Watts’ WHL career comes full circle by joining the Raiders

Lucas Punkari/Daily Herald Prince Albert Raiders forward Brayden Watts fires a shot at the net during a game against the Winnipeg Ice at the Art Hauser Centre last Saturday night.

When Brayden Watts made his debut in the Western Hockey League on Sept. 26, 2015, he did so as a member of the Moose Jaw Warriors as they visited the Brandt Centre to face the Regina Pats.

The forward from Bakersfield, Calif. found himself back in Saskatchewan’s capital city for the first game of his overage campaign last Friday night as he made his first appearance in a Prince Albert Raiders uniform following a trade with the Vancouver Giants earlier in the week.

“I remember being in Moose Jaw for my rookie year and Prince Albert was one of our rivals that season, especially as we played them in the first round,” Watts said. “To be on the other side of that now is pretty cool.

“The last few years in the league have flown by pretty fast, but it’s great to have one more crack at winning a championship and hopefully we can do that here.”

It was a whirlwind journey for Watts, who was acquired from the Giants for a fifth round pick in the 2021 WHL Bantam Draft last Tuesday, as he made the drive out to Prince Albert from Langley, B.C. ahead of his debut with the team.

He made an immediate impact by scoring two goals and setting up another in a 5-2 win over the Pats and followed that up a night later with an assist on Jeremy Masella’s game-winning goal in a 3-2 overtime triumph over the Winnipeg Ice at the Art Hauser Centre.

“Those first couple of days were a bit weird as I came into town and had a practice before those games on the weekend,” Watts said

“We got two big wins and I got to know the guys a little bit more, along with getting a better idea of how the team works. I got to build some chemistry with them and I’m feeling more comfortable each day that I’m here.”

A third round pick in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft, Watts had nine points in 97 games for the Warriors before he was dealt to the Giants in January 2017.

During his two-and-a-half year stint in British Coumbia, he had 91 points in 157 games and also had 10 points in 22 games in last year’s playoffs as the Giants went to a seventh and deciding game in the league final against the Raiders.

“Those years in Vancouver were huge for me,” Watts said. “They gave me a chance to play and the opportunity to show what I can do at this level.

“I’m looking forward to playing the guys here next Tuesday night. I know they are wanting some redemption after losing the final back in May and it’ll be a really fun game.”

In addition to providing a boost to the Raiders offence, Watts hopes to use some of the lessons that he’s learned from his teammates over the years to advise the younger players on the roster.

“I’ve had the chance to play with some great leaders like Brayden Point in Moose Jaw and Jared Dmytriw in Vancouver,” Watts said. “I learned a lot from those two and hopefully I can take some of the things they taught me and help out the guys here in whatever way I can.

Watts and the rest of the 3-0-1-0 Raiders will return to action Friday night when the Saskatoon Blades come to town.

They’ll continue their six-game homestand Saturday against the Pats, in a contest that will also see fans have the chance to pick up an Ozzy Wiesblatt Bobblehead by making a $2 donation to Jumpstart Prince Albert.

Both games will start at 7 p.m. at the Art Hauser Centre.

Pre-Game Notes

Friday’s contest is the third of the season between the East Division rivals, with each team having picked up a win thus far.

The Blades prevailed in a 3-2 overtime affair on Friday, Sept. 20 at the Art Hauser Centre, while the Raiders bounced back with a 1-0 triumph at SaskTel Centre a night later.

Following a dramatic 3-2 come-from-behind win over the Lethbridge Hurricanes Wednesday, the Blades have a 2-3 record and are in fourth place in the East Division.

Washington Capitals draft pick Eric Florchuk is listed as day-to-day on the WHL’s Weekly Report as he’s yet to play since being hurt on a hit by Raiders forward Justin Nachbaur in the first period of the opening game of the season.

Meanwhile, Blades star forward Kirby Dach remains with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks, but he’s yet to play with the team since suffering a concussion at a prospect tournament in Traverse City, Mich. last month.

Wednesday’s Scores

  • Kamloops 8 Seattle 1 (Kyrell Sopotyk – Two Goals and One Assist)
  • Kelowna 6 Tri-City 1 (Nolan Foote – One Goal and Three Assists)
  • Saskatoon 3 Lethbridge 2 (Koen MacInnes – 36 Saves)
  • Swift Current 4 Edmonton 3 (Connor Horning Overtime Winner – Carter Souch – Two Goals)

Friday’s Schedule

  • Vancouver vs. Brandon – 6:30 p.m.
  • Edmonton vs. Winnipeg – 6:30 p.m.
  • Portland vs. Lethbridge – 7 p.m.
  • Saskatoon vs. Prince Albert – 7 p.m.
  • Medicine Hat vs. Regina – 7 p.m.
  • Red Deer vs. Swift Current – 7 p.m.
  • Kelowna vs. Prince George – 8 p.m.
  • Seattle vs. Spokane – 8 p.m.