There has already been a lot of chatter from T-bird fans on who the three 20 year olds will be or should be on this year's roster. Technically that decision doesn't have to be made until mid-October. My guess is, because it will be a very difficult decision, the T-birds will wait until the October deadline before they finalize their decision rather then make their choices at the end of preseason. The one exception to that thought would be if the team was able to work out a trade before hand.
Before I continue, let me say this. I've had a few people ask if the potential NHL lockout would affect the number of 20 year old players WHL teams will carry this season. The answer I'm getting is no, there will be no increase from the standard three 20 year old players per roster.
It has been a few years since the T-birds entered a training camp with more then three 20 year olds on the roster. A season ago, they had just one (Burke Gallimore) and ended up making deals to bring in two players, defensemen Kyle Verdino and Cason Machacek. Unless you've just had s strong playoff run and had all your older playes drafted, the prevailing thought is, if you don't have three or more of your own 20 year olds on the roster going into camp, you probably haven't found success in recent drafts or previous trades. So the fact the T-birds have some "home grown" 20 year olds to choose from this season, is a good thing.
Currently the T-birds have five players battling for three roster spots. One of those five, goalie Brandon Glover, was obtained via trade over the summer. Glover was brought in to be the starting goalie, replacing the departed Calvin Pickard. I think it is safe to say Glover has one of the 20 year old roster spots locked up.
That leaves four players competing for the remaining two 20 year old roster spots: defenseman Brad Deagle, left winger Chance Lund and centers Luke Lockhart and Brendan Rouse. I think all four could easily fit into the team's plans for the upcoming season. Any argument that can be made for any one player I believe I could easily make just as strong an argument for another. It's both a blessing and a curse. All four are solid players who can contribute but not one of them stands head and shoulders above the rest. As I heard someone say this weekend, "There's no Brendan Shinnimin in the group." Shinnimin, as a 20 year old last season for the Tri-City Americans, scored 58 goals and put up 134 points.
The decision on who stays and who goes may not come down to how good (or poor) any of these players perform in camp or through the preseason games. Rather, it could be determined by how some of the younger players perform. The WHL is a development league and if you can get from a 17, 18 or 19 year old what you can get from a 20 year old, then the odds are you're going to give that roster spot and, more importantly, the ice time to the younger player so they can develop.
To that end then, here are some players to watch as camp and preseason progresses. If a few of these players step up, it could go along way in deciding which two 20 year olds occupy those last two spots.
1. Brayden Low. The 18 year old Low is a former Portland Winterhawk draft pick who the T-birds listed over the summer after he was dropped by Portland. He played in 5 games with the Winterhawks over the course of the past two seasons without registering a point but he has size. The question is whether his offensive game translates to the WHL level.
2. Phil Pietroniro. Pietroniro is an 18 year old defenseman out of the Phoenix area. He played last season for Corpus Christi (TX) in the NAHL. He's a right-handed shot. He has average size but from what little I've seen of him at camp and in the scrimmages, he plays a very steady game. You may notice his younger brother (by two years) Chad, is also at camp.
3. Riley Sheen. Sheen was obtained from Medicine Hat in a trade that sent fan favorite Jacob Doty to the Tigers. The 17 year old left winger doesn't have a lot of size (listed at 5'9", 150 lbs) but he's a tremendous skater with mad puck handling skills and a wicked shot. He registered just one goal in 46 games a year ago for the Hat but it is his offensive potential that makes him such an intriguing player going into this season.
4 and 5. Jerret Smith/Taylor Mulder. In the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft the T-birds used 4 of their first six picks on defensemen. None of them were named Smith or Mulder. These two were essentially free agents the T-birds listed after that draft. Could they have uncovered a couple of nuggets? Smith is listed at 6'2", Mulder at 6'4". Both got practice time with the team at various points last season, so the organization must think highly of both. If either or both of these players impresses enough to make the roster, Seattle will have a very good class of 17 yr old defensemen when you add them to the Shea Theodore/Jared Hauf/Taylor Green mix.
6. Daniel Wray. As a 16 year old a season ago, Wray was the last player cut coming out of training camp. Like Smith and Mulder he saw practice time with the club late last season. a left winger, Wray was a 2010 6th round bantam selection. Is it just me or have the T-birds gathered a solid group of '95 born players?
7. Michael Bell. Bell, a 6'3", 205 lb center, was a 2010 7th round draft pick of the Everett Silvertips. He played in ten games with Everett a season ago but did not register a point. After being released by the Silvertips, the T-birds listed him. Certainly no harm in taking a flyer on a player with that size. He's still just 17 years old. I saw some good shifts from him during the first scrimmage of main camp on Saturday.
8. Andrew Taverner. As a camp invitee a year ago as a 16 year old, Taverner impressed the T-birds enough that they listed him. He's back for his second go around hoping to impress again at age 17. Could he follow in the footsteps of fellow Edmontonian Conner Honey?
9. Taylor Green. I'm listing Green this low only because I believe he's going to make the roster no matter who the 20 year olds are. The 6'6", 2010 2nd round draft selection, Green actually played three games with the team a season ago and practiced with them quite often. Trivia time...Green actually scored the first goal of the 2011-12 season for Seattle and he did it as a forward even though he is listed as a defenseman. It appears the coaching staff will use him as a hybrid once again this season as he saw time in the first main camp scrimmage as both a d-man and left winger and looked very comfortable doing both. I think this makes him a very valuable commodity going into the 2012-13 campaign.
I've purpsosely left the 16 year olds out of the discussion. I expect the Thunderbirds to carry two, possibly three, '96 born players on the roster this season. I just don't think any of them are getting ice time at the expense of releasing any certain 20 year old player. The T-birds are always going to carry two to three 16 year old players on the roster. Its part of getting some of your top prospects acclimated to the trials and tribulation of the WHL.