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Kia CHL Top-10 Spotlight: Moncton Wildcats

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The spotlight shines on the Moncton Wildcats in the latest edition of the Kia CHL Top-10 Rankings as the New Brunswick-based club comes in at No. 5 across the circuit.

Winners of eight straight, including last week’s back-to-back victories over Cape Breton, the Wildcats now sit atop the QMJHL’s Eastern Conference with a 14-3-0-0 showing, good for 28 points.

Leading the offensive charge for the Wildcats is a dynamic duo in Minnesota Wild prospect Alexander Khovanov and Calgary Flames first-round pick Jakob Pelletier, who recently went head-to-head in the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series, where Moncton played host to Game 2.

With the Wildcats, Khovanov tops the charts with 30 points counting 12 goals and 18 assists across 14 appearances, while the playmaker Pelletier follows closely behind with 11 tallies plus 17 helpers. Against Cape Breton on Thursday, the two put on a clinic in combining for eight points as Pelletier took home first-star recognition while Khovanov claimed second-star honours in the 10-4 final.

On the national stage, their offensive success continued as Khovanov was named the Player of the Game for Russia in Game 1 of the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series following a two-goal, two-assist output, while Pelletier picked up four helpers over the two contests.

For Pelletier, the chance to star in the annual showdown serves as an opportunity to impress an eager Hockey Canada brass that continues its evaluation as it assembles the group of players who will compete for the Great White North in the upcoming IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship in the Czech Republic.

“I want to show the player that I am, why I’ve had success in the QMJHL,” Pelletier told Wes Gilbertson of the Calgary Herald in the lead up to the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series. “I want to play a two-way game and show I can play on the first line or third line or the fourth line. Show all that. Show a guy who is going to be courageous, determined … Everyone will want to impress and everyone wants to be there in December, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The native of Quebec City enters the annual showdown after previously competing in the 2018 edition, an experience he believes helped him prepare for this year’s event.

“I’m kind of still the same player of last year, the same person. I think I’m more confident, though, with the puck,” added Pelletier, who wrapped up 2018-19 with 89 points to finish second in team scoring. “I’m more patient. I can take more time because I’m more confident with the puck, so I think that’s the biggest change that can lead to some more offence.”

Back in Moncton, while its Pelletier and Khovanov headlining the offensive ranks, also impressive about the Wildcats is the club’s invaluable scoring depth that includes rookie left-wing Zachary L’Heureux, who is currently competing with Team Canada Black as part of the 2019 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Through 15 contests, L’Heureux has collected seven goals with 11 assists for 18 points to sit second in scoring among all QMJHL freshmen.

On the blue line, the Wildcats are led by another 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series participant in Los Angeles Kings prospect Jordan Spence, who after finishing fifth among all defencemen with 43 assists in his rookie campaign has taken his set-up game to another level this season as he clocks in just shy of a point-per-game pace in recording one goal with 14 assists across 17 appearances.

Already with four multi-point efforts on the season, Spence was dominant in the Oct. 31 contest against the Eagles as he finished with three helpers to close out the month with 14 points counting one goal and 13 assists in 12 games.

Meanwhile, joining the blue line brigade is first-year rearguard Axel Andersson, a Boston Bruins prospect who came to the Wildcats following his 30th overall selection in the 2019 CHL Import Draft. Through nine contests in 2019-20, the native of Sweden has shown a quick ability to adapt to the North American game as he recorded seven assists across nine games.

For the Wildcats, the biggest change from a year ago comes in the crease following the departure of goaltender Francis Leclerc, who carried the bulk of the workload between the pipes last season in making 55 appearances. Following his graduation, the top job has shifted to a new face in Olivier Rodrigue, who joined the club last offseason after spending the past three campaigns with the Drummondville Voltigeurs.

This season, the veteran netminder and Edmonton Oilers up-and-comer has handled 12 games for the Wildcats, coming away with 10 victories – including a current five-game win streak – alongside a 2.78 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. One of four Moncton players to participate in the 2019 CIBC Canada Russia Series, Rodrigue turned aside 25 shots in Game 2 to power Team QMJHL to an overtime victory and its first win in the tournament since 2017.

With solid play between the pipes, a budding blue line that owns solid offensive instincts, and a dynamic duo leading the forward ranks, the Wildcats have championship aspirations that aim to bring the President’s Cup back to Moncton for the third time in franchise history. In the meantime, the club’s road to CHL supremacy continues in the coming week with a home-and-home weekend showdown against the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.

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