The key part to that sentence, for Charlottetown head coach and general manager Jim Hulton, comes in the last two words.
Budgell has informed the Islanders, who selected him with their top pick (25th overall, second round) in June’s QMJHL draft, that he wasn't prepared to play in the major junior ranks in 2017-18. The 16-year-old hasn’t committed to an American University, although the decision not to play with the Islanders was certainly made to protect his NCAA eligibility.
That was also the reason why Budgell did not participate in any games for Charlottetown in a recent exhibition rookie tournament involving QMJHL teams from the Maritimes.
The NCAA views the QMJHL and other major junior leagues as professional circuits and has strict rules on how collegiate eligibility can be affected by a player’s participation in these leagues. Suiting up in just a single major junior game, even in the preseason, or anything beyond a short-term stay in training camps can mean a player will never be able to compete in an NCAA hockey program.
The Islanders’ second pick in the 2017 draft, P.E.I. native Brad Morrissey, also won’t be suiting up with the team this season and has committed to the University of Maine.
Still, Hulton hasn’t closed the book on either Budgell or Morrissey — who are both entering Grade 11 next month — eventually playing in Charlottetown.
“Maybe it didn't work for the here and the now, (but) I’m not going to give up on the fight,” he said. “I still think at some point both Morrissey and Budgell will wear our jersey.
“It just might not be this year.”
The Islanders knew Budgell was considering the NCAA route when they drafted him. In fact, the thought he might be leaning towards a university career was seen as a reason why the skilled forward — who was ranked as a first-round pick heading into the draft — wasn’t selected until the second round.
Hulton admitted selecting Budgell and Morrissey amounted to educated gambles, but insisted neither engaged in posturing in order to obtain a better major QMJHL deal as some other drafted players have done in the past.
“Neither one asked for any more over and above their packages that were offered; nobody asked to be traded,” Hulton said. “There was none of that. In both cases, they didn't feel comfortable playing at our level this year.
“They have been nothing but professional about it. They have been extremely honest.”
Budgell, a 5-10, 185-pound centre, is still eligible to play in the midget ranks, but Hulton said he understood there was a possibility of the Newfoundlander heading to the British Columbia Hockey League. The BCHL is a junior A circuit and isn’t subject to the same NCAA prohibitions as major junior leagues.
After starring with the St. John’s Hitmen bantam team in 2015-16, Budgell played last season with the London Junior Knights midget team in Ontario, recording 58 points in 32 games.