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Royals get older with flurry of veteran Western Hockey League player additions

The hockey concept of changing lines “on the fly” was invented in Victoria by the Cougars and their visionary mentor Lester Patrick. A century later, the Victoria Royals have given the term a whole new meaning.

The hockey concept of changing lines “on the fly” was invented in Victoria by the Cougars and their visionary mentor Lester Patrick.

A century later, the Victoria Royals have given the term a whole new meaning. The Western Hockey League club has so greatly changed its roster on the fly this season that it could almost qualify as the subject of a makeover show on TV.

Defenceman Anson McMaster, forward Caleb Willms and goaltender Campbell Arnold, all 19, made their Royals debuts at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Saturday night.

The Royals, the youngest team in the WHL last season and one of the youngest this season, suddenly got a lot older.

“We needed a bit more veteran experience,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.

McMaster was acquired Saturday from the Winnipeg Ice for a conditional seventh-round selection in the 2023 WHL bantam draft and Willms was also in a trade announced Saturday from the Medicine Hat Tigers for a conditional sixth-round selection in the 2024 WHL bantam draft. Arnold, plus a ninth-round WHL draft pick, came from the Spokane Chiefs in exchange for Victoria’s third-round WHL draft selection in 2023 in a deal made Thursday.

The towering McMaster is six-foot-six and 210 pounds while Arnold is intriguing in that he is from Nanaimo and was Spokane’s first-round selection in the 2017 WHL bantam draft, which is usually seen as potential future pro territory. A knee injury in 2019-20, followed by surgery, hampered Arnold’s career in Spokane. A new beginning on his home Island may be just the spark he needs.

Throw in 20-year-old defenceman Neithan Salame, acquired last week by the Royals from the Brandon Wheat Kings for a fifth-round pick in the 2022 WHL draft and a sixth-rounder in 2023, but who has yet to suit up for Victoria due to injury.

Adding a sense of urgency to the acquisitions is Victoria’s horrendous injury situation with nine players out of the lineup.

The Royals clearly are not willing to pull the pin on what is shaping up as a very challenging season. But pundits might ask if it isn’t better at this point to build for future years and hoard bantam draft picks rather than trade them for immediate help.

“The draft picks we have traded are quite conservative and in later rounds,” said Price.

ICE CHIPS: The Prince George Cougars (4-3) defeated the Royals (1-8) 4-1 Saturday night at the Memorial Centre as Arnold made 31 saves for Victoria to be named game second star. Carter Briltz scored his first for Victoria. Koehn Ziemmer led Prince George with a goal and assist.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com