For some people, the only consideration of ice in summer is a way to keep drinks cold. But the braintrust of the Victoria Royals is keeping busy putting things in place for the coming season.
General manager Cameron Hope, who half-joked on the day the Royals were eliminated from the Western Hockey League playoffs in April that he had already begun planning for next season, wasn’t exactly kidding.
Given that the team could have up to six 20-year-olds vying for three overage spots on the roster, some tough decisions might have to be made that could change the shape of this team.
Last year’s team captain, forward Matthew Phillips (Calgary), plus forwards Tanner Kaspick (St. Louis) and Lane Zablocki (Detroit) are vying to stick in the professional systems of the National Hockey League clubs that drafted them. But there’s the off chance one or more of them might be returned to junior.
That chance, while seemingly slim given their development last season, puts a slight chill on things for the three undrafted 20-year-olds still on the roster: No. 1 goaltender Griffen Outhouse, forward Dante Hannoun and defenceman Ralph Jarratt. Hope calls them “the elder statesmen on this team” for their combined seasons with the Royals, which is 11.
“Sometimes these things take care of themselves,” the GM said of summer roster moves. “It’s when guys come back from the NHL club you know you’ve got a really [tricky situation].”
After being traded twice, nifty forward finds a fit with the Victoria Royals. #DRWProspects
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) July 13, 2018
But such is life in the world of junior hockey. The constant aging out of players and upward movement of teams’ stars makes for a regular turnover, from the WHL right down to junior B.
Speaking of the latter, one of the most recent acquisitions for the Royals is a player who spent time with the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League’s Westshore Wolves, homegrown product Tanner Sidaway, who also gives the team another potential drawing card.
The 1999-born forward and Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey alumnus was acquired from the Regina Pats for an eighth-round pick in the WHL’s 2019 Bantam Draft.
That’s not a lot to give up from the Royals’ perspective, but Hope believes the possible upside with Sidaway is well worth it.
“He’s a guy that had the misfortune of being on a Memorial Cup team, a much older team with a lot of offensive weapons, so he could never be anything than a role player,” Hope said, adding that players Sidaway’s age often blossom.
“At 19 it’s time to show what you can do, you can potentially play more minutes and [take on] a bigger role.”
Regardless of how the 20-year-old situation plays out, the Royals are sure to be a younger squad for their seventh season in Victoria.
“Our forward lines are up for grabs … I’d say except for the first season, this is the first season where it’s not pencilled in,” Hope said. “It’s wide open.”
Not only will returning Royals have every opportunity to show how much they’ve grown – sometimes quite literally – the club has other newcomers entering the mix.
Other recent acquisitions include 18-year-old forward Tyler Lees, who came over in a trade with Saskatoon; and rugged defenceman Brayden Gorda, received from Edmonton in a trade for a conditional pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft.
Lees, who was injured for much of last season, is a player the Royals had their eye on in bantam and are excited to see develop further, Hope said, while Gorda remains a question mark until he detrmines whether he’s heading to college for next season.
The on-ice activity gets underway later this month, with the Royals 10 drafted players arriving Aug. 21, rookie camp for 15 and 16 year olds getting going Aug. 23, then main camp kicking off Aug. 26. The Royals intersquad play happens on the 29th and from there, the roster will take shape quickly.
“It’s going to be a really interesting year,” Hope said. “It’ll be such an open field for young guys, so we’re excited to see what happens.”
Keep an eye on the Royals at victoriaroyals.com.