The Seattle Thunderbirds opened training camp this week in preparation for the upcoming 2012-13 WHL season. For the first two days the rookies ('96s & '97s) scrimmaged while the "veterans" (those age 17 and older) went through on-ice drills.
That will change over the weekend as some of the younger players return home and some go on to join the older players at "main camp".
No question the standout player in the scrimmages has been Matthew Barzal, the 15 yr old T-bird prospect and #1 overall selection in May's WHL Bantam Draft. Barzal came as advertised. He's just on a different plane then his contemporaries. I could spend 5,000 words describing how talented he appears to be, but why waste the energy when I can understatedly say he's the real deal.
All the young players come to camp looking to impress. Some are more wide-eyed then others but they all show tremendous effort. It's a tough business though and not all will realize a goal of playing at the WHL level. It really is a fine line between uber-talented, super-talented and just plain talented but there really isn't much separation in desire and effort and all these kids are putting in the work.
Other than the aforementioned Barzal, I'm not going to try and determine, after just watching a couple of scrimmages, which of these young players has the potential to lead the T-birds to future glory because 1.) I'd like to see them all succeed and 2.) that's what coaches scouts and GMs get paid the big bucks for!
What I did like from the scrimmages was seeing those players who were here last year as 15 year olds, have all improved their games now that they are 16. I didn't see anyone who took a step backward. Michael Holub, a 3rd round draft pick in 2011, in particular seems to have pushed his game up to another level. I don't know how many, if any, 16 yr olds the club plans to carry this season but if there is a spot for a 16 yr old on the roster, Holub is definitely in the mix.
The same could be said of Carter Folk, another 2011 T-bird draft pick. He's starting to remind me a bit of Portland Winterhawk Brad Ross. He's gritty, chippy and looks like he has some offensive skills.
I'm not sure what it was a season ago, but 2011 2nd round pick Austin Douglas looked "uncomfortable" on the ice at times at last year's rookie camp. This year, in his second go 'round the big 6'5" defenseman looked much more comfortable on the ice and skated with a lot more confidence. He still may be a year away from being a WHLer but if his improved skill level continues at the same pace over the next 12 months, he could be a solid blue liner by 2014.
Seeing a name in print is not the same as pronouncing it correctly, something broadcasters usually find out the hard way. I had heard the names of the T-birds top two 2012 draft picks pronounced in a variety of ways. For the record, according to Matt it is pronounced "Bar-zell" and Keegan says his last name is pronounced Koh-leh-sahr. In both cases, there doesn't appear to be an emphasis on any one syllable.
Keegan, by the way, is the first player I've come across who looks bigger out of his gear then in it. I believe he looks smaller on the ice because he's a very smooth skater who moves well without much effort. But in fact, he's already 6'0, 200lbs at age 15. In talking with him he thinks he projects out to about 6'2', 230lb by the time he's 19.
I'm as anxious as anyone to get to main camp. That's where the real battles begin. There are a number of 17 and 18 year olds who will be fighting for a roster spot. For some it is their first legitimate opportunity to try and win a job with the team. Some of them also probably know it could be there last chance.