They say defense wins championships.
And according to NHL scouts, the Victoria Royals might be building something pretty good on the back line.
Defenceman Justin Kipkie was selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the 5th round, 160th overall at the NHL Entry Draft last Thursday. Meanwhile, fellow blueliner Kalem Parker went in the 6th round, 181st overall after being chosen by the Minnesota Wild.
They’re the first players to be drafted from the Royals since fellow defender Gannon Laroque was selected by the San Jose Sharks in the 4th round back in 2021.
It also marks the third time in franchise history time at least two Royals were selected in the same draft.
Back in 2012, both Steven Hodges and Logan Nelson were drafted, while 2016 was a banner draft year the Royals, with Vladimir Bobylev, Jack Walker, Matthew Phillips, and Tyler Soy all being selected.
Blueline becoming a position of strength for Royals
One of the simplest measures of success for a WHL franchise other than wins, losses, and championships, is how many players get drafted from the program, and how many go on to play in the NHL.
Kipkie and Parker have achieved the former, and are without a doubt the biggest reason for optimism for the Royals to grind their way out of the WHL’s basement.
If Gannon Laroque returns for his overaged season (and that’s a big if), the Royals could be icing three NHL drafted defenders, along with Austin Zemlak, their 9th overall pick in the 2020 WHL draft.
That’s quite a core of defencemen.
Kipkie, in particular, really emerged as a bright spot this season. After getting an 8 game cup of tea in 2021-22, the 6’3 defender came into his own this season, amassing 8 goals and 33 points and winning the Royals’ Rookie of the Year award. He’ll be a key two-way force for the upcoming season.
Parker, meanwhile, built on his own excellent 16-year-old rookie season from two years ago, blossoming into a very effective offensive defenceman. The 6’0 puck mover won the Royals’ Top Defenseman award this season after scoring 6 goals and 38 points.
These two will be critical to the Royals taking a step forward this season.
We’ll see when the puck drops in September.