In a time of uncertainty for the Western Hockey League, the Victoria Royals have some difficult decisions to make. With his introduction as the new general manager last week, Dan Price alluded to the work ahead.
“We have some critical dates coming up,” said Price. “For example, you’ve got the 20-year-old situation that everyone’s acutely aware of. Those are all going to require a lot of thought and reflection.”
The 2019-20 Victoria locker room boasted a veteran group, with 10 19-year-old players listed when the season stopped in March. Now with the season over, comes the dubious task of selecting three players that remain as the 20-year-olds to keep on the roster.
An early opinion would have likely leaned towards Kaid Oliver and Mitchell Prowse, both career Royals players. However, Victoria made some early moves in trading Oliver to the Edmonton Oil Kings and Prowse to the Lethbridge Hurricanes. (from ‘Oil Kings acquire centre Kaid Oliver from Victoria Royals,’ Edmonton Sun, 04/20/2020)
Leading the list now of potential returnees is team captain Phillip Schultz. The popular Schultz was awarded the team’s 2019-20 The Keg Fan’s Choice Award and is respected by the players and coaching staff. Keeping Schultz for next season would count as a “two-spot”, as not only would he occupy a valuable overage slot, the product of Rodovre, Denmark would also fill one of two available import spots.
Schultz has an ability to come through in the clutch when needed and can be counted on in all situations, including playing defence as he did for a large part of last season. However, with less than point-per-game production last season (16 goals, 10 assists in 46 games) it may be difficult to justify spending the roster resources.
The speedy Brandon Cutler was on fire after the holiday break and was on track for his best season in the WHL. Victoria made use of Cutler’s speed in the transition game, often setting up scoring chances while catching the opposition flat-footed. The product of Spruce Grove, AB progressed in his second full season with the Royals and demands strong consideration for an overage spot.
Matthew Smith has played his entire junior career in Victoria under Price. While not flashy, the Saskatoon, SK native has played a lot of minutes over the years in the Royals’ system. Historically, the team has valued experience on the blue line, and Smith hopes to join the ranks of previous career Royals defencemen such as Ralph Jarratt, Chaz Reddekopp, Ryan Gagnon and Joe Hicketts.
Goaltender Adam Evanoff was a workhorse for the Royals in net after coming to the club in a deadline deal with the Moose Jaw Warriors. Assuming the starting role after Shane Farkas was sidelined with injuries, the goaltender played in total of 45 games (23 with the Royals, 22 with the Warriors) in the shortened season.
For Evanoff, it was a positive bounce-back from a serious injury and proved he is ready to lead a team.
The defenceman from Sherwood Park, AB offers Victoria everything they are looking for from the back-end. Jacob Herauf’s first season in Victoria after being traded from the Red Deer Rebels saw him limited by injuries. However, the former first-round, 16th overall Bantam pick brings overall experience, with over 200 WHL games played.
Acquired in the 2018-19 season as part of a trade that saw the Royals trade then overage forward Dante Hannoun to the Prince Albert Raiders. Carson Miller had a late start to the season as he recovered from a major leg injury.
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There is no questioning Miller’s heart and commitment for his team, as many nights he dropped the gloves to stick up for his teammates. Like Herauf, he is a former first-round bantam pick and has over 200 WHL games to his credit.
With a height of 6-foot-3, Sean Gulka brings size and an intimidating presence to Victoria. Limited by injuries, the Langley, BC native still recorded career highs in games played (43), goals (9) and points (17). The forward plays his best hockey against his hometown and division rival the Vancouver Giants
The Royals have a history of going with a forward, defenceman and goaltender as their three overage spots. And prior to last season, where the team brought in all three players from outside the franchise, they valued their own developed players. With a new general manager for the first time in eight seasons, it remains to be seen the approach the club will take to answer its roster questions.
Following the Victoria Royals since their first game in 2011, and witnessed the last season of the Victoria Cougars in 1994 at the old Memorial Arena. Ryan is a Northern Manitoba transplant who is now fortunate to call Vancouver Island home