Saturday, December 7, 2013

Troockin' Along

Coming into this season Seattle right winger Branden Troock had registered 41 points in his injury abbreviated WHL career with 19g and 18a in 77 games over three seasons. After last night's four point performance in a 7-3 win in Spokane against the Chiefs, Troock has 31 points (13g, 18a) after just 29 games. His 13 goals is one shy of his best season in the WHL when he scored 14 goals in 58 games for the Thunderbirds in 2011-12. Remember, he missed all 72 games of his rookie campaign and played in just 19 contests a year ago.

There were times, whether it was during a five game call up as a 15 year old, in exhibition games or training camp scrimmages a few years ago, or in the little we saw of him in regular season action the past two years, when we caught glimpses of the dominating player he was capable of being. Now, in a season when he is playing for that first professional contract, the draft prospect of the NHL Dallas Stars (5th Rd #134 overall in 2012), is finally shining brightly. By staying healthy he's been able to play a consistent 200 foot game. At 6'4", 201 lbs, he's hard to match up against because he's so powerful that at times he's like a man among boys on the ice.

Additionally, he and his linemates have found tremendous chemistry on the ice. He has a potential high NHL draft pick in 2015 draft eligble Ryan Gropp on his right wing and fellow 2012 NHL draft pick Alexander Delnov (Florida Panthers, 4th Rd, #114 overall) at center. There were shifts last night in Spokane when it seemed that line never left the offensive zone. The only time I noticed Troock oustide the attacking zone was when he was stealing the puck away at center ice on the back check or clearing a puck out of his own end of the ice. During the T-birds current five game winning streak it is almost a given that the trio will create at least one scoring chance every shift and Troock's strength, speed and stickhandling ability allows him to create space for himself and thus scoring chances for himself or Gropp and Delnov.

Seattle defenseman Jerret Smith has usually been all guts and no glory. That is, a solid, steady two way d-man who does a lot of the grunt work but rarely lights the lamp to ends up in the spotlight. A lot of the good work he does can often go unnoticed because it doesn't end up on the scoresheet. Last season he had just one goal in 71 games while picking up 19 assists. Before last night he hadn't scored a goal in the first 29 games this season. He had registered ten helpers. It seemed half of those came after a scoring change took a goal away from him, leaving him with the assist instead after a teammate got credit for tipping or redirecting his shot once they looked at a video review of the goal.

All that changed last night when he got plenty of glory by potting a goal, chipping in with two assists and ending his night by sticking up for his teammates and getting a fighting major; the first Gordie Howe hat trick of his WHL career. He received some of the biggest pats on the back I've seen this season from his coaches and teammates when he exited the ice after getting tossed for the late game tilt.

My guess is the fact they weren't around at the end of the game was the only reason Smith and Shea Theodore weren't the 2nd and 3rd stars of the game as that defensive pairing combined for seven points (1g, 6a). Goalie Justin Myles received the 2nd star in the building even though he faced only 15 shots. But in the first five to six minutes of the game the Chiefs came after Seattle hard and had a chance to bust the game open in their favor, after registering five of their 15 shots in the games first four minutes. Myles came up with key saves, allowing his team to weather the storm before taking control of the game. The Chiefs did get on the board first with a power play goal but before Spokane got another past him, on a mid third period shorthanded breakaway, Seattle was up 6-1 and the contest was well in hand.

I wrote before the season started that fans shouldn't expect Mathew Barzal to score highlight goals every night just because he was the first overall pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft and comes with a very impressive hockey resume from his Bantam and Midget seasons. Barzal isn't just a one trick pony and in fact it is the sum of all the things he can do on the ice that make him such a highly regarded prospect. Last night in Spokane he finished with nary a point yet he did so many other things on the ice that affected the game positively for Seattle that I thought it was one of his best games of the year. He's fun to watch.

17 year old forward Michal Holub has left the team, frustrated over a lack of playing time. I understand the frustration. In fact, I'd be disappointed with any player who was just happy to be here. Holub is a solid player who has potential to be an every game player in the WHL. I just find the timing of his departure odd. Holub had just played in Seattle's 5-1 win last Sunday and was in the lineup for two of the last three games after coming off a lower body injury. With tournaments coming this month that will take three T-bird forwards away from the team, plus the injury to Connor Honey, there was going to be ample opportunity for Holub to get ice time over the next four to five weeks.

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