In 2013, the P.E.I. Rocket narrowly avoided a move to Quebec when a local ownership group bought the team and renamed it the Charlottetown Islanders.
Looking back, the rebranding also marked a turning point in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) club’s on-ice fortunes. The Islanders reached at least the second round of the playoffs for four straight seasons from 2014-15 through 2017-18, including two trips to the semifinals. Previously, they hadn’t made it to the second round since their first season in Charlottetown in 2003-04.
Over the last seven seasons, several junior hockey stars have been drafted by NHL teams from the Islanders’ roster. None have established themselves yet as regular NHLers, unless you count defenseman Ryan Graves, who was selected 110th overall by the New York Rangers in 2013 when the team was still called the Rocket.
Here are the highest NHL draft picks in Islanders’ history. This list does not include players who were selected before being acquired by Charlottetown.
Charlottetown got a massive steal when it plucked Joseph 78th overall in the 2015 QMJHL Entry Draft. The defender’s stock rose dramatically over his first two seasons on the Island, and he was selected 23rd overall by the Arizona Coyotes in 2017. In the summer of 2019, the Desert Dogs dealt him to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Phil Kessel trade.
As a QMJHL rookie in 2015-16, Joseph displayed remarkable poise on the Islanders’ blue line and had fans raving about his play. He only managed 1 goal in 48 games, along with 7 assists, but the offense would come. He helped the club defeat the Rimouski Oceanic in the first round of the playoffs before being eliminated by the Shawinigan Cataractes.
As a sophomore, the Laval, Que., native was a force at both ends of the ice. In a defense corps stacked with NHL prospects like Guillaume Brisebois, Nicolas Meloche, Carl Neill and Cody Donaghey, Joseph earned major ice time as his offensive game blossomed, with 6 goals and 39 points in 62 games. The Isles soared to fourth place in the QMJHL with a record of 46-18-4. He helped Charlottetown make its deepest playoff run ever, into the semifinals, where they lost to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada.
After being drafted by Arizona, Joseph was named the Islanders’ captain for the 2017-18 season. Charlottetown had lost a ton of talent, but managed to reach the semifinals again, pushing the regular season champion Armada to seven games. Joseph cemented his status as an elite defender in the QMJHL, improving his totals to 13 goals and 46 points.
By Joseph’s 19-year-old season, the Islanders were retooling. He racked up nearly a point per game in 27 contests before the team traded him to the Drummondville Voltigeurs for a massive return. His departure from Charlottetown had to happen, from an asset management perspective, but was very difficult for fans and Islanders’ personnel, who held their captain in very high regard as a person as well as on the ice. (from ‘Joseph leaves a legacy in Charlottetown,’ The Guardian, 02/08/2019) Joseph enjoyed another deep playoff run with the Voltigeurs, finishing with 59 postseason games over four QMJHL seasons.
After Pittsburgh acquired him, Joseph spent his first pro season with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. He recorded 3 goals and 17 points in 52 games before the 2019-20 season was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic. He was always slight for a 6-foot-2 rearguard, and the Penguins no doubt want to see him bulk up before getting an NHL test.
The Islanders acquired McDonald, then 17, from the Acadie-Bathurst Titan midway through 2013-14. He was a rock in net for the next two-and-a-half seasons, posting a save percentage (SV%) above .900 in each with a combined 49 wins in his two full campaigns.
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The 6-foot-4 netminder was the first goalie taken in the 2014 NHL draft, 34th overall, to the Calgary Flames, long before the likes of Elvis Merzlikins and Igor Shesterkin. He played in the 2016 World Junior Championship for Team Canada.
However, McDonald’s professional career hasn’t gone according to plan. Over four seasons, he’s played just five games in the AHL, with unflattering numbers. He’s spent most of his time in the ECHL with the Adirondack Thunder, Kansas City Mavericks and Utah Grizzlies, posting a career-high 2.54 goals against average (GAA) and .917 SV% in 2018-19.
Sprong was an electrifying force in Charlottetown over four seasons, perhaps the most talented forward to ever wear a Rocket or Islanders jersey. The Dutch-born right winger exploded out of the gate in his junior career, racking up 30 goals and 68 points in 67 games as a rookie to lead the club in 2013-14.
The sharpshooter built on those numbers in his draft year, potting 39 goals and 88 points, and was widely ranked in the first round. But Sprong’s attitude and particularly his willingness to commit to defensive play were always questioned by scouts, and he slid to the Penguins at 46th overall. Pittsburgh kept Sprong after training camp, surprising everyone in Charlottetown, then expertly demonstrated how to butcher a kid’s development. He played in just 18 games over three months, averaging barely eight minutes a night and scoring twice. It’s hard to imagine how sitting in the press box helped his defensive game.
Upon his return to P.E.I., Sprong tallied 16 goals and 46 points in 33 games, along with 15 in 12 playoff contests. He then injured his shoulder during a playoff practice with the Penguins, which would abbreviate his junior season again. With a recovery timeline of seven to eight months, he had to play his way back into shape with the Islanders, but still sniped over a goal per game with 32 tallies and 59 points in 31 games. He also had 20 points in 12 games in his final postseason in Charlottetown.
Sprong had a point per game as an AHL rookie in 2017-18, but only 7 points in 24 NHL games that season and the next before Pittsburgh traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for Marcus Pettersson. He found his groove in SoCal, burying 14 goals in 47 games, along with 5 assists. But he spent most of the shortened 2019-20 season back in the AHL with the San Diego Gulls, and produced less than he had as a rookie pro.
On trade deadline day, the Ducks flipped him to the Washington Capitals for Christian Djoos. Before the shutdown, he played five games for the AHL’s Hershey Bears, scoring a goal and six points. Perhaps D.C. is where the Flying Dutchman will find an NHL home.
Sprong’s linemate was drafted just a few minutes after him, going 48th overall to the Ottawa Senators. The Czech centre was a two-way star in Charlottetown and scored over a point per game every season from 2014 through 2017. Chlapik was a gem of a pick in the import draft, piling up 79 goals and 220 points across 173 QMJHL games.
The Prague-native’s arrival in 2014-15 dovetailed with Sprong’s ascent to stardom, and the pair were the backbone of the Isles’ offensive attack. Chlapik set up many of Sprong’s goals, but had no problem sniping himself, with 33 goals as a rookie.
Along with most of the team, Chlapik struggled as a sophomore during Sprong’s spell in Pittsburgh. He still posted 54 points in 52 games, but only 12 goals. However, he dominated in his final season, logging 34 goals and 91 points in just 57 games. That was good for fourth in league scoring, and he topped the three players ahead of him in points per game. He also contributed 19 points in 13 games during the Islanders’ run to the final four.
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Chlapik, now 23, has not secured a full-time spot on the rebuilding Senators’ roster to date, with 11 points in 56 games over parts of three seasons. He has been relatively productive in the AHL, though, recording 88 points across 146 contests with the Belleville Senators. The 2020-21 season, whenever it begins, will be a crucial one for Chlapik and could determine his fate in the Senators’ organization.
Charlottetown selected this German-born, Russian-named forward in the 2017 import draft. He scored a respectable 13 goals and 31 points in 66 games as a rookie and kicked it up a notch in the playoffs with nearly a point per game. Alexandrov has emerged as a linchpin of the Isles’ attack the last two seasons. He produced 27 goals and 61 points in 64 games in 2018-19, then was drafted at the end of the second round, 62nd overall, by the St. Louis Blues.
Alexandrov’s game found a new gear this past season, leading the Islanders in scoring with 23 goals and 54 points in 42 games before the outbreak. The Blues hope his career will follow the same trajectory as former Islander Samuel Blais, who they drafted in the sixth round in 2014 while he was a member of the Victoriaville Tigres. Blais dressed throughout the Blues’ Stanley Cup run last spring and has earned a regular spot in the lineup this season.
Islanders fans will continue to follow these alumni as they try to stick in the NHL in the coming years, and hope the franchise will continue to acquire and develop high-calibre prospects in the future.