My fingers have been crossed so long, hoping that we'll get even a shortened 24 game WHL season in at some point, that my hands are starting to look like lobster claws. I'm an optimist, so I'll keep them crossed.
Meanwhile, as we wait, there have been a few roster moves made by the Thunderbirds recently and the moves point to what is not surprising. The T-birds are going to put whatever season unfolds in the hands of their young players. The T-birds were the youngest team in the WHL last season, as well as one of the youngest in the CHL, and the same could very well hold true for this season, should it unfold.
When the 2019-20 season abruptly ended last March, Seattle had three candidates who could potentially return to fill the three 20 year old slots for 2020-21; goaltender Roddy Ross, defenseman Owen Williams and winger Jeri Kelti-Leon. Ross was dealt to Regina during the May WHL Bantam Draft, leaving two. Recently General Manager Bil LaForge told mynorthwest.com's Andy Eide that the team has parted ways with Williams.
That leaves just Jeri-Leon and I get the impression LaForge is just fine with that. If there is going to be a season this winter/spring two dozen games doesn't leave a lot of time to evaluate the young talent. To create more ice time for those young players, you don't crowd the field with veterans. I fully expect the T-birds to go with just one 20 year old on the roster.
Then Monday, in a swap of Imports, LaForge announced the trade of 19 year old Czech defenseman Simon Kubicek to the Edmonton Oil Kings for 19 year old forward Vlad Allistrov of Belarus. Allistrov is currently playing in the KHL, so it is unclear if he will come to Seattle for a 24-game campaign.
If Allistrov, who potted 19 goals for Edmonton last season, does report he will give the T-birds some offensive punch and add to an age group (19 year olds) where the team is light. It would also potentially put him in the mix for one of the 20 year old slots for the 2021-22 season. Barring an offseason move the T-birds would have four players in the mix for those spots, Allistrov, Henrik Rybinski, Cade McNelly and Ryan Gottfried.
By moving Kubicek (and the earlier release of Williams), Seattle signaled that they want to give as much ice for this proposed 24 game schedule to their young defensemen. Specifically they are saying three rookies, 16-year olds Kevin Korchinski and Spencer Penner along with 17 year old Jeremy Hanzal, will be a significant part of the rear guard. But it also indicates a level of trust in second year player, 18-year old Luke Bateman. It gives him a chance to showcase himself in his first year of NHL Draft eligibility. Even NHL drafted Tyrel Bauer is still relatively young at 18 as he enters his third season with the team. Yep, at 19 that makes McNelly the grizzled vet of the group.
Not to be overlooked in the youth equation is Seattle's group of forwards. Outside of the 20 year old Jeri-Leon and the 19 year Florida Panthers prospect Rybinski, the T-birds are very much a green group. They have four 18 year olds in Jared Davidson, Matthew Rempe, Payton Mount and Brendan Williamson. Only Davidson and Mount though, have played more then a full season at the WHL level.
The bulk of the Seattle forward group will be composed of their 17 year olds. All have played at least a few games of WHL hockey, but even those who were on the roster fulltime didn't get in a full rookie season due either to the pandemic, injury or both.
It's a group that holds a lot of promise, led by a trio of player who have all been rated for the upcoming NHL Draft by NHL Central Scouting Service. At the top of the list is Conner Roulette who could hear his name called in the first two rounds. Kai Uchacz and Lucas Ciona are right behind him. The others in that 2003 born group who will fight for ice time this season are Mekai Sanders, Reid Schaefer and and Sam Popowich.
Meanwhile at least a couple of 16 year old forwards will be heard from as well. 2019 first round draft pick Jordan Gustafson made his WHL debut with Seattle last season while 2nd round selection Gabe Ludwig, who signed with the T-birds last spring should make his Seattle debut if and when the season commences. There are so many young forwards battling for ice time that it most likely means that another signed 2019 draft pick, Nico Myatovic, will probably have to wait until next season to be added to the mix.
One final note on Simon Kubicek. Last summer he sent me a text. He wanted to know the proper spelling for Kubi-dooby-doo! He was planning on getting a tattoo. Then, early Tuesday, the day after he was traded, I got another text from him. He wanted to thank me for the nickname, I suppose, and his father wanted to thank me as well. Dad stayed up late listening to a lot of T-birds games online from his home in the Czech Republic. I asked him about the tattoo. Unfortunately, because of Covid, he said hasn't been able to get it yet but he promised to send a picture when he does. And when he does, I'll pass it along. Kubi-dooby-doo!