Sunday, August 25, 2013

One for the Ages?

Will the 2012 Bantam Draft go down as one of the best in T-bird history? Let me start this with a cliché, "Only time will tell", but after a weekend of training camp it certainly has the potential to be. Now, plenty of things can change between now and the time these players reach their 19-20 year old seasons but the promise they've been displaying at camp gives one great hope. I'm finding it hard to come up with another draft class that had this depth.

The T-birds had ten selections in the 2012 draft. Five of the players from that draft have already signed. Six are making some sort of case for a roster spot as 16 year olds. A few others have done enough that they could warrant a roster spot down the road.

It starts with Mathew Barzal, not just the T-birds first pick, but the first overall selection from that draft. He has done nothing in camp that would make you think he isn't what he was billed to be; a franchise player. In one of the scrimmages this weekend I saw him make a play in the defensive zone, away from the puck. It led to a turnover and a scoring chance for his team at the other end. It's small things like that, that create star players. He pays attention to the smallest details. Barzal is probably going to center one of the top two lines, maybe not at the beginning of the year, but eventually he'll be up there. He makes player around him, even the older players, better. He's not going to score every time he touches the puck but other teams are going to have to be aware of where he is on the ice at all times. This will create space and time for his linemates.

Keegan Kolesar was Seattle's other first round choice that year. He even got into a couple of playoff games last season as a 15 year old. He's listed at 6'1" 215 lbs, but I think he's bigger then that and his body is still maturing. For a big guy, he has some finesse but as he gets older he's gonna be hard to play against. I think he's good enough now to get fourth line minutes and in a few years he should be the quintessential power forward, a WHL version of a Bryan Bickell type player.

In the second round the T-birds chose smooth skating defenseman Ethan Bear. He got into one regular season game last year as a 15 year old, playing down in Portland and didn't look out of place. He's a defense first player but he can shoot and is not afraid to jump up and join the rush. The T-birds have a logjam back on the blueline so I don't know where he'll get his minutes if he sticks this season but he's talented enough already to be a 7th d-man on this club. In a few years don't be surprised if he's an integral part of the power play.

In Round Three The Thunderbirds selected goalie Logan Flodell. Flodell is the future in net for Seattle but there is no pressure on him to make the club this season at age 16. Could he? There is an outside chance I suppose, but there are enough older goalies in front of him on the depth chart that he can bide his time back in Regina and continue to refine his game. But footsteps will be heard by those other goalies if they don't live up to expectations because Flodell is showing all the signs of being a top WHL netminder.

The Thunderbirds did not have a 4th round pick but still found a gem in Round Five with the selection of center Lane Pederson out of Saskatoon. Pederson has looked very sure of himself at camp. He skates very well and has a good burst, plus a nose for the net. The question will be ice time. There are a lot of returning forwards on this club. Even after the trades of Conner Sanvido and Andrew Johnson, I still see about 11-12 forwards above him on the depth chart. I've noticed he's been used as both a winger and a center in camp. This versatility will help get him into more games as he can play two spots on the fourth line. I do think he's someone who could be kept around this season to learn the ropes because he'll take on a much bigger role as a 17 year old.

With no picks in rounds six and seven, the T-birds made two selections in Round Eight. Donovan Neuls went 157th overall. The left winger out of Saskatchewan is having a solid camp in his second visit to Seattle but again there are just too many returning or older forwards ahead of him right now. The second of the two 8th round choices was Luke Osterman, a defenseman out of Stillwater, Minnesota. I liked him at camp last year and I think he's having an even better camp this time around. He's positionally sound, seems to have good hockey smarts and just seems to play beyond his 16 years. He's been much more physical this time around and has produced some of the best checks in any of the scrimmages. With the glut of defenseman looking for ice time with this team, I think the toughest decision this organization has to make may be what to do with Osterman. He is making a good argument that he deserves a spot on this team. If he wants to play in the WHL, if not this season, then I'd say next year he is a lock.

Another Saskatchewan left winger, Tyler Kreklewich was picked in the 9th round. With so many 19 year old forwards on the team this season Kreklewich and Neuls will have to bide their time and hope for a shot next season when they turn 17.

The same can be said for 10th rounder Austin Wong, a good-sized defenseman out of Medicine Hat. Just too many defensemen in front of him on the depth chart but I didn't see him do anything that made him look out of place on the ice.

So who sticks? How many 16 year olds will the T-birds carry? It would be very difficult to find enough ice time for three, let alone five or six. Barzal is a given. He's one of your top six forwards, maybe your number one option at center. To me, Kolesar and Pederson both have 4th line value but is there room for both on the roster this season? And what about Bear and Osterman? Aren't we all doing the numbers in our head at this time of year, trying to figure out line combos and depth charts? I don't envy the T-bird brain trust because the players at camp are making it tough for them to decide who stays and who goes.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Welcome back to the T-birds Family

In the second round of this past spring's 2013 WHL Bantam Draft, the Seattle Thunderbirds used their pick (#27 overall) on Nolan Volcan, a left winger out of Edmonton. Nolan is the son of Marty Volcan who, as it happens, played 28 games for the Seattle Breakers (the forerunners to the T-birds) back in the 1984-85 season. Marty Volcan made his first visit back to the Seattle area since his playing days this weekend, coming down to watch his son participate in his first T-birds training camp.

We caught up with Marty and he shared some of his memories from his time playing in Seattle

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Pre Camp Diet

The Seattle Thunderbirds whittled away some of their excess with an August 1st deal that sends two forwards to Swift Current for a 4th round selection in the 2014 WHL Bantam draft. Heading to Swift Current are 20 year old Connor Sanvido and 19 year old Andrew Johnson.

Dealing Sanvido leaves the T-birds with the maximum three 20 year olds on their roster. It was a given that one of the four they had on the roster this summer was going to have to be released or traded before the overage deadline, which usually comes in Mid-October. The past few seasons though, T-birds GM Russ Farwell has pared down the number of 20's on his roster early. You may recall last season when Farwell traded Chance Lund to the Broncos in the latter stages of training camp and released defenseman Brad Deagle before the start of the season. I think this is the right way of doing it, or at least the right way for the 20 year old player involved. Waiting until the deadline leaves one of those players' WHL career in limbo. By the time early to mid-October rolls around there may not be a roster spot in the league available. Trading Sanvido now puts him on a roster, with a team that wants him.

This is a good move for Sanvido, Johnson and the Broncos. Swift Current has lost three older forwards this offseason due to long term injury. 20 year old Brent Benson and 19 year old Shea Howorko have ended their playing careers because of post-concussion syndrome. Meanwhile 17 year old Dakota Odgers will miss the first half of the upcoming season following shoulder surgery.

The good news for Swift Current is Sanvido is trending upwards. He's improved his play each season in the WHL. Last year he had a career best 15 goals and 14 assists with Seattle. He also proved to be a valuable penalty killer and after a falling out with the coaching staff late in the 2011-12 season, Sanvido re-focused and became a rock solid contributor to the T-birds in 2012-13. The question then is, why would the T-birds deem him to be expendable?

Well, you have to look at where he fits on the T-birds depth chart. Was he, as a 20 year old, going to be a top six forward? With Seth Swenson, Roberts Lipsbergs, Alexander Delnov, Connor Honey, Justin Hickman, Riley Sheen and a healthy Branden Troock returning, probably not. Meanwhile, there are younger players coming up who will need ice time too; players like Mathew Barzal, Michal Holub, Keegan Kolesar, Lane Pederson, Carter Folk and Scott Eansor. So, a lot of what Sanvido brings to the table can be duplicated by other, younger players. For instance, Sanvido's game is somewhat similar to Sheen's and Sheen is a year younger. I think if the T-birds were odds-on favorites to win it all, they probably keep Sanvido and hold off the development of some of those younger players by a year, but they're not. They are an up and coming team, so this seems like the right move at this time.

Johnson, was in a similar boat, albeit a year younger then Sanvido. He was acquired at the trade deadline this past January from Moose Jaw to help with the depth at the center position. I'm not sure he showed the consistency, especially in the face-off circle, that the T-birds wanted. I think he has a better scoring touch then he showed but he only put up six goals in 30 games and contributed just one assist in the playoffs. The T-birds recoup the draft pick they gave up to get Johnson in this deal. So, they got a half season to take a look at him up close and personal and in the end decided to go a different direction.

On paper this seems to weaken the Thunderbirds at the center position but we don't know what shuffling they'll do with the players who are returning or if they have an option B, such as a list player invited to camp who can fill that Johnson role as a veteran 3rd/4th line center.

With the trade of Sanvido, it appears the T-birds are ready to go into the season with Swenson, defenseman Jesse Forsberg and winger Mitch Elliot as their three 20 year olds. We know these things are fairly fluid and subject to change but Swenson should conservatively be a 25-30 goal scorer this year and Forsberg is the senior leader of what is still a fairly young group of defensemen.

Meanwhile, Elliot, while not your typical 20 year old in the WHL (just two goals last season), brings an element to the team that Sanvido can't...rugged, physical play. With a bevy of young forwards Seattle is going to need that element. He fits uniquely into what the T-birds need at the moment. Seattle may be the only place in the WHL where Elliot could occupy a 20 year old spot and not be counted on to be a top offensive contributor. Additionally, he is the consumate team player and will do anything the coaches ask of him and is well liked in the locker room. It's a trade off: Sanvido's potential for 15-20 goals in favor of Elliot's physicality, but if you believe you have high end young forwards (Barzal) who will produce immediately, its a trade off you can potentially afford.

Of course this trade does nothing to alleviate the glut of defenseman poised to try and earn a spot on the roster this season. You have your top six from last season in Forsberg, Shea Theodore, Jared Hauf, Griffin Foulk, Jared Smith and Evan Wardley, all returning. Where does Taylor Green fit? Does he remain a defenseman or does he push up to forward where he excelled when pressed into that duty on a limited basis last year? Then there is Kevin Wolf who enters his second season looking to get into more then the 20 games of action he saw in 2012-13. Meanwhile, 17 year old Austin Douglas, the team's 2011 2nd round bantam pick, is now signed and looking for a roster spot as is 2012 2nd round pick Ethan Bear. It's one of those good "problems" to have, more player then roster spots available, but it still has to be sorted out.

Oh, have we mentioned that the T-birds don't have any goalie on their roster with more then 18 WHL starts or more then three WHL wins to their credit? Stay tuned!