Where Are They Now: Charlottetown Islanders Edition
As a fairly young franchise, the Charlottetown Islanders haven’t produced a lot of NHL stars, like some premier teams in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). But many who played for the Islanders or their predecessor, the P.E.I. Rocket, can still be found plying their trade around the pro ranks in North America.
Some Islanders alumni are in various stages of becoming regular NHLers, while others have played mostly in the American Hockey League (AHL). Two former Charlottetown players were even traded for each other. Here’s a look at where hockey has taken some of them since they left major junior.
Graves is perhaps the most visible success story from Charlottetown currently playing in the NHL. He’s been a surprising revelation for the Colorado Avalanche on their top pairing with Cale Makar this season. Graves is averaging just over 20 minutes a night in the playoffs. In his first full season in the NHL, he had 9 goals and 26 points in 69 games and led the NHL in plus-minus with a plus-40 rating. He also ranked sixth in the NHL in blocked shots.
Graves’ first taste of the NHL came in 2018-19, when he played in 26 games for the Avalanche, with three goals and two assists. He also played parts of two seasons with Colorado’s AHL affiliates, first the San Antonio Rampage and then the Colorado Eagles.
The Yarmouth, N.S., native was originally drafted by the New York Rangers in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, 110th overall. He was fresh off his second year in junior with the Rocket, who were renamed the Islanders that summer. He went on to win the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League championship a year later with the Val-d’Or Foreurs after a mid-season trade, and spent his final season with the Quebec Remparts before making the jump to pro hockey.
In his first two seasons with the Rangers’ farm team, the Hartford Wolf Pack, Graves recorded totals of 21 and 30 points, respectively. But at the 2018 trade deadline, the Rangers traded him to Colorado for fellow 2013 draft pick Chris Bigras, who did not play an NHL game for New York and is now in the Philadelphia Flyers’ organization. Colorado is reaping the benefits of that deal now, and Graves is in line for a significant raise in the offseason after signing a one-year deal for 2019-20.
The Islanders acquired Johnston, a Charlottetown native, for his final season of junior hockey in 2014-15. The left-winger provided veteran leadership on a young team, scoring 18 goals and 32 points in 44 games, along with 124 penalty minutes (PIMS). That last stat is what Johnston is known for in the NHL. He’s an enforcer with the New York Islanders in an era when most teams don’t carry them anymore.
After Charlottetown’s season ended, Johnston signed up to go from one Islanders team to another and played two games for the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers. He split the 2015-16 season between Bridgeport and the ECHL’s Missouri Mavericks, combining for 102 PIMs in 52 games. He also made his NHL debut with New York.
Johnston played another season and a half with the Tigers, racking up 248 PIMs and 26 points. The Islanders brought him up for an extended look in 2017-18, and he posted 6 points and 62 PIMs in 24 games. He’s stuck as a full-time member of the Isles the last two seasons, albeit as a frequent healthy scratch, playing 17 games in 2018-19 and 32 this season. Johnston has 13 fights to his name in the NHL, along with 7 goals and 14 points in 74 games.
Blais’ time with Charlottetown was brief, but he made the most of it. The Islanders sacrificed future for present midway through the 2015-16 season, acquiring him from the Victoriaville Tigres for centre Alexandre Goulet. Blais was a 2014 draft pick of the St. Louis Blues and it was a given he would go to the AHL the next season, while the undrafted Goulet would return to junior as a 20-year-old. However, the winger was phenomenal on a line with Daniel Sprong and Filip Chlapik, scoring 16 goals and 42 points in 33 games. He also had 19 points in 12 playoff games for the Islanders.
Blais’ had a strong first season in the Blues’ organization, compiling 26 goals and 43 points for the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. The next year, he had 17 goals and 40 points in 42 games and earned his first NHL action, notching 3 points in 11 games with St. Louis. He split the 2018-19 season between the Blues and the AHL, with 4 points in 32 games in a depth role with the big club.
He also got significant playing time during the Blues’ Stanley Cup-winning playoff run, averaging 12 minutes a night in 15 games and chipping in three points. At the young age of 22, Blais became the first Charlottetown Islander to win the Stanley Cup (from ‘Blais attending Islanders golf tourney,’ The Guardian, June 19, 2019). He followed that up with 13 points in 40 games this season. Charlottetown fans will continue to watch where his young career takes him.
Bibeau spent two and a half seasons in the Charlottetown net from 2011-14, eventually stealing the starter’s job from Maxime Lagace. He posted a .911 save percentage (SV%) in back-to-back seasons for the Rocket and Islanders. Midway through 2013-14, they traded him to the Foreurs and he helped them win the President’s Cup as QMJHL champions.
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Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs as an overager in the sixth round in 2013, Bibeau jumped from the Q to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. He spent three seasons there, playing between 30 and 40 games a season in a tandem with Garret Sparks. He had strong numbers in the first two campaigns and backstopped the Marlies to the Eastern Conference Final in 2016. Bibeau got his first taste of the NHL in 2016-17, stopping 51 of 55 shots in two games with the Maple Leafs, including his first NHL win. But he struggled in the AHL that year and the Maple Leafs decided not to qualify him.
Bibeau signed with the San Jose Sharks in the summer of 2017 and spent two productive seasons with their AHL team, the Barracuda, including a .919 SV% in 2017-18. On the eve of the 2019-20 season, Bibeau was traded for another former Charlottetown Islander. The Sharks moved him to Colorado for defenseman Nicolas Meloche, who starred on the Islanders’ blue line for half a season in 2017.
Bibeau got his second NHL call-up last November, making one start for the Avalanche in a win over the Vancouver Canucks and one relief appearance. However, two different injuries limited him to only two AHL games.
Charlottetown hosted the 2016 QMJHL draft and used it to make a big splash, acquiring Brisebois from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan. The defender was a year removed from being taken in the third round, 66th overall, by the Canucks. Brisebois was named captain of what proved to be probably the most talented team Charlottetown has ever seen, and posted 10 goals and 47 points in 61 games. He was also a crucial part of the Islanders’ run to the semifinals. Brisebois attended Team Canada’s selection camp for the World Junior Championship that year, but missed the cut.
Fast forward three years and Brisebois has played 165 games with Vancouver’s farm team, the Utica Comets, posting point totals of 18, 11 and 15. He also made his NHL debut in 2018-19, playing eight games for the Canucks with no points. If the 6-foot-3 rearguard makes the NHL, it will be because of his size and defensive acumen.
Three of these players have established themselves as NHLers. Graves and Blais, in particular, are just getting started and should have long careers ahead of them.
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