BCHL Next Generation: Victoria Grizzlies

All summer we’ll be going team-by-team to profile new players coming in for the 2020-21 season with recaps of offseason commits and acquisitions. We will also have interviews and scouting reports from the coaches.

Next up is the Victoria Grizzlies.

The Victoria Grizzlies are a little over a year removed from having three players from their roster drafted at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver. This group was headlined by BCHL leading scorer and MVP Alex Newhook who was selected in the first round (16th overall) by the Colorado Avalanche.

As it always goes in junior hockey, once you build a roster with that amount of top-end talent, it becomes a challenging task to get back to those heights once those players move on to the next level.

Craig Didmon has been behind the Grizzlies bench in some capacity since 2007-08 , first as an assistant and then as head coach after taking over midway through the 2014-15 season. Heading into last year, he knew it would be difficult with so many of his top players moving on, but he’s confident his team is ready to take a step forward this year.

“With the fact that there’s no draft, you should be able to find a quick recovery,” said Didmon. “Last year was a bit of a rebuild and there are trials and tribulations and adversity that you face with it. We spent a year building a good core. We knew it was going to be a developing season. As we come into this season, we’ve a lot of really good hockey players returning with more confidence and having matured as players and people. We’re certainly ready to get back to the stature that we’ve been at over the last decade.”

The Grizzlies have been one of the busiest teams on the trade market so far this offseason, having made a total of nine separate deals since Jun. 1. According to Didmon, this was needed to balance out his roster and allow them to build off of their group of returning players.

“We’ve worked hard on our recruiting through last season,” he said. “You do want to have a good blend of age groups. We were kind of top-heavy in the 19 and 20-year-old area, so there was some movement needed. The players we did keep, we felt made a lot of strides last year, development-wise. They have that mentality of wanting to win and to be a great hockey club, not to mention wanting to move on to Division I hockey.”

Acquired via trade:

Thomas Maia (2000, F)

  • Hometown: Milton, Ont.
  • Previous team: Oakville Blades (OJHL)

Maia was supposed to play his first year of Division I college hockey last season at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), but was forced to sit out the entire year due to injury. In his last active season in 2018-19, he finished second in scoring for Oakville with 58 points in 53 games and led his team to an appearance in the National Junior A Championship tournament. Over his three seasons in Ontario, the 19-year-old racked up 141 points in 156 regular-season games.

Didmon’s scouting report:

“He had a good junior career in the OJHL. After sitting out last year, he wants to be rejuvenated. He’s excited to come to the BCHL and find himself a school to go back to the following season.”

Hardy Wagner (2000, D)

  • Hometown: Regina, Sask.
  • Previous team: Notre Dame Hounds (SJHL)

Wagner has been a productive defenceman for Notre Dame, totaling 19 points in each of the last two seasons. He’s been either a part of Notre Dame’s Junior A team or their youth program for the past five seasons.

Didmon’s scouting report:

“He’s a veteran defenceman and he’s a right-hander, which is hard to come by. He adds a lot of depth to our team. I’m excited about him. He played top minutes with Notre Dame the last couple seasons and he’s ready for a new league, a new opportunity and some new exposure.”

Trevor Longo (2000, D)

  • Hometown: North Vancouver, B.C.
  • Previous team: Vancouver Giants (WHL)

Longo has some BCHL experience, having played most recently with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in 2017-18. Since then, he ‘s totaled 135 games in the WHL mostly with the Medicine Hat Tigers. He split last season with the Tigers and the Vancouver Giants and had 16 points on the year. He’s still weighing his options on whether he will play in the WHL or BCHL next season.

Didmon’s scouting report:

“We think it would be great for his development to come in and be a top guy and be an impact defenceman for us. He has all the parts. He has good size, good offence, he knows how to defend and he’s a leader. He wore a letter on his jersey for a couple teams in the WHL. He’s just the type of quality person and player that we want to bring in.”

New Recruits:

Devon de Vries (2002, F)

  • Hometown: St-Lazare, Que.
  • Previous team: Stanstead College (CAHS)

The 18-year-old is coming off a dominant season at Stanstead where he led his team in all major offensive categories, finishing the year with a team-best 35 goals, 46 assists and 81 points.

Didmon’s scouting report:

“He played with [returning Grizzlies] Isack Bandu and Andrew Amousse the season before. As soon as they got to camp last year, they were telling us about Devon. He’s a real competitor. For his size, he plays a physical game. He can score goals and create offence. He’s another quality kid with leadership as well as some real talent.”

Colby Joseph (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Elkhorn, Man.
  • Previous team: Yellowhead Chiefs Midget AAA (MMHL)

Joseph had a breakout year offensively for his Major Midget team in Manitoba last year when he led Yellowhead in scoring and finished second overall in the league with 71 points in 48 games. He also tied for the second-most goals in the league with 36.

Didmon’s scouting report:

“He could have played Junior A last year, but decided to finish his Grade 12 and take a shot at getting in the BCHL this year. He’s a really mature kid. He plays a 200-foot game. He’s going to walk in and play a good role for us. He’s someone who will develop into what I think will be a high-end player in this league.”

Justin Easter (2001, G)

  • Hometown: Burlington, Ont.
  • Previous team: Hamilton Kilty B’s (GOJHL)

Easter put up impressive numbers last year playing Junior B in Ontario. He had a .927 save percentage, which led the league, and a goals-against average of 2.26. His numbers in the playoffs were even more impressive as he posted a .964 save percentage and a 1.50 goals-against. He was named a conference all-star at the end of the season.

“He’s a guy who’s been a survivor. He was playing Junior C two years ago and was outstanding. After a great year in the GOJHL last year, lots of schools were talking about him and he had some OHL offers as well. We see him as a kid who works extremely hard and really knows what he wants from the game. I think him and [returning Grizzlies goalie] Blake Wood will be two really good starters in this league.”

Andrew Braun (2002, D)

  • Hometown: Victoria, B.C.
  • Previous team: Shawnigan Lake School Prep (CSSHL)

The Victoria native came up through the Shawnigan Lake academy program, finishing his final season with 14 points in 26 games. He also played three games last year for his hometown Grizzlies as an affiliate and managed to score his first-career BCHL goal.

Didmon’s scouting report:

“He could have played for us a year ago, but wanted to finish Grade 12, which I think is great. He’s going to walk in and we expect him to be an everyday player and will eventually turn into that franchise type of defenceman. I think he’s going to really wear our Grizzlies crest well and be a big part of the community.”

Ellis Rickwood (2002, F)

  • Hometown: Brantford, Ont.
  • Previous team: Hamilton Kilty B’s (GOJHL)

A teammate of Easter’s with Hamilton, Rickwood was the team’s second-leading scorer last year with 62 points in 50 games.

“He’s got a ton of offence to him. He kind of reminds me of [Grizzlies 2019-20 leading scorer] Cody Monds a little bit, the way he plays the game. He’s a real playmaker. We’ve got some shooters, so I think that’s going to help out our hockey club. He’s grown quite a bit in the last couple years, so he’s just coming into his own now.”

Desmond Arthurs (2003, F)

  • Hometown: Saanich, B.C.
  • Previous team: Victoria Cougars (VIJHL)

Playing most of the season as a 16-year-old, Arthurs put up 32 points in 44 games with the Cougars. He also appeared in two games with the Grizzlies last year as an affiliate.

Didmon’s scouting report:

“He’s a big kid at 6-foot-4 and he’s got a really great skill package. Being a local player, we’re really going to lean on him to be a face of our team down the road. We think he’s a guy we’re going to have for a number of years. We’re going to help develop him and I think his ceiling is really high. I’m excited to bring him along. He spent some time in our spring programs, so we’ve coached him and we know him well.”

Aleksa Babic (2002, D)

  • Hometown: Tecumseh, Ont.
  • Previous team: Chatham Maroons (GOJHL)

Babic brought plenty of offence from the blueline for Chatham last season. He led all Maroons defencemen with 24 points in 49 games.

Didmon’s scouting report:

“Right-handed defencemen are hard to come by. We think he’s going to come in and learn the league, but he’s also going to be around for a while. He’ll become a really steady defenceman for us and turn into an impact guy down the road.”

Luc Pelletier (2003, F)

  • Hometown: Courtney, B.C.
  • Previous team: Peninsula Panthers (VIJHL)

The 2003-born Pelletier had 18 goals and 17 assists for 35 points playing Junior B with Peninsula last year.

Didmon’s scouting report:

“He had a good season in Junior B and he’s ready for the Junior A level now. He’s got a great shot for a young player. He’s got good size. We’re going to develop him. Being a young player, he’s going to have to come in and find his way, but certainly we’re going to be patient with him. He’s got a bright future with us.”

Bryce Margetson (2002, D)

  • Hometown: Surrey, B.C.
  • Previous team: White Rock Whalers (PJHL)

Margetson had 19 points in 41 games for the Whalers last year and also played in five BCHL games with the Merritt Centennials as an affiliate.

Didmon’s scouting report:

“We saw him in our spring camp last year and we really liked him. We liked his size and his mobility. He brings some physicality to the team, being a good-sized defenceman and a right-hander. We think he’s going to be a steady defenceman that’s only going to get better.”

Photo credit: Dan Hickling/Hickling Images (Maia, Wagner, Rickwood, Babic), Jody Harris (Margetson)