Call it the Belarusian Boost.
The Prince George Cougars are expected have a key cog back in the lineup tonight when they face the Victoria Royals in the first of a two-game Western Hockey League set at the CN Centre.
Vladislav Mikhalchuk will rejoin the Cougars after beginning the season in pro with Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod of the KHL and affiliate Torpedo Gorky of the VHL in Russia.
The 20-year-old forward led the Cougars in scoring last season with 25 goals and 25 assists. The re-addition of the six-foot-two native of Minsk couldn’t come at a more opportune time for the flagging Cougars, who are last in the B.C. Division and Western Conference at 4-12-1.
This will be Mikhalchuk’s third season in Prince George and the Royals are wary his impact will have both on and off the ice.
“This gives Prince George a new look from when we saw them earlier in the season and is definitely a boost to the Cougars,” said Royals head coach Dan Price.
“It is an emotional lift for the team, as well, having him back. So, we know it’s going to take our best effort this weekend.”
In exchange for the immediate upgrade Mikhalchuk represents, the Cougars traded away a bit of their future in 18-year-old import Czech forward Matéj Toman, the fifth overall selection in the 2018 CHL import draft, to the Saskatoon Blades for a sixth-round bantam draft selection.
WHL teams can only carry two import players and the Cougars have opted for forwards Mikhalchuk and Czech Filip Koffer, the latter taken 10th overall in the 2019 import draft.
Meanwhile, Price noted his team’s offensive distribution as 11 Victoria players earned points as the Royals (7-7-1) defeated the Kelowna Rockets 6-3 late Wednesday night to begin the B.C. Division road trip.
“I liked that balance,” he said.
“I also liked that we created goals in different ways, on the power play [2-4], off the forecheck, from rushes and on second efforts. That shows that we were doing well in all different phases of our offensive game. That is encouraging.”
The Royals scored six times on only 20 shots, indicating that crease play is an issue for the Rockets as they prepare to host the 2020 Memorial Cup in Kelowna.
“We were opportunistic,” concluded Price.