Rigby at home with Rockets
After stops in Prince George, Osoyoos, Penticton and Victoria in less than a year, Carter Rigby was anxious for some stability in his hockey career.
Last fall, the well-travelled 17-year-old forward found it when the Western Hockey League's Prince George Cougars dealt his rights to the Kelowna Rockets for a third-round bantam draft pick.
"I was getting ready for Victoria's (BCHL Grizzlies) training camp when my dad phoned and told me I was going to Kelowna," said Rigby, a Penticton product who played 14 WHL games over the previous two seasons in Prince George.
"I was ecstatic. I really couldn't think ask for anything else. It's close to home, it's a great organization, a team with a winning tradition, and I was excited to come play here. I had a bunch of emotions, but they were all happy and good ones."
Five months later, Rigby's mood remains understandably upbeat as the 6-foot, 205-pound winger has clearly found a home in major junior hockey.
An offensive threat at every level he's played at, Rigby registered 13 goals and 11 assists in his first 38 games with the Rockets, while logging ice time in all situations.
"He's been a nice addition," Rockets' head coach Ryan Huska said of Rigby. "He shoots the puck really well, he's one of our more physical forwards, and he's getting more and more time with our penalty killers, showing that he's pretty versatile.
"One of the challenges for Carter is that he's need to be skating," added Huska, "making sure he's working more on moving his feet, starting and stopping instead of circling…but he's come a long way since he came here."
While he's clearly not at the same level, Huska compares Rigby's skill set to that of a former Rockets forward, now with the NHL's Dallas Stars.
"Of course he's not in the same category, but he reminds me a bit of Jamie Benn. He can score, he doesn't mind getting his nose dirty, and he has a little of that power forward thing going for him."
For Rigby's part, the step back up to major junior as been an eye opener, particularly after spending much of last season in junior B with the Osoyoos Coyotes, before playing a few games with the BCHL's Penticton Vees.
Still, Rigby seems to have answered any and all questions about his ability to play the junior game at the highest level.
"Nothing's as big as the step you have to make up to the WHL, and the first couple of weeks was a little hard to get used to," he said. "But I think I'm fitting in pretty well, and I feel like I'm coming into my own with the points I'm getting lately. I think the last couple months I'm playing some of the best hockey I've ever played, so hopefully that continues and I can keep showing the coaches they can count on me in key situations."
So past the halfway point of Rigby's first season in Kelowna, it looks like the third-round bantam pick the Rockets surrendered last fall was well worth the residuals.
And as long as Rigby keeps progressing, assistant GM Lorne Frey said the Rockets will have no regrets.
"You never like to give up draft picks, but if he continues to do what he's doing, we're going to pretty happy with the trade," said Frey. "We have him here as a 17-year-old, so that means we could have him another two or three years after this. Goal scorers are hard to find…and he competes, too.
"Having said that, he has to keep getting better and improving. This a tough league to score goals in."
In addition to the watchful eyes of the Rockets, Rigby's progress over the next few years will be closely monitored by his family.
His mom and dad, Mike and Brenda Rigby, and his grandparents—all of whom live in Penticton—can be found in the stands at Prospera Place for every Rockets' home game, along with several cousins who live in Kelowna, and a brother who works in the arena concession.
Rigby appreciates the support he gets, regardless of the form it takes.
"I can definitely see my dad's shining head, his bald head up there in the seats, and I get the look from him sometimes," Rigby said with a laugh. "I've grown up with people watching me over the years, and I enjoy it, I like trying to give them their money's worth.
"I don't find it nerve-wracking at all, actually it's more comforting seeing them up there than anything."
The Rigbys can watch their son this weekend as the Rockets continue their current home stand with two games.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes will make a stop at Prospera Place on Friday night, followed a visit by the Vancouver Giants on Saturday.