From Russia to Minnesota, the Victoria Royals celebrated a bumper crop for the Western Hockey League franchise Saturday with a franchise-record four players taken on the second day of the 2016 NHL draft.
But Royals forward Matthew Phillips needed to look no further than just down the road. Any mere statement could barely do his feelings justice after the WHL rookie of the year was taken 166th overall in the sixth round by his hometown Calgary Flames.
“It’s tough putting it into words,” said Phillips, who led all WHL rookies with 37 goals and 76 points while establishing franchise records for goals, assists and points. “The Flames are the team I grew up following. That they believe in me enough to give me a chance is surreal. I kind of went into shock. You dream about the draft . . . and then you get selected by your hometown team. It’s not sunk in yet.”
The Flames have had success with five-foot-nine forward Johnny Gaudreau. If any team was poised to overlook Phillips’ five-foot-six frame, it was Calgary.
“They see it works drafting smaller, quicker players,” said Royals head coach Dave Lowry.
Russian forward Vladimir Bobylev, a steal in the WHL import draft for Victoria, who scored 28 goals with 67 points, was the highest Royals player taken at 122nd overall in the fifth round by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Also selected by Toronto, 152nd overall in the sixth round, was Royals forward/defenceman Jack Walker from Edina, Minnesota.
“Who knows, maybe [Bobylev] and I will be on the same line during scrimmages [next week in Leafs rookie camp],” said Walker, who has 176 points in 248 regular-season games for the Royals.
“It’s an exciting day for me and my family,” added the deceptively quick Walker, who was not ranked by Central Scouting and was in his second year of eligibility.
“I worked out for Toronto and Chicago, and I thought the Maple Leafs might take a chance.”
Royals forward Tyler Soy, selected 205th overall in the seventh round after his breakout 46-goal season, was also taken in his second year of eligibility.
“[Walker and Soy] had the right mindset [after being bypassed in last year’s draft] and their play became contagious throughout our roster,” Lowry said.
It certainly didn’t hurt the four Royals’ profiles when upstart Victoria swept to an unexpected 2015-16 WHL regular-season title.
“To have four players taken in a single draft obviously shows what Victoria does in terms of developing players,” said Walker, whose brother and ECHL pro Ben Walker is a Royals alumni.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for the organization.”
Soy also scored an invitation to the Canadian national team tryout camp this summer for the 2017 world junior championships.
“It shows that when the team has success, it translates into individual success,” he said.
Phillips, Soy, Walker and Bobylev will all return to the Royals for the 2016-17 season.
Six-foot-three defenceman Josh Anderson from Duncan was selected 71st overall in the third round by the Colorado Avalanche. He was restricted to just 39 games this past season for the Prince George Cougars of the WHL, but the Avs looked past that to project the Island blueliner’s ample potential.
The drafted players, and those invited as free agents, will attend NHL rookie camps over the next two weeks. The Vancouver Canucks rookie camp is July 4-7 at Shawnigan Lake School.