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Kia CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Cape Breton Eagles

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Winners of five straight and 12 of their past 13 games, the Cape Breton Eagles are the hottest team in the QMJHL, helping them climb back onto the radar with an honourable mention in the latest edition of the Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings.

Sitting second in the Maritimes Division with a 29-14-2-1 record coupled with 61 points, the Eagles soared up the standings following a perfect week of three consecutive victories that included Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime win versus the division-leading Moncton Wildcats in which leading scorer Egor Sokolov was the hero at the 1:25 mark of the extra frame.

Passed over in the last two drafts, the 19-year-old Sokolov has turned heads this season as evidenced by his 70-point performance counting 36 goals and 34 assists across 38 appearances, helping him rank 94th among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s Midterm Report after earning a silver medal with Russia at the World Junior Championship.

In all, Sokolov’s 36 markers sit atop the QMJHL while collectively the budding scorer has been held off the scoresheet just six times this season. That stretch counts 25 multi-point performances, including a pair of four-point showings in January coming against the Saint John Sea Dogs and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in which Sokolov collected seven goals plus one assist to guide his club to victory in both contests while also picking up a pair of first-star honours.

Beyond Sokolov, also leading the offensive charge for the Eagles this season includes fellow 2020 NHL Draft hopeful Ryan Francis, a recent participant in the Kubota CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game who has impressed with Cape Breton in recording 56 points counting 19 goals and 37 assists to sit tied for second in team scoring with Minnesota Wild prospect Shawn Boudrias, a sixth-round selection in the 2018 NHL Draft. The veteran skater is one of two NHL-drafted prospects among the Eagles’ forward ranks that also includes St. Louis Blues up-and-comer Mathias Laferriere, a hulking centre who also heard his name called in the sixth round in 2018.

With their sights set on playoff success, the Eagles added ahead of the QMJHL trade deadline earlier this month in acquiring former Acadie-Bathurst Titan captain Shawn Element, and decorated scorer Tyler Hinam from the defending Memorial Cup champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Hinam was a key offensive contributor in last year’s playoff run as he picked up four goals and six assists in 20 games before adding another five points in as many showings at the year-end championship.

“He’s a guy that plays the exact style we want to play,” Eagles general manager Jacques Carriere told Jeremy Fraser of the Chronicle Herald following the acquisition. “He can score goals, he’s a very hardnosed guy in the (offensive) zone, so he likes to go around the net and get rebounds, tip pucks, and be involved.

“He’s a true warrior that plays with grit. We think we can learn a lot from him and he brings a lot of winning experience to our lineup.”

On the back end, Cape Breton is headlined by 18-year-old Quebec native Nathan Larose who through 43 games has registered 29 points including 14 goals that sit third among QMJHL defencemen. Larose is particularly dangerous on the power play as half of his tallies have come on the man advantage, helping the Eagles lock down a 20.3% efficiency rating that ranks eighth league wide.

While Larose leads the way on the blue line, he is closely trailed by 19-year-old Adam McCormick and 18-year-old Jarrett Baker, who sit at 28 and 27 points, respectively, and help form a dynamic trio in Cape Breton’s defensive zone. Rounding out the group is Vegas Golden Knights prospect Xavier Bouchard, who after being added from the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in mid-December has been dominant with the Eagles in producing above a point-per-game pace with one goal and 11 assists in 11 contests.

Between the pipes, Cape Breton also has NHL representation in Ottawa Senators draft choice Kevin Mandolese who owns an outstanding 18-6-1-0 showing through 27 games coupled with a .920 save rate that ranks second among goaltenders to have made as many appearances.

The Eagles hope their season’s new look and new head coach in Jake Grimes, who joined the club in the summer after winning an OHL championship with the Guelph Storm, can make some noise down the stretch following a 40-win campaign in 2018-19. Coming away with the victory in 10 of his last 11 outings, Mandolese and the Eagles now look to continue their winning ways as they host the Acadie-Bathurst Titan for a pair of contests over the coming weekend.

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