Saturday, June 15, 2024

11 players drafted by the Victoria Royals in this year’s WHL Bantam Draft

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There was a lot of movement for the Victoria Royals yesterday as General Manager Jake Heisinger completed his first WHL Bantam Draft at the helm, drafting 11 players while also making five trades.

The Royals were well positioned coming into the draft, possessing seven picks in the first four rounds while also holding a pair of both first and second round picks. With that amount of selections available, it was always going to be an important day for the organization.

Results will be measured in the coming years as these players develop, but it’s hard not to like what the Royals were able to do.

“We’re excited,” Heisinger told Victoria Buzz today. “You never know how it’s gonna shake out once things get going, but we’re really excited with how it played out.”

Being in a league that has as much turnover as the WHL, draft day is a huge day for every organization. The high turnover means there are lots of roster spots to be won, and that quality players can be found throughout the entire draft. It also means that the primary way of elevating your team is by consistently drafting well.

The draft is all over within a day, but takes all year to get a picture of the players you think fit the organization’s values and vision.

Leading draft day was Heisinger and the Royals’ head scout, Tanner McCall. Heisinger and McCall will have worked closely all year in building the Royals’ draft list, curated and prepared from multiple live viewings.

But on-ice skill is only one part of the equation – teams also have to try and get a feel for the person. Many talented players don’t have the drive to maximize their skillsets.

Once Royals get a list of around 50 or 60 players that fit their criteria, they set up zoom calls, meet the young lad and their family, get to know them a bit, and talk to them about the organization and the prospects of being a WHL player.

Then it’s draft day.

And that’s where it’s make or break.

Let’s have a look at who they took.

Royals add high skill level and strong compete

The Royals came away with 11 players on draft day, but we’re going to focus on the first four picks – the two first and second round selections.

While skill is obviously a required asset when picking in the first few rounds of the draft, it is also apparent that the Royals also placed high value on their on ice compete levels.

Here’s who they selected.

Jacob Schwartz, F, 8th overall

Heisinger’s first ever Victoria Royals draft selection was Jacob Schwartz, picked at 8th overall. He’s a 5’9 forward who dominated the U15 Hockey Prep School circuit, scoring exactly an assist per game and over a goal per game.

He finished his year with 30 goals and 26 assists in 26 games, leading the league in goals and being named to the first All-Star team.

“(Schwartz) is a highly creative centre that really, really competes,” Heisinger said. “He isn’t afraid to get into the corners and battle and do the dirty work. He’s a dynamic player that can make plays and score goals.”

“He’s the kind of guy that we really, really want to start having in our program. Those guys that really play fast, are smart, and are really competitive.”

Ludovic Perreault, F, 18th overall

“Ludo” Perreault is a goal scoring forward who, despite being a natural scorer, also has a tenacious work ethic. He’s 5’9, and happened to score a modest two goals-per-game playing for Winnipeg in the Winnipeg AAA U15 league. He finished 2nd in goal scoring and 3rd in points, posting 67 goals and 92 points in 32 games.

“Ludo can shoot the puck,” Heisinger said. “He’s as competitive a U15 as any player I’ve ever watched, his work ethic is second to none. So he’s a guy that really works for everything he gets.”

“He’s a really talented player as well and a guy that can shoot the puck and find the back of the net.”

Eli McKamey, F, 35th overall

The Royals actually owned the 30th and 35th overall picks, but ended up trading down to get some extra picks – more on that later.

In the end, their first of two second round picks turned into Eli McKamey, a player who will be fascinating to track. Born in Cowichan Bay, McKamey has spent the past few seasons playing for Shawnigan Lake Prep School at various age groups. This past season, he starred at the U18 level (as a 14 year old, remember) and scored 23 goals and 48 points in 28 games.

McKamey was arguably one of the top forwards in the entire draft, but made it clear to teams he wanted to keep his NCAA options open. If he had openly committed to major junior, it is probable he would have been a top five – and maybe even a top two or three selection.

“We had a number of conversations with Eli leading into the draft and he and his family made it clear he wanted to keep his options open to see the NCAA side of things as well. So we obviously knew that going in, and felt that with him being from Cowichan Bay and the talent level he possesses, we’re hoping that, over time here, he’ll want to play for the Royals.”

“When you’re looking at a player like that with the talent he has, it’s certainly a risk we were willing to take.”

It seems a wise calculated risk for the Royals, and is a swing for the fences with the bases loaded.

He’ll be fascinating to track over next season.

Koltin Herfst, D, 37th overall

Koltin Herfst became the first defenceman selected by Heisinger, after he was chosen 37th overall. The 6’0 defender put up 9 goals and 35 points in 28 games for the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds, who went on to win the championship in the B.C. Elite Hockey League U15. He was also a feisty player, accumulating 61 PIMs.

“(Herfst) is really a guy that can play in all situations,” Heisinger said. “He moves the puck, he plays hard, and he competes. He’s already a big kid and we think he’s gonna grow some more.”

“He’s big and mobile and plays the way we want to play.”

Herfst will play at the U18 level next season for Fraser Valley and will have an important season of development before taking a crack at the Royals roster.

The rest of the Royals picks from rounds 3-10

3-53: F, Drayden Uhrina

4-75: G, Seth Badry

6-119: D, Lucas Graham

7-138: D, Ryland Moore

7-141: F, Nolan Harding

9-185: D, Kieran Wilson

10-207: F, Declan Iacoviello

Royals make series of shrewd draft day trades

One of the easiest things to do as a hockey fan is to speculate on your own ideas of what types of moves your favourite team should do. “Fire the coach” is much easier to say than actually execute, while “trade Mitch Marner” is the oversimplified solution many Leafs fans appear to be coming to at the conclusion of their first round playoff exit.

That’s all very easy to say. Much harder to do.

In the same token, most hockey fans will understand the concept of trading down 5 or 10 spots in a draft in order get an extra pick later on.

It’s easy to proclaim that as the best way to run a hockey team, but harder to actually do – you have to find a willing trade partner while also deal with the emotions of possibly seeing the guy you think you can get a few spots later possibly being taken from right under your nose.

All of us fantasy hockey gurus would understand that, right?

It’s all of those considerations that make today’s draft day moves look sublime.

Owning two second round picks already, the Royals decided they could trade down and still have a chance to get their guy while adding an extra pick.

They did exactly that, sending the 30th overall (2nd round) selection to Red Deer in exchange for the 37th pick (2nd round) and the 77th pick (4th round).

That wasn’t all, though.

The Saskatoon Blades didn’t have many 2024 draft picks and were keen to add one, and were willing to pay to get it. The Royals ended up parlaying that previously acquired 77th pick to Saskatoon for their 2028 second round selection.

It’s a ways into the future, but turning a 4th rounder into a 2nd rounder is good no matter which way you slice it – especially since the Royals are in building mode, and aren’t expected to challenge for a title this season. There isn’t any urgency on today’s timeline for success.

The Royals also struck a deal with the Seattle Thunderbirds, trading their 79th overall (4th round) selection in exchange for the 138th overall (7th round) selection and a 3rd round pick in the 2025 draft.

Once again, it’s another calculated choice to turn one draft pick into multiple picks – and once again – the Royals have somehow gotten a pick in a higher round than the one that they shipped out.

You could distill these transactions into the following:

Royals trade: 2024 2nd (30th) and 4th (79th) round picks

Royals acquire: 2024 2nd (37th), 2024 7th (138th), 2025 3rd, 2028 2nd

And if you take out the the years and the specific slots of each picks, it’s simply:

Royals trade a 2nd and 4th round pick for two 2nds, a 3rd, and a 7th.

Which doesn’t seem too bad.

That’s moving back 66 selections cumulatively and gaining an extra 2nd and 3rd round pick.

Of course, it’s always good to turn picks into actual players that impact the organization. But from an asset management point of view, it makes plenty of sense.

Other news and notes

  • The Royals also made a few trades, shipping out 2022 3rd round choice Grant Reid (2007) in exchange for Wenatchee Wild forward Daniel Morozov (2007). Heisinger knows Morozov well, having drafted him in the 5th round when he was part of the Winnipeg Ice organization back in 2022.
  • Victoria also acquired 2006-born goaltender Spencer Michnik in exchange for a conditional 2025 7th round draft choice. Michnik was a 5th round pick back in 2021. The Royals goaltending training camp battle will be interesting to watch, as they now have three 2006-born goaltenders signed.
  • Czechia centreman Robin Sapousek will not be returning for his overaged season. He is under contract to his hometown team, HC Energie Karlovy Vary for next season and will report back to them.
Jeremy Weeres
Jeremy Weeres
Victoria Royals and hockey writer at Victoria Buzz

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