The Victoria Royals will be playing their final weekend game of their November homestand this weekend, with Connor Bedard and the Regina Pats coming to town for their only meeting of the season.
Puck drop is this Saturday, November 26th at 6:05 p.m.
It should be an electric atmosphere, as the Royals will play their first sold out game in three years.
The reason is none other than Connor Bedard. The 17-year-old phenom has been torching the WHL this season with 19 goals and 48 points in just 22 games. It’s an eye popping total for any WHL player, let alone a 17-year-old.
He’s expected to be selected 1st overall in the 2023 NHL draft, which would make him only the third 1st overal pick from the WHL since 1990.
Bedard is the ultimate symbol of the reward for tough seasons in the WHL. Top draft picks are awarded to the bottom teams, and one can acquire – with proper scouting – the top young talent in Western Canada and the United States.
Victoria certainly finds themselves in that situation. With Bedard in town, perhaps Royals fans can get a sneak peak of the type of talent we can hope to acquire.
What can the Royals learn from the Regina Pats about bottoming out?
In North American sports, the worse you do, the higher the draft picks you get. In theory, the higher draft picks you get, the more talented the players are at your disposal, and you can climb your back way up the ladder as multiple years of futility turn into (ideally) a plethora of top tier young talent that dominate when they’re 18 and and 19 years old.
The Royals – despite a roster decimated by injuries – are certainly at a place where most of the hope derives from drafting high and reintroducing high end talent to their system.
Over the past two years, the Royals have finished last in the 22-team WHL, and 20th. Through 22 games thus far, the Royals are currently at the bottom of the standings. So it’s safe to say the team should be expecting a top pick in this year’s draft and – unless significant improvement is on the horizon – possibly next year as well.
This is a new experience for Royals fans, as the team has generally ranged from middle of the pack to top-tier through most of its existence. The franchise peaked in 2015-16 as regular season champions, but lost a heart breaking game 7 overtime against the Kelowna Rockets in round 2 of the playoffs. They have yet to find that level of excellence since.
Bottoming out is without a doubt a test of patience on any fanbase, so the question is: is it worth it?
If we look at Regina, they made the finals in 2017, and after depleting their pipeline and draft picks, fell down to earth two years later in 2019. This started a series of three years where they were a below .500 team – and although no playoffs were played through the two Covid years – likely would not have made the playoffs.
Though they acquired the right to pick Bedard by acquiring Swift Current’s 1st overall selection through a series of trades, this team had bottomed out, and thus have been doing what the Royals are doing now – turning poor results into high draft picks.
Yet, today, despite having the best player in the league and a few other top draft picks, the Pats sit 12th in the league with a 9-11-1-1 record. Not exactly world beating stuff.
So the Royals can’t just bottom out and have things automatically fix themselves by selecting at the top of the draft. They’ll need to draft the right players, develop them well, and accentuate them at the correct time. They’ll need to repeat the team’s drafting success of the earlier 2010s where they consistently found top line talent in the first rounds – despite only selecting in the top 10 once.
The Pats got Bedard, yes. But they don’t appear to have been bad enough for long enough to supply him with enough supporting talent. Or they haven’t drafted that well.
So it’s great that the Royals’ 3rd overall pick from 2021, Cole Reschny, scored his first career WHL goal last Saturday against Prince George.
But, if the Pats and Bedard are any example, we’re going to need a whole lot more than one top draft pick to get back to the good half of the standings.