The Western Hockey League draft lottery provides a glimmer of hope to the six teams who miss the playoffs. The Victoria Royals enter the final weekend of the regular season, away tonight to Everett and home to the Silvertips on Saturday at the Memorial Centre, having known for three weeks that they will be a lottery team for the second consecutive year. That’s not a good thing but it is a consolation.
“As soon as the math became evident [that Victoria would again miss the playoffs], the lottery became our big project and big focus and we began focusing on a very few top players,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.
The Edmonton Oil Kingss, Spokane Chiefs, Prince Albert Raiders and Brandon Wheat Kings are guaranteed to join Victoria in the draft lottery. The sixth team will likely be the Swift Current Broncos but with still an outside chance of it being the Calgary Hitmen or Medicine Hat Tigers. The number of balls each of the six teams will receive in the hopper will depend on final overall placings. The Oil Kings are guaranteed to get the most number of balls as the 22nd and last-place team in the WHL. The Royals and Chiefs are guaranteed to have either the second- or third-most number of balls. The two teams head into the final weekend of the regular season tied with 39 points.
The Royals appear to have hit it out of the rink with last year’s lottery-pick Cole Reschny, selected third overall, and who looks to be a bright prospect.
The biggest question this year across the league revolves around forward Noah Kosick of Victoria, the top prospect for the 2023 WHL draft on many ranking sites, who has yet to declare whether he will play major-junior in the WHL or U.S. collegiate in the NCAA.
“Noah is as advertised,” said Price, who has seen Kosick play several times this season.
But Price wouldn’t tip what the Royals are thinking, and if they are willing to gamble their guaranteed top-six pick, on a hometown product who may never play in the league.
“We are very respectful of every player and the decisions they make and the paths they choose,” said Price.
“It’s all about what is the best fit for them as individual players.”
Meanwhile, the Royals must prepare for two meaningless games to close out another lost season.
“They are meaningful definitely for the 20-year-olds closing out their junior careers,” Price countered.
The Royals’s 20s are Riley Gannon, Alex Thacker and team leading-scorer Jake Poole, the latter who is injured.
“And it’s meaningful for Braden Holt [the Royals’ goaltender returning to Everett for the first time since being traded by the Silvertips],” added Price.
“The reality for the other players is that we are evaluating for next season the guys who show up and compete consistently. That means a lot to us as coaches and we will be noting that, and it also tells a lot to NHL scouts, who will be looking to see which guys show up and perform even though they know they are not going to the playoffs.”
The Royals (16-43-7) snapped a 12-game winless streak in their last game, a 7-6 shootout win over the Prince George Cougars. The Western Conference sixth-seed Silvertips (32-31-3) are preparing for their first-round playoff match-up against the third-seed Portland Winterhawks beginning next week.