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Royals close out pre-season with optimism and look ahead to regular-season opener Friday

Victoria Royals head coach Dan Price pleased with his club’s final 3-1 record pre-season.
Team Outhouse goaltender Lucas Szulc makes a save on Team Hicketts forward Will Lutic during Victoria Royals training camp at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

With so many top players in NHL rookie camps, Western Hockey League pre-seasons are notoriously hard to judge, if not impossible.

That said, Victoria Royals head coach Dan Price labelled himself pleased with his club’s final 3-1 record.

“I was happy with the team’s overall performance during the pre-season,” said Price.

“Every player competed hard, and as a whole we played with a good level of physicality. We were able to work on our team systems and we’ll continue that work and building our foundation this week.”

It begins for real on Friday night when the Royals open the regular season at the Langley Events Centre against the Vancouver Giants followed by a game Saturday at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, Washington, against the Silvertips. The home openers are Sept. 29-30 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre against the Prince George Cougars.

Price said he did not yet know the status for opening weekend of his five players in NHL training camps, but that’s a common refrain around the WHL. Royals defenceman and Minnesota draft pick Kalem Parker is in Wild camp and Victoria blueliner and Arizona draft selection Justin Kipkie in Coyotes camp. Free-agent Victoria defenceman Nate Misskey is with the Edmonton Oilers prospects and Royals captain and 2022 Sharks fourth-round draft-pick Laroque is in the San Jose camp from a potentially-loaded Victoria blue line. Royals forward Reggie Newman is a free agent in the Coyotes camp.

A total of 31 of the 32 NHL teams have at least one WHL-eligible player in camp. The Calgary Flames have nine and the Wild eight, followed by the Oilers and Nashville Predators with seven each.

“Anytime you can be at that [pro] level — and they [pros] are demonstrating constantly day-in and day-out what it takes to be at that level and how they got there and how they earned spots on the team and increased their minutes and roles — you’re going to learn a lot by just watching that standard and bringing it back to Victoria,” Price has said.

Kipkie and Newman played for the Coyotes and Laroque for the Sharks in the 2023 Rookie Faceoff tournament over the weekend in Las Vegas. Parker skated for the Wild in the Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Misskey with the Oilers prospects at the 2023 Young Stars Classic in Penticton, both also over the weekend.

Forward Ty Halaburda of Victoria, who plays in the WHL with the Giants, is a free-agent invite of the Boston Bruins, and forward Parker Bell of Campbell River, who plays in the WHL for the Tri-City Americans, is a draft pick of the Calgary Flames.

Each of the 22 WHL teams has at least two players in NHL camps. The defending WHL champion Seattle Thunderbirds lead with 14 players. The Kamloops Blazers, Portland Winterhawks and Wenatchee Wild each have 10 players in NHL camps. Of the B.C. Division teams, the Blazers lead with 10 players in NHL camps followed by the Royals, Cougars, Giants and Kelowna Rockets with five each.

The Moose Jaw Warriors lead the WHL Eastern Conference with seven players in NHL camps.

Meanwhile, the Royals closed the pre-season over the weekend with Jayden Krause recording a 29-save shutout in Kamloops in a 2-0 win against the Blazers. Defenceman and 2023 WHL prospects draft first-round selection Keaton Vehoeff, selected fourth overall, scored twice in a 4-2 victory in Kelowna over the Rockets to show he will be a cornerstone player beginning next season on Blanshard Street. Vehoeff, 15, is limited to five WHL games this season. Along with highly-touted 16-year-old Royals rookie forward Cole Reschny, selected third overall in the 2022 WHL prospects draft, he gives hope for the future to a franchise that has missed the playoffs the last two seasons after finishing last in the WHL in the 2021 bubble season.

“Keaton worked very hard throughout training camp and the pre-season. He showed good poise, competitiveness and attention to detail,” said Price.

“He’s a very hardworking, humble and respectful person so he’s fitting in well here and those qualities bode well for his future potential with the club.”

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