Prior to the Pandemic
Having been in the mix for the B.C. Division lead at the halfway point of the 2019-20 campaign, the Royals elected to go all-in at the trade deadline as they acquired Anaheim Ducks first round pick Brayden Tracey from the Moose Jaw Warriors.
Despite that move, the Royals ended up hovering around the .500 mark after the trade as they dealt with a number of injuries in the final two months. They were set to face the Vancouver Giants in an intriguing opening round matchup before COVID-19 brought everything to a halt.
The Royals would then elect to make a change with their front office structure shortly after the WHL Bantam Draft last April, as they parted ways with general manager Cameron Hope and promoted head coach Dan Price to fill the vacancy.
To say that the Royals had a rough campaign would be a massive understatement. A combination of injuries, key players being traded or graduating and a massive influx of young talent led to the team posting a league worst record of 3-17-1-1 and a .182 point percentage.
While their 2.18 goals per game average was the lowest in team history and their 4.36 goals against per game mark was the highest since they gave up an average of 4.51 goals per game during their first season in Victoria, they were only blown out in a couple of contests and showed a lot of heart during a challenging campaign, as they nearly stole a few meetings from their divisional rivals.
- Brandon Cutler (9-7-16 in 22 games)
- Tarun Fizer (6-13-19 in 20 games)
- Brayden Tracey (9-12-21 in 22 games – Anaheim Ducks Prospect)
- Ty Yoder (4-1-5 in 17 games)
- Alex Bolshakov (3-1-4 in 21 games)
- Keanu Derungs (5-3-8 in 11 games)
- Nick Dorrington (0-0-0 in 19 games)
- Riley Gannon (1-1-2 in seven games)
- Nathan Morgan (Unsigned 11th round pick in 2017 – 1-1-2 in 18 games for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks – Committed to the Dartmouth Big Green)
- Cage Newans (0-2-2 in 17 games)
- Hunter Strand (Prince Albert’s unsigned 6th round pick in 2017 – 20-29-49 in 51 games for the Tri-City Storm – Committed to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish)
- Marcus Almquist (Unsigned 2020 Import Draft Pick – 5-1-6 in 19 games for the Rodovre Mighty Bulls in Denmark)
- Trentyn Crane (2-3-5 in 20 games)
- Matthew Hodson (3rd round pick in 2018 – 0-2-2 in four games for the Saskatoon Under-18 Blazers – 17-36-53 in 44 games for the Saskatoon Under-18 Contacts in 2019-20)
- Carter Briltz (0-0-0 in three games)
- Carter Dereniwsky (1-2-3 in 21 games)
- Chase LaPinta (Lethbridge’s unsigned 8th round pick in 2019 – 6-6-12 in 12 games for the Dallas Under-16 AAA Stars – Committed to the Arizona State Sun Devils)
- Brayden Schuurman (5-6-11 in 22 games)
- Tanner Scott (1-2-3 in 20 games)
- Charlie Stramel (Unsigned 10th round pick in 2019 – 1-7-8 in 22 games for the US NTDP – Committed to the Wisconsin Badgers)
- Reggie Newman (4th round pick in 2020 – 1-2-3 in five games for the Yale Hockey Academy Under-18 Prep Team – 9-13-22 in 21 games for the Yale Hockey Academy Under-15 Prep Team)
- Anthony Wilson (3rd round pick in 2020 – 2-5-7 in six games for the Moose Jaw Under-18 Warriors – 9-18-27 in 29 games for the Northern Alberta Xtreme Under-15 Prep Team)
The Royals offence took a hit when Gary Haden graduated and when overage candidate Kaid Oliver was dealt to the Edmonton Oil Kings, in addition to Carson Miller and import Phillip Schultz not coming back for their 20-year-old campaigns.
As a result, Brayden Tracey, Tarun Fizer and Brandon Cutler had to carry the load up front, which was probably expected when the season got underway. The return of import Keanu Derungs helped a bit, but this was a very top-heavy team that would have likely dealt Tracey away for assets had this been a normal season.
The one pleasant surprise on offence was Brayden Schuurman, who was the club’s fourth round pick in 2019. In a year where so many youngsters impressed around the league, the Abbotsford product quietly found himself as the fourth leading scorer for the team and will be a huge piece moving forward.
- Matthew Smith (1-1-2 in 22 games)
- Jacson Alexander (1-5-6 in 13 games for Edmonton in 2019-20)
- Graeme Bryks (0-4-4 in 21 games)
- Damon Agyeman (Acquired from the Medicine Hat Tigers – 0-0-0 in two games)
- Michael Benning (Unsigned 7th round pick in 2017 – 3-8-11 in 21 games for the Denver Pioneers – Florida Panthers Draft Pick)
- Noah Lamb (0-2-2 in six games)
- Nolan Bentham (1-2-3 in 52 games for the Royals in 2019-20 – Traded to the Lethbridge Hurricanes)
- Gannon Laroque (1-6-7 in 21 games)
- Braden Smith (0-2-2 in 14 games)
- Kalem Parker (0-6-6 in 21 games)
- Luke Shipley (0-0-0 in 18 games)
- Jason Spizawka (0-3-3 in 19 games)
- Ryan Spizawka (0-0-0 in eight games)
- Nate Misskey (3rd round pick in 2020 – 0-1-1 in five games for the Prince Albert Under-18 Mintos – 8-22-30 in 30 games for the Pacific Coast Academy Under-15 Prep Team in 2019-20)
- Austin Zemlak (0-0-0 in three games)
Like the offence, the Royals blueline saw a massive sea change going into the season. Will Warm aged out of the league, potential overager Mitchell Prowse was traded to Lethbridge and 20-year-old Jacob Herauf didn’t return.
The biggest losses though were veteran blueliner Jacson Alexander, who was acquired in the Oliver trade, and 2019 first round pick Nolan Bentham, who weren’t even on the roster for the shortened campaign.
As a result, the Royals had an extremely young blueline who were thrown into the line of fire on a nightly basis. Poor Matthew Smith ended up with the worst plus/minus in the league at -21, which certainly wasn’t the way he wanted to wrap up his final junior hockey campaign.
There were two positives on the backend though in listed player Gannon Laroque and 2019 second round pick Kalem Parker. Like Schuurman, they had solid campaigns in the points department that went under the radar compared to the more hyped rookies.
- Adam Evanoff (2-12-1 with a 4.22 GAA, a .889 save percentage and zero shutouts)
- Connor Martin (1-4-1 with a 4.42 GAA, a .896 save percentage and zero shutouts)
- Keegan Maddocks (0-1-0 with a 3.31 GAA, a .900 save percentage and zero shutouts)
The stats might not show it, but Evanoff was an absolute workhorse for the Royals in goal. The overager put in some dazzling outings this spring, with his best showing coming in a 4-3 loss to Kamloops where he made 56 saves.
The big question now is who replaces him as the starter. Martin has a little more experience than Maddocks and probably would earn the nod, but they are the only signed netminders on the roster. They have one drafted goaltender on their depth chart (2020 seventh round pick Logan Cunningham of the Northern Alberta Xtreme) so the Royals might have to look outside the organization or make a move in the Import Draft to fill that need.
After a rough campaign, one might look to the draft as a way to start building towards the future. However, the Royals first round pick (third overall) belongs to the Brandon Wheat Kings as a result of a 2018 trade deadline deal involving Tanner Kaspick.
To make matters worse, the Royals sent Saskatoon’s first round pick (which they picked up in 2018 when they moved Eric Florchuk to the Blades) to the Warriors in the Tracey deal, which means that they also lost out on the 16th overall selection for December’s WHL Prospects Draft.
It’s not all bad though on the picks front. The Royals have their second, third and fourth round picks in 2021, along with two more fourth round selections they acquired from Kelowna and Prince Albert in trades that involved Lane Zablocki and Noah Gregor respectively.
They also have their first, third and fourth round picks in 2022, along with Saskatoon’s fourth as part of the Scott Walford trade and they could land Winnipeg’s fourth if the Ice can get 2002-born forward Carter Loney to decommit from the NCAA’s Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs and join their roster.
However, those picks are a long way from coming, which means that the Royals will need to keep building around their young core for next season. While they dealt Bentham to the Lethbridge Hurricanes on June 10, Alexander is expected to return, which should help the defence out a lot, and Schuurman should move into a permanent role in the top six and have Fizer as a running mate.
It’s unlikely that Tracey will come back, but if he doesn’t stick in the AHL with the San Diego Gulls, his return would give the Royals a huge piece to try and regain some of their lost assets as he’d be one of the top offensive threats in the league.
At this point, a post-season berth seems like a longshot in Victoria, but steady improvement from the youngsters and someone taking the reigns as the starting netminder will help this team out a lot as they build towards the future.