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.

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