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!