The Victoria Royals dropped a spot in the Western Hockey League draft lottery held Wednesday, going from the third to fourth overall selection, while the Prince Albert Raiders set themselves up as the team of future with the first and second picks.
The question now is will the Raiders gamble one of those top-two picks on consensus overall No. 1 prospect Noah Kosick of Victoria? The touted 14-year-old forward with the Langford-based Pacific Hockey Academy has made it known he wants to play for the hometown Royals if he goes the WHL route, and is also leaving his U.S. collegiate NCAA options open.
The lottery was open to the six teams that missed the playoffs, with the number of balls in the hopper based on the inverse order of the final standings from the 2022-23 regular season. Teams were able to climb two spots and guaranteed not to drop more than two spots, so the Royals could have selected anywhere from first to fifth overall in the WHL draft to be conducted May 11.
Two of the six playoff-less teams had traded their first-round lottery selections. The Edmonton Oil Kings held the first slot but traded it to the Raiders.
The Oil Kings’ ball was picked first out of the hopper, meaning Prince Albert gets the first overall selection. The Raiders then got lucky again with the balls when their own No. 4 lottery slot was improved to No. 2. That sent the original No. 2 slot-holder Spokane Chiefs to No. 3 while the original No. 3 Royals dropped to No. 4. The Brandon Wheat Kings stayed at No. 5. The Vancouver Giants stayed at No. 6 in a lottery pick acquired in a trade from the Swift Current Broncos.
“We know we are still going to get a very good prospect and a quality player at number four,” said Royals GM and head coach Dan Price.
“We will focus on who we believe are the top-four players.”
The Royals, who have missed the playoffs for two successive seasons, selected apparent star-in-the-making Cole Reschny third overall with a lottery pick in last year’s WHL draft. Hitting it back-to-back could give Victoria a one-two punch for the future like when the then-lowly Prince George Cougars got Koehn Ziemmer fourth overall as a lottery pick in the 2019 WHL draft followed by Riley Heidt as a lottery selection and second overall in 2020. Ziemmer and Heidt are now the respective 20th and 26th ranked North American skaters for this year’s NHL draft.
Meanwhile, the original rankings are re-instated following the first round of the draft, meaning that the Royals will select third in each subsequent round, beginning in the second round with what will be the 25th overall pick.
A separate WHL prospects draft is held for American players of junior age, this year on May 10, so teams don’t have to risk a pick on them in the main draft, if they eventually choose the NCAA over the WHL. The Royals had better luck in that WHL U.S. priority draft lottery also held Tuesday, moving from the third overall selection to second overall. Spokane will select first, Victoria second, Edmonton third, Swift Current fourth, Prince Albert fifth and Brandon sixth.
“There is a whole other sort of research you do for the U.S. draft players,” said Price.