With training camp just around the corner, the Victoria Royals made some significant trades last week.
The first move saw forward Dino Kambeitz and 2021 fourth-round draft pick to Lethbridge Hurricanes for 18-year-old defender Nolan Jones. That was followed by a major move between Victoria and the Saskatoon Blades. The Royals packaged 2019 WHL Western Conference 2nd Team All-Star defenceman Scott Walford along with a 7th round pick in 2020 and a conditional pick to the Blades for 30-goal forward Gary Haden, the rights to prospect Riley Gannon (2002), a 4th round pick in 2022, and a conditional draft pick. A final move saw the Royals and Blades hook up again, this time with another defenceman Parker Malchuk on his way to Saskatoon for a conditional pick.
The moves seemed fast, but Victoria Royals President & General Manager Cameron Hope said they had been in the works. “It was a couple big announcement days. The past few weeks we were trying to put these deals together. It took time to ensure we got maximum return for them and to make sure that we were not playing against those players we trade.”
The Royals first move of the week was to acquire defenceman Nolan Jones, a player they have had their sights on for a while. This past season, Jones suited up in 49 games for the Lethbridge Hurricanes and recorded 12 points (2g-10a) and 47 penalty minutes
The obvious traits of Jones are his size at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds and his youth. The product of Moose Jaw, SK, will be a key piece to assist in developing the Royals young defensive stable for the coming years. “We are going to get two, possibly three, good seasons from Jones,” said Hope.
The Royals are also high on Jones’ offensive upside. Although more comfortable in his own end, the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft second round, 41st overall pick will be given a chance to quarterback the power play in Victoria. “Coming up through bantam and midget hockey, he led his teams in scoring from the defensive position.”
The key acquisition in the Walford deal was 20-year-old forward Gary Haden. Haden is coming off a banner season, recording 65 points (31g-34a) in 64 games between the Blades and Medicine Hat Tigers.
“Haden’s biggest attribute is the pace that he plays the game. And he has the IQ to match,” said Hope of his new forward.
Like Jones, the Royals have had their eye on Haden for a while. “We have a lot of information on him going back to when he was a Bantam,” said Hope. “He was one of those players where you could see that he thought the game. If his body and his skill caught up to it, he’d be a dynamite package and a big point producer in our league.”
“And it did. It took him a couple of years, but he finally got it. Haden reminds me of [former Royals forward] Alex Forsberg. When we acquired Forsberg, by the time he was in his 20-year-old year, he was the catalyst for a lot of our offense.”
When asked on whether he saw the product of Airdrie, AB, playing center or able to move to the wings, Hope said there was lots of flexibility. “We’ve watched some tape on him, and he moves around a little bit, particularly on special teams. So, I think he’s got that capability.”
“In addition, we actually have an interesting group of veteran forwards. Our top-six guys like Kaid Oliver, Phillip Schultz, Carson Miller, and so on, these guys are all able to play wing or center. I think now we’ve got the luxury of having five or six top guys who can play all forward positions.”
Another piece coming to Victoria in the Walford trade was the rights to unsigned prospect Riley Gannon. The 16-year-old from Nanaimo, BC, was named the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year in 2018-19 after racking up 50 points (21G-29A) in 46 games with the Nanaimo Buccaneers.
“He’s an interesting player,” said Hope of Gannon. “We have quite a few reports on him going back where he was one of those guys who were bit undersized coming up through Bantam and his first-year midget, but then grew.”
“He took on hockey last year at the Junior B level as a 16-year-old, which isn’t easy to do in any league, and was Rookie of the Year. So, his game has rounded out as he’s grown.”
Gannon has committed to the Surrey Eagles for the upcoming 2019-20 BCHL season. However, the Royals expect him in camp.
“We’ve had good discussions with Riley about the process,” added Hope. “The good thing about it is that, with the Canadian development model, all of the provincial associations agree that if a player has an opportunity to attend a camp at a higher level, then they should be allowed that opportunity. And Riley has spoken to his coaches in Surrey; they’re all for the opportunity, which is great. So as a result, he will come to our camp.”