There is a lot of expectation placed on Western Hockey League first-round bantam draft picks. It’s often hard to live up to the hype of being a potential future NHLer.
That’s what makes the Victoria Royals’ acquisition this week of defenceman Jacob Herauf, the 16th overall selection in the 2016 WHL draft, so intriguing. He has been a work in progress who might be ready to bloom, according to the Royals.
“Sometimes it takes defencemen a longer time to turn the corner,” Royals GM Cameron Hope said.
“You never know, and everyone is an individual case.”
There might be something to the late-bloomer angle, which is why Herauf didn’t come cheap. The Royals had to part with their second-round pick in the 2020 WHL bantam draft, a sixth-round selection in 2021 and a conditional pick in 2022 to obtain the 19-year-old rearguard from the Red Deer Rebels.
“It’s not often that an experienced guy like that, a former first-rounder, is available,” said Hope. “He is a well-rounded veteran defenceman.”
The six-foot, 195-pound blue-liner from Sherwood Park, Alta., had a goal, 16 points and 45 penalty minutes in 66 games last season for the Rebels and has three goals and 39 points with 103 penalty minutes in 173 career WHL games, all with the Rebels.
The trade allowed the Royals to move 18-year-old defenceman Remy Aquilon to the Prince Albert Raiders in exchange for a seventh-round pick in the 2020 WHL draft. The native of Kelowna played 50 games for the Royals last season with four assists.
“Remy was solid for us. But he also spent some time in the press box, and he can play in this league, and will get that chance with Prince Albert,” said Hope.
The Royals appear set on the blue line after trading for veterans Herauf, Will Warm and Nolan Jones. The trio will join returnees Mitchell Prowse and Matthew Smith, along with touted hometown prospect and 2018 first-round WHL bantam draft selection Nolan Bentham and fellow-rookie Noah Lamb, who showed much fearlessness as an undersized dynamo driving into the opposing zone as a playoff call-up last spring.
Herauf was a free-agent invitee to the NHL training camp of the Pittsburgh Penguins last year. The Royals have Warm headed to an NHL training camp this fall and we won’t have to go far to the Vancouver Canucks training camp taking place at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.
There are 106 WHL players who will attend NHL camps beginning this week. The defending league-champion Raiders, Edmonton Oil Kings and Spokane Chiefs each have nine players at NHL camps. Six teams each have seven players attending NHL camps — the Kelowna Rockets, Calgary Hitmen, Everett Silvertips, Portland Winterhawks, Saskatoon Blades and Vancouver Giants.
Having top players miss the early part of the season is a double-edged sword for WHL teams.
But without many pro prospects, it’s an indication the Royals will again rely on their total team approach. In the span of their eight WHL seasons in Victoria, the Royals join the Silvertips and Winterhawks as the only three teams not to miss the playoffs.
The Royals will open the 2019-20 regular season in Everett, Washington, against the Silvertips on Sept. 21. Victoria’s home opener is Sept. 27 against the Prince George Cougars at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre.