The Halifax Mooseheads hope an exciting crop of draft-eligible players will help the team move on from the likely departure of star sniper Nico Hischier.
The Swiss prospect was selected first overall by the New Jersey Devils at June's NHL draft after scoring 38 goals and adding 48 assists in just 57 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League games last season.
But the Mooseheads believe players like newcomer Filip Zadina will help fill that offensive void when Halifax opens its 2017-18 QMJHL season Thursday night against defending champion Saint John.
"He (Zadina) is definitely going to help with the scoring," defenceman Jared McIsaac said. "I said this to someone earlier, he reminds me of Nico the way he plays in practice and even so far in games, what he does with the puck."
The 17-year-old Zadina joins the team from the Czech Republic after the Mooseheads selected him 10th overall at the Canadian Hockey Legaue import draft.
Head coach Jim Midgley calls Zadina an elite player who joins McIsaac, forward Benoit-Olivier Groulx, and goaltender Alexis Gravel as top prospects entering their draft seasons.
"I think all of us within ourselves are competing against each other in a friendly way to be that guy that goes high or ends up one day playing in the NHL," McIsaac said. "We all want the same goal."
Groulx, McIsaac and Gravel are fresh off a gold medal performance for Canada at last month's Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
The last time a trio of Mooseheads won gold for Canada at the under-18 tournament was in 2012 when Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Zachary Fucale accomplished the feat. Halifax later went on to win the 2013 Memorial Cup.
McIsaac, from Truro, N.S., says it's hard to compare the two groups of players.
"It's definitely cool seeing what they've done and hopefully us being able to bring a (Memorial) Cup back to Halifax over the next year or two."
Midgley, who replaced Andre Tourigny after he left to join the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's following just one season in Halifax, acknowledged that there's been comparisons made between the two groups of players. But he doesn't want to put any pressure on his current teenagers which are eligible for the 2018 NHL draft.
"We've got experience with it, all the distractions and all the surroundings that come with it," Midgley said. "We just want to manage it, prepare these guys as best as we can for the next level, and it's just going to benefit our hockey team any time these kids get to represent their country and go to those international events."
Halifax failed to make it past the first round of the post-season last year, falling to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in six games.
Despite the early exit, McIsaac says the Mooseheads are aiming high this season.
"I think all of us want to take the team to the promise land this year," he said. "I think last year we did well with the young team, but we didn't go anywhere. I think there's a lot of experience in the room now with guys going to NHL camps and coming back.
"With the playoffs that we had last year, I think we're all focused on that one goal and that one goal is to bring a cup back to Halifax."
Notes: Maxime Fortier, the team's leading scorer last season, is at NHL camp with the Montreal Canadiens. ... Defenceman Jordan Lepage (hip), Walter Flower (shoulder), along with forward Otto Somppi (shoulder) will all miss the start of Halifax's year after off-season surgeries.
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