The Victoria Royals will be missing three players when their Western Hockey League preseason opens tonight and Saturday with games in Kelowna against the Rockets.
But that’s a good thing.
One measure of projected season success in major-junior hockey is the number of players a club has invited to NHL rookie camps and training camps. The Royals are moderately represented in NHL camps with three players, despite that they were one of the youngest team in the WHL last season.
Defenceman Gannon Laroque, selected in the fourth round of the NHL draft this year by San Jose, is in Sharks rookie camp. Forward Tarun Fizer is in Colorado Avalanche camp as a free agent and forward Brayden Tracey, a 2019 first-round draft pick of the Ducks, is in Anaheim’s camp.
Of the trio, Laroque and Fizer are almost guaranteed to return while Tracey remains a longshot to be back in a Royals jersey.
“If I was handicapping it, I would say signed 20-year-old first-rounders probably stay at the pro level in the AHL,” said Victoria GM and head coach Dan Price.
But, because of COVID, you never know, acknowledged Price. The last WHL season was severely truncated and the Ducks may want Tracey to get more playing time at the junior level. But that is pure conjecture at this point. The Ducks will do what the Ducks will do and all the Royals can do is wait and be prudent by building contingency plans at the 20-year-old positions. Realistically, Victoria needs to prepare for a season without Tracey returning.
The Royals are taking 28 players to the Okanagan this weekend following a training camp Price found revealing.
“Our team speed became evident during camp,” he said.
“We are going to have one of the quickest teams we’ve had. That is going to be a big part of the identity of this team.”
That won’t change the Royals’ patented pressure, forechecking approach, he said.
“If anything, the added speed allows us to apply more pressure and do more things with the puck than just pressure without the puck,” said Price.
Victoria closes out the preseason Sept. 25 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre against the Prince George Cougars in the first hockey game on Blanshard Street since March of 2020.
The Royals’ regular-season opener is Oct. 2 at the Memorial Centre against the Vancouver Giants, 581 days after that last WHL regular-season game on Blanshard, which was also against Vancouver.