All of the Sea Dogs' 2018 draft choices were present with the exception of two of the six players invited to Team Canada's under-17 camp – Mathias Savoie (fourth round, 62nd overall) and Dawson Stairs (seventh round, 109th overall) as well as second round US draftee – Cade DeStefani. Saint John Vito’s standout defenceman Kale McCullum was originally listed but did not scrimmage Saturday afternoon at the qplex.
The group was supplemented by second year players Nathan Larose, Luke Wilson, Aiden MacIntosh and Jeremie Jacob along with goaltenders Tommy DaSilva and Stewart Bagnell.
While it is early and caution from one practice is required - it was readily apparent that the team’s excitement and the draft pundits’ accolades are warranted. This draft class could be as good as – possibly even better than - that of 2013, when the Sea Dogs drafted the likes of Nathan Noel, Thomas Chabot, Mathieu Joseph and Samuel Dove-McFalls.
Jeremie Poirier – who draws comparisons to Chabot or Nathan Beaulieu - is a dynamic skater and puck handler who is prepared to push the pace at all times.
William Villeneuve – who draws comparisons to Noah Dobson – is an extremely strong skater who oozes poise and skill.
Charlie DesRoches - another defenceman with lots of skill and poise. He is likely to remind a number of Sea Dogs faithful of Pierre Durepos.
Nathan Larose - looked to be bigger and stronger. The returnee made a couple of spectacular end-to-end rushes with ‘bar down’ finishes. Following a strong second half of last season, Larose appears ready to take his game to another level next year.
Nicolas Kakouras (eighth round, 127th overall) - an outstanding skater on defence. Kakouras may be on the small side but he showed flashes reminiscent of Kevin Gagne (without the incredible stutter steps).
Many of the observers at the qplex were pleasantly surprised to see Jack Williams (from Maine) and Connor Bradford (from Massachusetts) participating in the development camp. Williams looked excellent while skating along side his South Kent roommate – Josh Lawrence. Williams is a strong skater with a nose for the net. It would be quite a coup for the Sea Dogs to have those two together for the next few years. Bradford (10th round, 165th overall), already 6’2” with his 16th birthday coming up in August, Bradford showed very good positioning and movement.
Lawrence was one of the most noticeable forwards on the ice on Saturday, showing exceptional vision, puck handling skills and hockey sense.
Brady Burns may earn a nickname such as “buzzsaw” and could quickly become a fan favourite at Harbour Station. The diminutive centre had the pedal to the metal every time he hopped on the ice and displayed outstanding skills, vision and tenacity.Past. Present. Future. Thank you to @ThommerBomber @zackphillips7 @Sam15D_M @ThomasChabot1 @bokojr @MathJoseph7 @SimBourque_4 @goalie_dor99 for coming to share your wisdom with our future @SJSeaDogs at Development Camp. @QMJHL pic.twitter.com/BBDxaLKWkr— Trevor Georgie (@georgietrev) June 18, 2018
While none of the players seemed out of place, three of the mid to later round draft selections – Alexandre O’Neill (fifth round, 82nd overall), Charles-Antoine Dumont (sixth round, 108th overall) and Connor Richard (10th round, 163rd overall) – all showed flashes of offensive skills. Each of them likely could benefit from another year of development at the midget AAA level - but they may very well be key contributors to the Sea Dogs as early as next season.
2017 draft choices Luke Wilson, Aiden McIntosh and Jeremie Jacob seemed to have grown and/or added muscle early in their off-season training programs – and appear to be ready to step up and play important roles in the upcoming season.
In addition to Bradford, Tommy DaSilva and Stewart Bagnell also looked very good. DaSilva turned in a couple of highlight reel saves during the afternoon scrimmage. With those three, in addition to Mathias Savoie, in the pipeline behind incumbent Alex D’Orio, this could well be the most talented stable of goaltenders on a Sea Dogs roster at the same time.
Finally, having the development camp in conjunction with the Sea Dogs Hall of Fame induction ceremonies was brilliant. The first classed celebration of Jonathan Huberdeau’s contributions to the City of Saint John and the Sea Dogs - with the likes of Thomas Chabot, Mike Thomas, Mathieu Joseph, Bokondji Imama, Samuel Dove-McFalls and many, many other alumni in attendance – should only reaffirm Saint John as a premiere place for student-athletes to further their personal and hockey development.