Victoria Royals Head coach and general manager Dan Price has been adamant about the team building towards a season where their 2004 and 2005 born players are mature, fully developed WHL players capable of bring the primary components to a competitive WHL team.
“We are on an arc right now where for the next couple of years we really see our 2004 and 2005 born group being a really solid and competitive group,” said Price, after the WHL’s January 10th trade deadline.
In the 2020 covid bubble season, the team was extremely young, introducing the 2004 born group to the WHL and icing a large group of 16-year-olds. The year after the team did the same thing, bringing their 2005 born players into the fold for the first time.
Those teams were extremely young, and, if losing is ever acceptable in elite sport, it seems to be when a team’s prime has expired and it’s time to give ample opportunity to their youngsters with the aims of developing for the future.
The Royals have done that for three seasons since 2020. But when they will they show any semblance of being competitive?
“We’re moving toward the top of our upward cycle,” Price explained after the deadline, “And that has been the plan since the bubble year, where we brought in all of those ‘04 born players.”
Well, the Royals brought those 2004s in and they have since added their 2005 group to the mix.
In fact, here is the team’s current makeup based on birth year:
- 2005: 6
- 2004: 8
- 2003: 6
- 2002: 3 (overaged players)
14 of the players of the Royals’ 23 man roster are in the designated 2004 and 2005 age class, meaning a large portion of this roster will return next season.
So who are some of the key pieces moving forward?
Let’s have a look at some of the defencemen.
Kalem Parker, right handed defenseman, 2004 born
Kalem Parker has been the team’s undisputed top offensive defenceman (with Gannon Laroque missing the majority of the season to injury) and has shown significant growth from last year’s 17-year-old season.
The smooth skating, 6 foot tall defender has taken good steps forward this year, currently tied with Teague Patton for the team’s lead in power play assists with 12. His 6 power play goals are 2nd only to Jake Poole, the team’s leading scorer.
Parker has improved on last year’s 20 points in 66 games, setting a new career high with 30 points thus far. He’s in the top 30 of the league for both points and power play assists from a defenceman, and if the team can take any strides offensively next season, should continue to improve those totals.
Justin Kipkie, left handed defenseman, 2005 born
Justin Kipkie has been one of the team’s most pleasant surprises this season, and has a toolkit that leaves management drooling.
Kipkie is a 6 foot 4 defender who skates well, has good offensive instincts, and plays a simple game. You don’t always notice him (which can be a good thing for defenseman), he just takes care of business.
Kipkie got an 8 game cup of tea last season, and in his rookie season has been excellent given the state of the team.
A 6th round pick by the Royals back in 2020, Kipkie has scored an impressive 5 goals and 28 points in 56 games this year despite minimal power play time (he has just 3 power play points).
If Kipkie can continue to develop his overall hockey sense and puck skills, there is a lot for Royals fans and management to like here – he has a very intriguing toolkit.
This season could just be the tip of the iceberg.
Austin Zemlak, left handed defenseman, 2005 born
Austin Zemlak represents a completely different type of defenseman compared to the previous two. Zemlak isn’t flashy. But he skates well, is one of the first players over the board for the penalty kill and is a menace in his own zone.
The Royals’ 9th overall pick in 2020, Zemlak is physical and hard to play against, a trait every coach has space for on their roster. He’s unlikely to contribute much on the scoresheet over his Royals career, but coaches love having a defenceman they can trust to bring it every night and complement their more offensive minded defensemen from the blueline.
Zemlak is exactly that.
The Victoria Royals will play host to Prince George this Saturday, with a 6:05 p.m. puck drop. Prince George is right in the thick of the Western Conference, sitting in 6th place with a 26-23-4-0 record, good for 56 points.
The Everett Silvertips, meanwhile, will come to the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre Sunday afternoon for a 3:05 p.m. puck drop. The Silvertips are just one point ahead of Prince George, with a 27-24-2-1 record, giving them 57 points.
Though the Royals’ two opponents have minimal separation between the two in the standings, the Cougars have scored 211 goals to the Silvertips’ 178 this season.
So, if you like goals (who doesn’t?), the Cougars might be the team you want to watch this weekend.