Truitt hoping for big things out of Raiders in second half of WHL season

Nathan Reiter/Daily Herald. Prince Albert Raiders forward Sloan Stanick takes to the ice during warmups prior to a Raider home game earlier this season.

The Prince Albert Raiders are exactly at the halfway point of the 2023-24 Western Hockey League season.

Prince Albert currently sits in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a 17-15-0-2 record on the season, which is also tied for the 11th best record in the entire league.

Raiders head coach Jeff Truitt says Prince Albert always wants to improve, but he is satisfied with how the first half of the season has gone.

“I’m happy with where we’re at right now. We know that there’s more to go. To get off to the start, which was better than a year ago, to be over .500 right now at the halfway mark, we’re happy that way. We’re still striving to get better, and we will.”

The story of the WHL so far has been parity. Only two points separate the Raiders, who sit sixth in the Eastern Conference with 36 points and the Moose Jaw Warriors who possess third place with 38 points.

Truitt says the final placements in the standings may not be determined until the final day of the regular season.

“We’ve talked about it a lot that. Right out of the get go the teams were clumped up and it still remains that way 34 games in. It just goes to show you, especially in this conference, that one to eight situation, one to nine is going to be a dog fight right to the end. I haven’t seen it this tight with as many teams.”

Being in the thick of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference in the first half of the season, the Raiders will be playing plenty of meaningful games in the second half of the season. Truitt says being in the middle of a tightly contested playoff race will help the team for this season and beyond.

“I think the players understand that the conference is so tight and that’s going to push them to be the best. The second half of the season, you’re asking your leadership group and everybody on board to understand the situation that we’re in and the level we’re going to have to maintain throughout the second half. That makes everybody better in the realization with the younger guys about performing at their best every night. I think it’s a good thing. It helps your development. It helps the kids understand this is the type of hockey that we need to play.”

So far this season, the Raiders have had success on special teams. Prince Albert currently holds the ninth best power play in the WHL converting on 21.0% of their chances on the man advantage. The Raiders are tied with the Lethbridge Hurricanes for the fifth best penalty kill in the league, successfully killing 82.8% of man advantages they face.

Truitt says the special teams have been a key to the Raider success so far this season, but they will need to continue playing well on special teams in order to punch their ticket to the postseason.

“It’s been huge. On the power play, we’d like to have a little bit more production out there, maybe getting (in) the top five. That’s what we need to do, is make that power play really lethal. It’s got to be a difference maker. We’ll continue to put the emphasis on that. The penalty kill has been pretty good. Keeping teams off the score sheet, that’s going to be a big thing as well. It’s very important and usually the difference in the games. We’ve got to continue to keep pushing on and getting better and having good special teams.”

In terms of individual players, Truitt highlighted three players who have performed well for the Raiders to this point, but adds that he has seen plenty of positive signs across the roster.

“You take a look at Max Hildebrand and his progression; you take a look at how consistent he’s been and he’s been giving us a chance to win every time that he’s in the net. Justice Christensen as well has taken a big leap point production wise for our club, which has been really good for the scoring out of the back end. Sloan Stanick has consistently been a guy who is scoring for us. There’s been a lot of positives throughout the roster and we’re looking for more growth (in) secondary scoring as we move along here. I’m sure that some of those guys that I’ve mentioned have done a great job, but there’s also other ones that have contributed, maybe not on the score sheet, but just in effort and work ethic and what they mean to us.”

The first date circled on the calendars of WHL clubs after the Christmas break will be the trade deadline for the 2023-24 season which is on Jan. 10, 2024.

Truitt says it wouldn’t surprise him if a few WHL teams moved some household names.

“I think there’s definitely going to be some moves. I believe that there are going to be some big names involved, teams that are going to really want to push to win a division, win a conference, and getting into a deep playoff run. It’s what you want to pay. Some teams are in good positions with draft picks and what not to spend. But on the other hand, you’ve got to play next year as well.

“I think you’re going to see some movement. I really don’t know how much, but I think there’s going to be teams that are going to push their chips all in as they do every year. It’s going to be interesting what teams do what.”

According to a spreadsheet done by Alan Caldwell, the Raiders possess two first round picks (their own and Seattle’s via the Nolan Allan trade) and three third round selections (their own, Wenatchee via the Carson Latimer trade and Seattle’s via the Nolan Allan trade)

The Raiders begin the second half of the WHL season when they take on the Saskatoon Blades on Dec. 27 at SaskTel Centre. Puck drops at 7 p.m.