On March 16th the Victoria Royals released their 2021 roster.
For an abbreviated “bubble season”, Head Coach and General Manager Dan Price has made a bold choice.
With a forward group that averages just 5-foot-10 and a defense corp that averages 5-foot-11, he has chosen a relatively small group. In a league that has generally been more suited to a big bruising style, maybe this is a trend towards what we have seen in the NHL. Speed and skill have started to pull away from that “old school” logic. Does Dan Price have the foresight to predict that the WHL will start to follow suit?
The Royals have also brought a very young group to the Okanagan. The forwards are averaging 17.38 years of age. The defense average is also sitting at just 17.75. Typically in the league, 17-year-olds are the rookies on the team. This could be one of the youngest groups in the whole league this year, so let’s hope that this experience is useful to their growth.
Below is a look at the Royals roster sorted by date of birth.
The team will obviously miss Gary Haden and Kaid Oliver’s production this season. Their 55 and 47 points respectively will be hard to reproduce with this inexperienced group. The newly crowned captain, Tarun Fizer took big strides last year. He will need to find another gear to lead this group, in what will be a sprint to the finish line.
2019-20 rookie standout Keanu Derungs will have an opportunity to take on more minutes this season as well. He didn’t end up on the scoresheet but he looked strong in the World Junior tournament for Switzerland. We expect a breakout season for the talented forward.
The X-factor should be Brayden Tracey. The only first round NHL Draft pick in team history, he has been a point-per-game player at every level he’s played. After trading for him halfway through last season, the Royals will be thankful to get a “full season” of his services this year.
The first thing that jumps off the page for me is that out of the 8 defensemen going to the bubble, 5 are rookies. Victoria natives Jacson Alexander and Nolan Bentham, are not joining the team this season. The Royals have not released any information as to why, so to guess would be pure speculation. Another interesting note is Graeme Bryks moving from forward back to defense. As a natural centre, he should be defensively sound and with the lack of experience on the back end, we can understand the move. It will be interesting to see how he does back there. As mostly a depth forward last season, this is a great opportunity for him to play meaningful minutes. We will see how the transition goes.
This will be our first look at one-half of the Spizawka twins. Jason was drafted in the first round, 19th overall, in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft. Born and raised in Victoria, this will be an exciting season for Jason. It’s too bad it won’t be at the Save-On-Foods Centre, but maybe this will be a benefit. Might give him an opportunity to shake the nerves and when hockey returns to Victoria next season, he will be more experienced and ready to take on a bigger role in front of the hometown fans.
There isn’t a ton to dive into here. Adam Evanoff will undoubtedly be the starter. After being traded to Victoria at the deadline last season, Shane Farkas was forced to miss time due to injury. Evanoff stepped in and did admirably. He didn’t particularly exceed anyone’s expectations, however, he was forced into the role of a starter on a team he wasn’t familiar with. I think it’s safe to say that’s not an enviable situation for any keeper. Being one of the few 20-year-olds on the team he will be given the reigns.
Waiting in the wings, however, will be Connor Martin. In three games with the Royals last season, Martin posted a 2.60 GAA and a .915 Save %. Definitely a small sample size but they were the best numbers of his career, on the biggest stage of his career. That tells me that if Evanoff falters, Martin has the ability to steal the starters’ job.
Time to bond
Bringing such a young group has the potential to be a bonding event for these young players. They can get to know each other and gel as a group, in a unique, unprecedented situation. Hopefully one they never have to experience again. It is a bold move and I see it going one of two ways. They struggle and they learn a lot of important lessons that will help them throughout their careers. Or they gel quickly, showcasing the talent that Dan Price and his team have seen in them, and surprise a lot of people.
Either way, I think it’s a great low-risk, high reward choice.
Puck drop tonight against the Rockets is at 7 pm.