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On, off-ice issues swirl as Royals, Blazers set to meet in two-game WHL set

Winless in last 11 games, Royals look to get on track against Blazers

The Victoria Royals and ­Kamloops Blazers meet tonight and Wednesday at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre with trade speculation having swirled around both teams the past few weeks.

In a prickly exchange last week with the Kamloops media, Regina Pats coach and GM John Paddock was adamant that prodigy Connor Bedard would not be traded to the Blazers. The Pats are strictly an average team going nowhere, despite the presence of Bedard, the consensus projected top-overall pick for the 2023 NHL draft. The Blazers, meanwhile, are hosting the 2023 Memorial Cup in the spring.

Goaltender Tyler Palmer, meanwhile, remains away from the Royals without explanation amid speculation he wants a trade. The Royals are listing it as a “personal leave.”

What is for certain is that Logan Stankoven won’t be traded. The Blazers forward, who won gold with Canada in the 2022 world junior championship and is a lock for the 2023 world junior side, was named WHL player of the week for his two goals and nine points in three games including a goal and three assists in a 9-3 rout of Bedard and the Pats. The Dallas Stars-signed hometown Kamloops product Stankoven is the defending WHL MVP and joins fellow Blazers forward Caedan Bankier and, of course, Bedard among the 13 WHL players named for the Canadian selection camp beginning Friday in Moncton, N.B., for the 2023 world junior tournament that runs Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Halifax, N.S., and Moncton.

The travel details this week to Moncton were not released.

“We are preparing for both eventualities — Stankoven and Bankier in the Kamloops lineup, and not in the lineup,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.

The Blazers (13-5-5), meanwhile, are dealing from the top of the deck as they look for immediate infusion to strengthen their club, having already made a big move to load up for the Memorial Cup. Kamloops acquired NHL fourth-round Las Vegas Golden Knights draft pick Jakub Demek, a 19-year-old currently-injured forward who played for Slovakia in the 2022 world junior championship, from the Edmonton Oil Kings. The Oil Kings faced heavy graduation after winning the WHL championship last season and advancing to the 2022 Memorial Cup and are now in full-rebuild mode. The Oil Kings received from Kamloops the Blazers’ first-round pick in the 2023 WHL prospects draft and a conditional second-round selection in 2024, a conditional third rounder and a fourth rounder in 2026.

That is the sort of haul the Royals should be looking for in compensation for Palmer, who has held Victoria in many games this season and last season. The club has released no further information on Palmer’s status.

“There is no change to the situation,” said Price.

Victoria, however, did make a move Monday in trading top-pairing defenceman Wyatt Wilson to the Winnipeg Ice for two conditional fourth-round selections in the 2023 and 2026 WHL prospects drafts. Wilson, who skated in the NHL rookie camp of the Winnipeg Jets, was injured long term on Oct. 11 and is expected out for anywhere between four to eight months. The Ice lead the WHL and are No. 2 in the Canadian Hockey League top-10 poll. But the variable length of the Wilson injury makes it a guessing game as to whether he is out for the season or will be able to join the Ice late in the season or in a possible deep playoff run to the Memorial Cup.

“This gives us some draft flexibility and draft capital,” said Price, about the Royals’ rationale for the trade.

Victoria (3-20-3) has the second-lowest winning percentage in the WHL at .173 ahead of only the Oil Kings at .167. The Royals have just one point to show over their last 11 games. The Blazers sit atop the B.C. Division and have earned seven of a possible eight points over their past four games.

“Kamloops is very balanced and their forwards and defencemen are highly versatile and both attack the net in the rush,” said Price.

The Royals are coming off respective 3-1 and 3-0 road losses against CHL top-five ranked Portland and Seattle.

“The performances were encouraging and a confidence boost for the team. The difference was special teams,” said Price.

But moral victories will no longer cut it. The Royals, already 13 points adrift of a playoff berth, need to make a move soon or risk completely losing contact with the pack.

“We have seven games remaining before the Christmas break. We are looking at it as a series and being above .500 in that series,” said Price.

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