As Chaz Reddekopp nears the 200-game plateau in the Western Hockey League, he is developing as a dominating stay-at-home defenseman. And as the 19-year-old continues to administer punishment on opponents in the defensive zone, his mobility and puck skills are also beginning to emerge.
It is all part of an enormous contribution from the Victoria Royals back end, a deep defensive brigade that has helped the Royals to become the stingiest team in the entire WHL. Through the 72-game schedule, the Royals allowed a total of 166 goals against. Only the Everett Silvertips were close at 172. Beyond those two teams, it was really no contest in that category. Incidentally, the Royals outscored the Silvertips by 99 goals in the now completed 2015-16 campaign.
On a Victoria team that early on wasn’t quite sure how the current campaign would evolve, Reddekopp has been just one of many individual success stories. Now in his third full season with the Royals, Reddekopp has impressed Victoria head coach Dave Lowry with his versatility.
“Well, he plays big minutes and he plays against the other team’s top guys, so he gets very good matchups,” Lowry said in an interview with Hockey’s Future in Kelowna. “He gets the opportunity to play on the power play and kill penalties. His game is evolving. Like all of these players this age, it’s about bringing that level of consistency each night.”
With the regular season winding down, Victoria clinched top spot in the overall standings on March 16th with a 7-4 victory over the Rockets in Kelowna. For Reddekopp, born on January 1st, 1997, there is tremendous satisfaction in the feat as he grew up in West Kelowna and spent many a night watching the Rockets as a youngster. And also of note during his minor hockey days in West Kelowna, he played alongside Brad Morrison (NYR) of the division rival Prince George Cougars.
Reddekopp and his mates in Victoria have been most impressive this season during the 2016 portion of the schedule. In earning the Scotty Munro Trophy as WHL regular season champions, the Royals have been nearly invincible of late, going 13-0-1-0 to finish the season.
“The reality was that we felt this would be a year where we would take some lumps bringing these young guys along,” Lowry said.
The Royals have been a heavy, physical team in recent years, hard to play against but also susceptible to discipline challenges. In a marked shift of late, the Royals have come to lean on skill, derived from a change in philosophy that began with an altered focus at the annual WHL Bantam Draft a couple of years ago.
“We felt we needed to upgrade the skill component and we did that with adding some undersized guys. We all know that there are bigger guys who can come in and play complementary roles but we really felt we had to prioritize our skill and we did that a couple years ago in the draft.”
Reddekopp has assumed a leadership role, along with fellow defensemen Joe Hicketts (DET) and Ryan Gagnon. When he arrived as a rookie in Victoria, his development began in large part due to exposure to a number of successful teammates. Hicketts is an ultimate leader in junior hockey who earned an NHL contract as a free agent. There was Keegan Kanzig (CGY), now with the Calgary Hitmen, a 6’6”, 240-pounder who Reddekopp roomed with early on in his junior days. Veterans Jordan Fransoo and Travis Brown were veteran role players for Reddekopp to lean on. The benefits of having access to those older players has not been lost on either Reddekopp or Lowry.
“For him, it’s been a great learning opportunity,” Lowry said. “Right now he plays with Gagnon and they get top matchups, they get hard minutes. He’s been able to watch Joe (Hicketts) and watch how his game has evolved, and also Kanzig, being a big-bodied guy drafted by Calgary in the third round.
“So there is opportunity that lies ahead. The big thing these guys have to understand is you have to work to get better every day. It isn’t good enough to just play the games. It’s the off days that are critical.”
Reddekopp is one of two WHL defensemen selected in the seventh round of the 2015 NHL Draft. The Los Angeles Kings chose Reddekopp 187th overall. The Vancouver Canucks later selected Tate Olson of the Prince George Cougars with the 210th pick. Both defensemen have flourished this season, looking like final round steals for their respective NHL teams. As it pertains to Reddekopp, Lowry spoke to the reasons why late-round picks can become valuable depth players for NHL teams.
“I think you look at different organizations and what they prioritize,” Lowry said. “With LA, they prioritize the size and the development. They have, and they do, one of the best jobs in all of the NHL at spending time developing prospects. We had talked with a lot of teams and I told teams that this guy here (Reddekopp) has upside and if you have a pick later on in the draft, why not take a shot here.”
With such solid depth on the back end this season, Lowry has been able to move players around, the interchangeable parts ensuring plenty of opportunity for each player to become as complete as possible.
“That’s what we do some nights, depending on who we’re playing and how many defensemen we have in the lineup,” Lowry said. “Some of these guys, they play with different guys. Usually if a guy is struggling, we pair him with Joe, and he seems to settle them down and bring out their best and get their game in order.”
The Royals selected Reddekopp 13th overall at the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, where they had earlier chosen Tyler Soy with the eighth pick. That draft also netted the Royals forwards Regan Nagy and Keith Anderson. All four are current regulars in the Victoria lineup.
Reddekopp is among the biggest defensemen in the WHL at 6’3” and 220 pounds. He moves with purpose and good balance. He is able to protect the puck with his size when he has to buy time in his own end. He appears patient coming out of his own end and has become a confident puck carrier. He moves the puck with authority.
HF spoke with Reddekopp at Prospera Place in Kelowna the day before the Royals clinched the WHL regular season title, with that conversation included below in this Hockey’s Future podcast.
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