020 NHL Draft selections in Jeremie Poirier (Calgary Flames) and William Villeneuve (Toronto Maple Leafs), both of whom finished among the top-three in team scoring last season.
For Poirier, a talented offensive blue-liner best known for his puck skills – that much was evident earlier this season when his three-goal performance led the squad to a 4-3 takedown of Halifax – part of his plan this year is to round out the rest of his game as he edges closer to a pro opportunity with the Flames.
“The criticisms are not wrong. My defensive game is not a strength of mine,” Poirier told Wes Gilbertson of the Calgary Sun following his 72nd overall selection. “I’m not really good enough to be at the next level yet on the defensive side of my game. I’m going to keep working on that and keep getting better. I’m determined to show the Flames what I can do on the defensive side of my game, too.
“I have a chance to improve my defence and prove that people were wrong to have waited for so long. I’m just going to keep going and show them that (the Flames) made the right pick … Guys like (Moose Jaw Warriors graduate) Morgan Rielly and (former Sea Dogs defenceman) Thomas Chabot are two guys that went into their draft year and they had struggled defensively. Now they are both well-rounded defencemen, way better than they were when they were juniors. That’s what I want to do.”
Finishing last season with 53 points counting 20 goals and 33 assists through 64 appearances, Poirier led all QMJHL rearguards in the goal-scoring department while finishing behind only Villeneuve in overall point production.
That dynamic duo gives the Sea Dogs an offensively dangerous pairing from the back end, though there is no shortage of scoring talent at the forward ranks where Saint John continues to see exciting progression from 17-year-old centre Joshua Roy, the first-overall selection from the 2019 QMJHL Entry Draft and an early favourite for top-three round consideration in the upcoming NHL Draft.
Following a modest rookie campaign that saw him finish eighth among freshmen with 16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points in 60 contests, the Quebec native has shown intriguing promise as a sophomore as his nine goals through 15 games top the team while he sits tied with Poirier and fellow forward Brady Burns for Saint John’s scoring lead with 16 points.
Roy credits a dedicated offseason regimen to his early success through 2020-21.
“I had a slower start to (last) season, but it got better after the holidays,” Roy told Ian Bussieres of Le Soleil in reference to his stronger second half in which he tallied 35 points in 36 games. “This summer, I worked very hard and I arrived at camp more confident. I really wanted to improve on the skating side. I don’t have a bad (stride), but the more you advance, the faster the guys are and if you want to (keep) up, you have to be super fast.
“My goal is to have a good season to prove what I am really capable of. I have the potential, but I have to keep working hard and give 100 percent every game.”
One of three Sea Dogs alongside centres Peter Reynolds and Cameron MacDonald to earn recognition in NHL Central Scouting’s Players to Watch report ahead of the 2021 NHL Draft, Roy will be looked toward to carry the offensive torch in Saint John with help from San Jose Sharks prospect Vladislav Kotkov, a 20-year-old right winger who prior to joining the Sea Dogs racked up 156 points in 177 games with Chicoutimi. Also up front, the Sea Dogs will continue to introduce their next wave of talent with budding up-and-comers like 16-year-old pivot Leighton Carruthers, the third-overall pick from the 2020 QMJHL Entry Draft who is expected to garner greater offensive responsibilities as the season progresses.
Rounding out the lineup, between the pipes 17-year-old Swiss netminder Noah Patenaude has assumed the starter’s gig following the graduation of former frontman Zachary Bouthillier. Suiting up for 22 games last season, Patenaude got a solid introduction to the North American game in coming up with a winning record of 10-7-1-0. Patenaude will also have plenty of support in the blue paint this season following the club’s addition of veteran goaltender Creed Jones who joined Saint John in September after splitting last season between Gatineau and Rimouski.
Bringing a balanced attack throughout the lineup, the Sea Dogs are poised to make waves this season as the club aims for its second Memorial Cup title in franchise history.