WHL preview: Deep roster has Royals set to rule

WHL preview: Deep roster has Royals set to rule

With apologies to Don Henley, you can feel it in the air as summer slips out of reach. It’s the annual sporting switch to the ice age after the boys of summer have gone.

The Victoria Royals begin the 2017-18 Western Hockey League campaign, their seventh since coming to the Island, with the season opener Friday night at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre against the Vancouver Giants.

Here is a look at how the Royals measure up:

GOALTENDING: This is Griffen Outhouse’s crease. Full stop. When you have your workhorse returning from the previous season, one who appeared in 63 of 72 games with a 2.85 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and 34-24-1 record, there isn’t much to analyze beyond that. Rookies Dean McNabb and Hunter Arps are battling for the back-up position to sop up the few crumbs of playing time Outhouse doesn’t gobble up.

DEFENCE: There is a bit of everything with this varied group. Royals veterans Ralph Jarratt, Jeremy Masella, Mitchell Prowse and Montreal Canadiens third-round draft pick Scott Walford bring size. Newcomers, but WHL veterans, Anthony Bishop and Jared Freadrich puck-moving ability.

“It’s the perfect mix,” said Jarratt.

The biggest wildcard is whether Los Angeles Kings-signed Chaz Reddekopp, 20, will be assigned to the pro AHL or returned to the Royals by the Kings.

“We will be a completely different-looking defensive unit if Chaz comes back,” said Royals GM Cam Hope, in emphasizing the importance to Victoria of the Kings’ final decision expected early next month.

OFFENCE: The Royals’ preseason lament used to be: Where are the goals going to come from? You hardly hear a peep about that with this group. With the likes of Matthew Phillips, Dante Hannoun, Ryan Peckford and Tyler Soy (still in NHL camp with the Anaheim Ducks), offensive production shouldn’t be an issue with this season’s Royals.

Imports Yan Khomenko from Russia and Belarus U-18 international Igor Martynov displayed some slickly emerging chemistry together in the preseason. Former top-10 bantam draft pick Jared Legien was the leading Royals goal scorer in the preseason and may be the comeback story of the year in the WHL.

Look for 17-year-old sophomore, and former first-round bantam draft pick Eric Florchuk, to begin hitting his scoring stride.

“We are more experienced than last year and have some gifted guys in the mix,” said Hope.

The understated, but tenacious, veteran Regan Nagy will show why the Royals used up one of their three allowable 20-year-old slots on him. Returnees Spencer Gerth and Kaid Oliver, and rookies Tarun Fizer and Dino Kambeitz, will provide supporting roles.

HEAD COACH: Dan Price, in his first season, is young, astute and a student of the game.

KEY LOSSES: Forwards Jack Walker, Vladimir Bobylev, Carter Folk, Ethan Price and defencemen Marsel Ibragimov and Ryan Gagnon. Other teams, especially Prince George and Seattle, lost a lot more in the off-season. Toronto Maple Leaf draft picks Walker and Bobylev will be missed, but overall, Victoria had one of the lightest off-season talent drains to the pros or graduation in the Western Conference.

WATCH FOR: The undersized but crafty and quick 50-goal forward Phillips’ bid to make the Canadian team for the 2018 world junior tournament in Buffalo.

Another storyline is that forward Peckford and goaltender Outhouse, both disappointed to be overlooked in the 2017 NHL draft, have much to prove this season and are highly motivated to do so.

NOTEWORTHY: After five seasons as head coach in Victoria, a tenure which included twice being named WHL coach of the year, Dave Lowry decamped to become assistant coach in the NHL with the L.A. Kings.

DID YOU KNOW: The Royals have been a study in reliability and have not missed the playoffs in the six previous seasons they have played in the B.C. capital since the franchise, formerly the Chilliwack Bruins, moved to the Island in 2011-12.

SEASON PROGNOSIS: Victoria is one of the oldest and deepest teams in the WHL as the Royals come into the season with plenty of experienced players. The three key off-season additions — Legien, Bishop and Jared Freadrich — are all 19 and come with lots of WHL mileage to add to that theme.

Nobody is putting the Royals in this season’s projected WHL elite of Regina, Portland, Tri-City or Kelowna, but its all-round veteran depth should allow Victoria to at least challenge Kelowna in the B.C. Division and be upper mid-pack in the Western Conference.

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Source : http://www.timescolonist.com/sports/whl-preview-deep-roster-has-royals-set-to-rule-1.22883530

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