Christensen takes on offensive load on back end for Raiders

Prince Albert Raiders defenceman Justice Christensen. -- Photo by Darren Steinke.

Justice Christensen has been the answer to one of the Prince Albert Raiders question marks heading into the current season.

After Landon Kosior graduated following the completion of the 2022-23 campaign, the Raiders faced a question of where would the offence come from on the back end?

Playing out his 20-year-old season on the Raiders defensive unit, Kosior finished second in team scoring with 63 points coming off 17 goals and 46 assists to go with a plus-three rating in the plus-minus department in 60 games. In 2021-22, Kosior also topped the Raiders in defence scoring with 45 points coming off 18 goals and 27 assists to go with a minus-four rating appearing in all of the team’s 68 regular season games.

When he exhausted his major junior eligibility, the Raiders had a crater sized hole to fill when it came to offensive production from their back end. Current Raiders captain Eric Johnston finished second in team scoring from the blue-line with 17 points coming off three goals and 14 assists to go with a plus-six rating in 2022-23.

The beauty of junior hockey is a departure of an older veteran creates an opportunity for a younger member of the team.

Christensen skated in to fill part of the void. Appearing in all the Raiders 32 regular season games entering play on Tuesday, Christensen leads all Raiders rearguards in scoring with 22 points coming off six goals and 16 assists to go with an even-rating. The 18-year-old sophomore sits inside the top 15 in the WHL in scoring by defencemen.

As a 17-year-old rookie last season, Christensen, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 185 pounds, went through the expected growing pains most rookie blue-liners encounter when they start playing in the WHL. He suited up in 64 games with the Raiders posting two goals, seven assists and a minus-28 rating.

Defence is often the hardest position to learn as you move up in each level of hockey. You have to handle the responsibilities of protecting your own end and reading the ice to start rushes to the other end of the rink when you get the puck. When an opponent sees a rookie player is on the back end, they will usually dump the puck in the rookie defenceman’s end of the ice and see if the defender makes a mistake under the pressure of the forecheck.

Christensen was given every opportunity to gain the experience he was lacking playing in the WHL, and he steadily improved as the campaign went on. Before joining the Raiders, the Red Deer product spent the 2021-22 campaign in Abbotsford, B.C., with the Yale Hockey Academy under-18 Prep team.

He was the captain of the Yale team that season appearing in 35 games collecting eight goals and 13 assists. Having gone unselected in the WHL Prospects Draft, Christensen’s play with the Yale Hockey Academy impressed the Raiders scouts and management enough that they signed him on May 3, 2022.

While the potential was there for Christensen to one day put up points, there are no guarantees that offensive production will transfer from one level of hockey to another. Plus, most WHL rookies go through periods where it will seem like they are in over their heads on the ice.

Raiders general manager Curtis Hunt and Raiders head coach Jeff Truitt have seen their share of young players develop over the decades of their lengthy careers, so they know they will have to exercise some patience. Even when Christensen went through periods when he struggled, Hunt and Truitt saw enough positive signs to see what the blue-liner could eventually become.

Now, Christensen is performing well as an offensive-defenceman. As he continues to develop, he will become that much more of an important player for the Raiders for the rest of the current season and in the next two future campaigns to come.

Rebels’ Wutzke gets goalie of the week nod, other notes

Chase Wutzke’s robbery performance against the Raiders helped the Debden product capture an individual weekly award.

On Monday, the WHL announced the Red Deer Rebels netminder was the circuit’s goaltender of the week for the week ending on December 10. On Saturday, Wutzke made 35 saves to allow the visiting Rebels to slip past the host Raiders 2-1 at the Art Hauser Centre.

The Rebels were up 2-0 in that contest until Wutzke was finally beaten by Raiders star 20-year-old winger Sloan Stanick with 67 seconds remaining in the third period. As that contest was the Raiders “teddy bear toss” game, Wutzke made the Raiders faithful wait an extended time before engaging in the festivities of throwing stuffed animals on to the rink’s ice surface.

On Tuesday, December 5, Wutzke saw his first appearance stopping all eight shots he faced playing the third period during a relief outing in a 5-2 loss to the Wheat Kings in Brandon. One night later, Wutzke made 21 stops to back the Rebels to a 5-1 victory over the Warriors in Moose Jaw. The 17-year-old rookie has appeared in nine games this season for the Rebels posting a 5-2-1 record, a 2.61 goals against average and a .911 save percentage.

Everett Silvertips star left-winger Dominik Rymon was the WHL’s player of the week, and Tri-City Americans centre Max Curran was the WHL rookie of the week.

  • On Monday, the Raiders announced Kosior was going to join the University of Saskatchewan Huskies Men’s Hockey Team in the U Sports ranks for the second semester of the 2023-24 campaign. The 21-year-old had been with the ECHL’s Iowa Heartlanders. In 19 games with the Heartlanders, Kosior had two goals, 11 assists and a plus-one rating.
  • On Monday, the CHL announced the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic will host the Memorial Cup tournament in 2025 that determines a CHL champion.
  • The Wenatchee Wild road a roller-coaster this past weekend. They were drubbed 9-3 by the host Tri-City Americans on Saturday in Kennewick, Wash. One night later, the Wild slipped past the Chiefs in Spokane 4-3. The Wild, who were formerly the Winnipeg Ice last season, top the U.S. Division with a 20-9-3 mark.
  • Graham Sward, who is a 20-year-old rearguard with the Wild, leads the WHL in defencemen scoring. He has 42 points coming off six goals and 36 assists to go with a plus-33 rating in 30 games.
  • The Prince George Cougars, who lead the B.C. Division with a 22-8 record, have the WHL’s best power play so far this season. The Cougars have converted 43-of-137 attempts for a 31.4 per cent success rate.
  • Three WHL clubs cracked the CHL Top 10 rankings that were released on Tuesday. The Cougars were rated third, the Saskatoon Blades were ranked fifth and the Wild were placed ninth.
  • The WHL’s trade deadline is set for January 10, 2024.