Victoria Royals look to the future in import draft

There is not much that is clear about the 2020-21 Western Hockey League season due to COVID-19. Its announced starting date of Oct. 2 is considered optimistic because it is predicated on minimum 50 per cent attendance.

But one thing that is known for sure by the Victoria Royals is that whenever play begins, they are set in terms of European players. That makes the 2020 Canadian Hockey League online import draft today a bit of an anticlimax for the club.

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The Royals said their captain Phillip Schultz of Denmark and 2019-20 team rookie-of-the-year Keanu Derungs will return.

The CHL — the umbrella organization for the WHL, Ontario Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League — allows two imports per team.

The Royals, slotted to pick 27th today among the 60 teams, say they will make a selection in the first round but are looking for a longer-term prospect who will stay in Europe next season and join the club in 2021-22.

“This is when you have to be very clear and transparent with the player, his agent and his family so they do not feel misled,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.

Price admitted there are “so many variables” with a selection such as this, especially if the player opts to re-enter the CHL import draft next year.

“We don’t know if this player will join us in 2021-22 or ever,” said Price. “But we still think it’s worthwhile making the pick.”

The Royals said they will pass on their final selection in the two-round draft, which is slotted at 87th.

Victoria is clearly content with forwards Schultz and Derungs.

Schultz has thrice represented Denmark in the IIHF world junior hockey championship and will be entering his third season with the Royals as one of three allowable 20-year-olds. He has emerged as the true leader of this Royals group. Schultz missed the early part of last season to injury and was limited to 46 games with 16 goals and 26 points.

“[Schultz] has demonstrated he is mature and responsible and is a great leader for our team,” said Price.

“He has wide versatility and has played forward, defence and on the power play and penalty kill. He competes so hard every night. We feel that is a hallmark of our team and Phillip embodies that ethic.”

Derungs had 15 goals and 29 points as a 17-year-old in being named the Royals’ top rookie of the 2019-20 season. What the club liked best was his steady progression.

“He improved as the season went on, which is what you look for, and was playing his best hockey by the end of the season,” said Price.

“He grew, and is poised and calm on the puck, and will be an important player for us moving forward.”

The draft will be conducted with the order of selection rotating through each of the CHL’s three leagues, using an inverse order of final regular season standings from 2019-20. The first team to select will be North Bay of the OHL followed by Acadie-Bathurst of the QMJHL and the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL.

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