Growing up in Prince Albert, Jayden Kraus is no stranger to the Art Hauser Centre.
The 17-year-old netminder will be making his first appearance as a Western Hockey League player in his hometown rink when the Victoria Royals take on the Prince Albert Raiders this Friday night.
Kraus says Friday has been circled on his calendar since he first broke camp with the Royals in September.
“Probably from the first day that I joined the Royals this year, I was looking forward to it. My whole life I’ve played in the Art Hauser or so. I’m super thrilled and super pumped to play at it on Friday coming up here.”
Kraus spent the last two seasons tending the crease for the Prince Albert Mintos, posting a 26-19-0 record, a 2.64 Goals Against Average and a .911 save percentage in 51 games played. He was selected in the third round, 46th overall, by the Victoria Royals in the 2021 WHL Prospects Draft and made the team out of training camp serving as the tandem mate to 20-year-old Braden Holt.
Although it’s not certain if he will receive the starting nod from Royals head coach James Patrick, Kraus says he is looking forward to living a childhood dream of being part of a WHL game at the Art Hauser Centre and competing against a former billet brother.
“I don’t really even know how to put it in words. I’d say it’s going to be pretty surreal to be honest. Since I’ve been a young kid, my family has had season tickets. We billeted the Raiders for a number of years. Actually, a couple of years ago, we billeted Max Hildebrand, starting goalie now for the Raiders. I think it’ll be a pretty cool moment and hopefully get to play head-to-head against Max.”
So far in his rookie campaign, Kraus has posted an 8-7-0-1 record, a 3.90 Goals Against Average and a .873 save percentage.
Kraus says he has been doing everything he can to improve as a goaltender learning from his tandem mate Holt, a veteran of more than 120 WHL games.
“Every day (I’m) trying to get better and trying to learn, especially learning from (Braden) Holt. He’s been around the league for a long time, and he’s been fantastic for me. Any opportunities that I get making the most of it and being ready to play my best every night.”
Kraus will not be the only player with Prince Albert connections in the lineup for the Royals. Former Mintos Nate Misskey and Logan Pickford will also be returning to their old stomping grounds.
Pickford and Kraus were teammates with the Mintos last season. Kraus says he has enjoyed playing alongside Pickford in both the midget and WHL ranks.
“It’s awesome. I played with Logan my second year midget. It’s awesome to go to a new place and have somebody that you are good buddies with. Logan’s been really good for the Royals this year. He’s started the year on a great note, so happy to have Logan here with me.”
For Logan Pickford, there was no guarantee he would break camp with the Victoria Royals at the start of the season. Pickford went undrafted in the WHL Prospects Draft and earned an invite to the Royals training camp after posting 41 points in 43 games with the Mintos last season.
After a strong showing at camp, Pickford has posted 11 points in 31 games with the Royals so far this season.
“I just went down there to try my luck one more time and end up making it.” Pickford says. “If I didn’t make it, I would go back to Prince Albert and play another year there, so I just wasn’t really sure what I was going to have to do, but luckily enough, made the team. I was more than fortunate and happy enough.”
If Pickford did not make the roster with the Royals, he would’ve served as the captain of the Prince Albert Mintos as he was awarded the “C” at the team’s year end banquet. Pickford was an assistant captain for the Mintos in 2022-23.
Pickford says he has enjoyed the challenge of playing in the WHL so far this season.
“Guys are bigger, heavier, faster (and stronger). It’s been an awesome transition and I’ve loved every bit of it so far.”
When asked about joining Kraus in Victoria, Pickford says having a previous teammate made the transition to the WHL easier.
“It’s really nice to move out to Victoria as a teammate I played with last year. He’s a great buddy. We’ve been buds for a little while now. It’s been a ton of fun playing with him. He’s had a huge start to this year, and he’s contributed to quite a few wins.”
Puck drops between the Royals and Raiders on Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.