Tuesday, June 24, 2014

We Interrupt this Offseason...

All was fairly quiet around T-bird Nation. Since the Bantam Draft back in early May, there was not much to report on. That changed this week with a couple of news items.

First the Thunderbirds GM, Russ Farwell, announced the signing of defenseman Savhan Khaira to a standard WHL Player Agreement. Khaira was a 2013 ninth round draft selection by Seattle. Now, you might say what is the big deal about a ninth rounder signing? So few ninth round picks ever make it past a training camp or two. Khaira, though, is not your ordinary ninth round selection. He is one of those players who, had he been committed to the WHL at the time of that draft probably is taken in the first or second round.

But at the time of the 2013 draft,it appeared Khaira would follow his older brother's path. Jujhar Khaira, who is three years older then Sahvan, had gone the NCAA route and attended Michigan Tech. Then he was drafted a few years back by the Edmonton Oilers, in the third round of the NHL Entry Draft. He chose to sign his entry level NHL contract with the Oilers which ended his NCAA eligibility. That meant he would play the 2013-14 season with Everett, which held his WHL rights. I believe Jujhar's positive experience with Everett and Sahvan's good showing at his first Thunderbirds training camp last August, helped convince his parents that the WHL and Seattle was the right path for Sahvan to take for his future in hockey.

So this is a case of Farwell taking a low risk gamble by using a 9th round draft pick on an undecided high end talent in Khaira and having it pay off in potentially a big way. Khaira, a defenseman, is already 6'2" and 210 lbs. Even last August as a 15 year old at training camp, he looked bigger then his listed vital statistics. He looked like an athlete. And to me, on the ice, he stood out just as much as Seattle's 2013 1st round bantam selection, Dante Fabbro.

That's not to say they are similar players. The unsigned Fabbro is more of an offensive defenseman; more dynamic and probably a greater upside. Khaira is more of a stay-at-home type and while on the ice at camp last year he played a smart, simple game where he could use his size and length, a skill that big, 15 year old defenseman usually take a few years to develop. He skated well for a big kid too. It would not shock me if he ended up as one of Seattle's top six defensemen next season, say on a third pairing if the T-birds keep a 20 year old d-man to pair him with, similar to what they did last year with Ethan Bear when they paired him up with 19 year old Adam Henry. At a minimum he'll get into enough games to begin his development into being a top two d-man in coming years.

The even better news is that he'll have a veteran group of defensemen around him, so there is no pressure on him early on with the likes of Shea Theordore, Jerret Smith, Jared Hauf, Bear and possibly Henry or Evan Wardley to learn from.

Then, just today the Thunderbirds announced a three year contract extension for head coach Steve Konowalchuk. This is validation that Konowalchuk has this franchise going in the right direction. In a year of a lot of coaching fluctuation in the Western Conference, it is nice to have continuity and stability behind the bench that this extension brings.

In my estimation Konowalchuk has not fully implemented his systems in Kent yet. I think his first three years with the club he coached to the talent he had and brought out the best in those players, getting players like Branden Troock to buy in. As the talent has gotten better he's put in more of his game plan. Slowly, over the past few years, Seattle has drafted the type of players that fit Konowalchuk's style and that has allowed him to integrate more of what he wants his players to do on the ice. He's a firm but fair operator, not afraid to bench a top player if it is warranted. He said when he was first hired that he liked the idea of working with and developing young players and by signing the extension he reaffirmed that commitment.

It also tells me he is happy with the direction the organization is going. As a former NHL assistant coach I'm sure he has connections that could get him hired back at the NHL or AHL level. By re-upping with the T-birds it tells me he believes in his current players and the players coming in to the system.