It's meant a half dozen first time draft eligible T-birds have had an extended wait to see if they'll hear their name called by one of the 31 NHL teams who will participate in the selection process. Not all six players will be selected. In fact there is no guarentee any of them will be chosen over the course of the seven rounds. But Seattle does possess some intriguing prospects who will get considerable consideration. So when the two day virtual draft rolls around, listen carefully to see if you hear the names Bauer, Kubicek, McNelly, Rempe, Lyda or Mount.
Of those six players, three made it onto NHL Central Scouting's final rankings for the draft, Bauer, Kubicek and Lyda. All are considered late round prospects but it only takes one team to fall in love with your skill set and your potential, to pull the trigger and call your name. Is their a safe pick among the six eligible T-birds? At the moment I'd say none of them possess the high end skill of a Mat Barzal or a Shea Theodore, two recent Thunderbirds who were first round NHL selections and led their respective NHL clubs on deep playoff runs this summer.
All six have areas in their game that will need improving if they are to get to hockey's highest level. But one thing all of them possess that you can't teach, with the exception of Mount, is size. Mount is 5'9". Of the other five prospects no one is shorter then 6'2" with Rempe measuring in, at last check, at 6'8".
Three of the draft eligible players are defensemen. Seattle has a decent recent track record of producing d-men who get drafted or sign pro deals, including the aforementioned Theodore along with Ethan Bear and Austin Strand, to mane a few. The current crop of draft eligible d-man, Bauer, McNelly and Kubicek, all bring a physical element to their game. While many see the game evolving into a more skilled contest, just watching this summer's Stanley Cup Playoffs shows the physical aspect of the game is still extremely important. So much of the work necessary to win is done along the boards, in the corners or in front of the net.
Of those three Bauer is probably the most well rounded player at the moment and comes with built in leadership. His lack of offensive numbers may hurt his draft stock but he has so many other desired intangibles.
Kubicek is probably more of the offensive defenseman. I think he projects out to someone who can be an important power play piece. Maybe not on a first unit but h e has some upside in that area. He was a little hot and cold with the T-birds last season, but again, that's why he is considered more of a middle to late round prospect.
Maybe the sleeper in that threesome is McNelly. Playing a physical brand of hockey will never be his problem. He plays with too much emotion at times, which I think even he would admit he has to tone down. We've seen glimpses of an offensive game. When he does shoot, he has shown an ability to get pucks on net. The question out there is do NHL teams beleive that can be developed into a more consistent part of his game? McNelly is that kind of player where a lot of teams may not even have him on their board but there are one or two teams that just love him enough they could take a late round flyer on him. I don't know how player interviews were conducted for this draft, over the phone or over video, but I'd put money on McNelly acing that part of the process.
Many were surprised when the seldom used Blake Lyda made Central Scoutings final North American goalie rankings. I wasn't. T-birds GM Bil LaForge told me he was getting calls on Lyda well before those rankings were published. A couple of times before laast season abruptly shutdown I saw Lyda outside the T-birds room postgame, being interviewed by an NHL scout. Projecting goalies might be one of the hardest scouting jobs in hockey. They all seem to develop at a slower pace then skaters. I think part of that is that 16 and 17 year old goalies in the WHL traditionally don't see a lot of ice as they sit behind a 19 or 20 year old. So whether he gets drafted or not, Lyda is on a lot of radars. Ignore his numbers. Hard to be consistent between the pipes when you are playing once every two to three weeks. There was a stretch last season where he got to play 2-3 times in a week and his numbers were solid. At 6'2" he has the length NHL teams now covet in metminders. He needs to fill out his frame then show what he can do with more consistent playing time.
The most shocking omission for me when it comes to those Central Scouting rankings, was forward Matt Rempe. And I don't mean the most shocking T-birds ommission. I mean of all the player who were listed from North America and Europe, I can't fathom how they could not find a spot for a guy who is 6'8", can skate like he's 6'1" and projects to fill out to about 240-250 lbs. if not bigger. After starting last season on the sidelines he ended up putting up 31 points (12g, 19a) in 47 games. For a roster where a double digit plus/minus was more the rule then the exception, he finished at just -1.
Maybe scouts just looked at his stat sheet and saw there were no long scoring streaks or big offensive games. But last season was his first at the WHL level and he had to get going without much benefit from a training camp or preseason. Then he had to work his way into the lineup, starting on the fourth line and moving up. By season's end he was one of Seattle's most reliable players.
They don't play the same position but watching the NHL postseason I've been keeping an eye on defenseman Jamie Oleksiak of the Dallas Stars. Physically Oleksiak is where Rempe could be in a few years. The Dallas d-man is listed at 6'7", 255 lbs. Like Oleksiak, Rempe also has sisters who compete or competed at a high level. Okeksiak's younger sister Penny is a multiple medal winning Olympic swimmer. Rempe has twin older sisters who played NCAA hockey for Brown University. I also believe Rempe is using the Central Scouting snub as a motivator. He's been using the offseason, focused on training to take his game to a higher level.
Mount's size and a bit of an injury history may work against him. He might be someone, like Matt Wedman who will need 3-4 seasons in the WHL before he gets the attention of the scouts at the next level. In a few years Seattle will have a group that has grown together and should be competing for banners and Cups. he could be the leader of that group and that could help his stock.