Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Barzal Says I Do; Let the Honeymoon Begin!

Mathew Barzal, the first overall pick in last spring's 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, has made his decision and his choice is the Seattle Thunderbirds.
So, what does it mean? Well, first and foremost I think it is the clearest signal yet that, after a few leans years, GM Russ Farwell has the Thunderbirds train back on the tracks. Had this been a few years ago, I could certainly see this decision going the other way but Farwell and Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk have now done a masterful job of creating a culture conducive to winning hockey. Now, it's time to win.

It's a clear indicator that Seattle's drafting and scouting have been much better in recent years. While you can argue that poor play and a lotta luck (winning the draft lottery a year ago and moving up to draft first overall) helped Barzal drop into the T-birds lap, but they still had to create a culture and atmosphere that convinced Barzal this was the place to be. To do that, they had to bring in other talented players.

Barzal himself, acknowledged the T-birds solid young corps of defensemen, led by potential NHL first round pick Shea Theodore, as a reason to be a T-bird. He talked about high end offensive talent such as Brandon Troock and Roberts Lipsbergs. These are all players Seattle drafted in recent years.

What does it mean for the immediate future for Seattle? Well, a year ago when he drafted Barzal, Farwell said the Coquitlam, B.C. native was good enough to be a top six forward on the team. I doubt anything has changed since then, even for a T-birds team that will return six of its top eight scoring forwards from last season. Adding Barzal just creates more depth among the team's forward lines.

Even at just 16 years of age, Barzal should drastically improve the T-birds hot and cold power play. Hindsight is 20/20 but could you imagine had the T-birds had Barzal for that seven game playoff series against Kelowna in April what might have been? I doubt Seattle would have gone oh-for-27 on the PP.

Could the Barzal signing affect other possible signings? Possibly. Barzal is considered a once-in-a-generation type talent. He makes others around him better players and thus other players want to play with him. Barzal is going to be heavily scouted by the NHL over the next two years. Do you want to grab the attention of those scouts? What better way to do that than to be playing on Barzal's team. If nothing else, it is going to give a lot of young prospects a reason to keep the Thunderbirds on their radars.

Welcome to T-birds Nation Mathew Barzal!
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The 2013 WHL Bantam draft goes off tomorrow. While it's been a over a year since Marcel Noebels last wore a T-birds jersey, it's as if he never left because he continues to have an effect on the team's roster. and that affect will be felt again at the draft Thursday.

You may recall it was at the January 2012 WHL trade deadline that Farwell made a trade with Portland, sending Noebels to the Winterhawks in exchange for Seth Swenson and a pair of 1st round draft picks. The T-birds cashed in one of those picks last may, turning it into Keegan Kolesar.

Tomorrow, the T-birds will spend that second 1st round choice, either with a player selection or as capital in a potential trade. Either way Noebels is the gift that keeps on giving.

I recall talking to Farwell last January after that deal. Two things I remember from that brief conversation. First, it was the perfect time to make such a move. Farwell believed there was going to be good talent through the first round of last year's bantam draft, meaning that even though that Portland pick was going to be low (turned out to be #19 overall) it would still be good value. In the little we've seen of Kolesar, it looks like he'll be a solid WHL player with the ceiling to be elite.

Second, from his scouting trips through the winter of 2011-12 Farwell said he believed the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft was going to be even deeper than the 2012 draft and many others I have spoken to agree with that assessment. Now, because of that trade, Seattle sits on three of the top 30 selections in the draft process.
Let's not forget the third part of that trade. Remember Noebels was a 19 year old import player at the time of the deal. He played just 3 more months in the WHL after that. So far the T-birds have gotten a year and half of service out of Swenson with one year of eligibility left. Swenson was a key component to the T-birds ending their three year playoff drought and will be counted upon to be a leader and top offensive threat next season.

So once again Marcel, vielen dank!
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You don't hit on every draft pick, even some high choices don't pan out. But if you are diligent and do your homework you can build a winning team through drafting. Take a look at the T-birds roster and you will see the fruits of good drafting or scouting, minimizing the need for trades.

Danny Mumaugh, Jerret Smith, Kevin Wolf, Mitch Elliot, Justin Hickman, Troock, Connor Honey, Theodore, Daniel Wray, Alexander Delnov, Ethan Bear, Evan Wardley, Keegan Kolesar, Roberts Lipsbergs, Taylor Green, Jared Hauf, Connor Sanvido, Michal Holub, Justin Myles and now, Mathew Barzal all drafted or listed by the T-birds. All those players drafted or listed. Meanwhile a couple of other drafted and listed players are knocking on the door.

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