The difference in scenery from the Prairies to the Island couldn’t be more stark for defenceman Neithan Salame — on several levels.
The 20-year-old is coming from the Brandon Wheat Kings to add a much-needed veteran presence to the young and injury-riddled Victoria Royals blue line corps, which has given up the most shots and second-most goals in the Western Hockey League this season.
In doing so, Salame comes from a Brandon club that won the East Division in the pandemic-abbreviated 2020-21 WHL season at 18-4-2 to a Royals team that recorded a record of 3-17-1 in finishing last in not only the B.C. Division but the entire WHL.
Victoria is 1-4 heading into tonight’s game in Prince George against the Cougars (0-3). Salame could be in the Royals lineup either tonight or in Sunday’s back-end of the two-game set at the CN Centre, pending arrival time and a day-to-day injury.
“We needed an older defenceman and found the perfect candidate,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.
“Neithan is a character guy who was highly regarded around the Wheat Kings team. He will add stability, leadership and experience to the back end.”
The Royals gave up a fifth-round selection in the 2022 WHL U-15 draft and a sixth-round pick in 2023 to acquire the stay-at-home rearguard who had 32 points with seven goals in 150 regular-season appearances with Brandon.
WHL teams are allowed to carry three 20-year-old over-agers. With Brandon having four returning players who were over-agers this season, Salame got caught in the numbers game.
“Today is a tough day. The limit of three 20-year-olds is one of the cruelest rules in the book in my opinion,” Wheat Kings GM Doug Gasper said in a statement.
“Neithan has been a positive example in the community and our dressing room and he exemplified everything a Wheat King should be, and we wish him all the best in Victoria.”
The addition of Salame also had a knock-on effect in Victoria, which already had its quota of 20-year-olds with forwards Bailey Peach, Evan Patrician and Graeme Bryks. The Royals released Bryks to make room for Salame. The situation could get sticky again if Royals captain and undrafted Colorado Avalanche free-agent prospect Tarun Fizer is returned to Victoria from the Colorado Eagles of the AHL.
Meanwhile, the Royals had to get down to the WHL active roster limit of 25 players and also released forwards Ty Yoder and Trentyn Crane.