Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Circle of Life WHL Style

An eventful last two days for the Seattle Thunderbirds. All highs, no lows! It started with some terrific recognition for a couple of T-birds leaving the organization and ended with Seattle welcoming nine new prospects into the nest.

Wednesday up in Calgary the WHL held it's annual awards banquet and two Thunderbirds walked away with some valuable hardware. I was certainly not surprised that Taran Kozun and Shea Theodore won their respective awards. Kozun took home the Del Wilson Trophy as the 2014-15 WHL Goaltender of the Year, besting Eastern Conference representative Tristan Jarry of Edmonton. Kozun's numbers speak for themselves, a 33-19-4-4 record along with a 2.41 GAA and save percentage of .915.

This is a pretty nice "feel good" story too. Kozun, who was not selected in his WHL Bantam Draft year, had a remarkable season and a half career as a Thunderbird after coming over from Kamloops at the 2014 January trade deadline. At the time it seemed Seattle was just looking for a healthy goalie to help in net with Danny Mumaugh after Justin Myles got hurt. In his previous two seasons in Kamloops Kozun was either the back up or shared duty in goal there too. His numbers were decent with the Blazers but he never really had to carry the load. That all changed once he became a Thunderbird. I still think, initially, he was going to split the goaltending job in Seattle as well, but in his very first start for the T-birds he shutout the Spokane Chiefs. He grabbed a hold of the number one goaltending job and never let go. In 84 regular season games in net for the T-birds he went 47-28-4-5 and recorded eight shutouts. Seattle went from being a team without a #1 goalie to having the #1 goalie in the league.

Meanwhile, Theodore culminated his terrific junior career by accepting the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as the WHL's Defenseman of the Year for 2014-15, winning out over Ivan Provorov of the Brandon Wheat Kings. Theodore was honored by the league even though he missed a good chunk of the first half of the season because of an elbow injury suffered at training camp with the NHL's Anaheim Ducks and being away from the T-birds to play for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships. Despite playing in only 43 of Seattle's 72 games, he still earned 48 points. In the process he became the franchise's all time leading goal scorer and point producer among defensemen. His stellar play with the Thunderbirds led to him being drafted in the first round of the NHL draft two years ago by the Ducks.

Theodore reached these heights after being selected in the third round of the 2010 WHL Bantam Draft. In fact, he was the third defenseman Seattle selected in that draft (after Jared Hauf and Taylor Green)and their fourth pick overall. And Theo may never have been a Thunderbird if not for something that happened a year before Seattle selected him. When training camp rolled around prior to the 2009-10 season, T-birds center Jeremy Boyer opted not to report for his 19-year old season, instead staying home back in Saskatchewan and requesting a trade. Seattle GM Russ Farwell eventually honored his request and shipped Boyer to the Saskatoon Blades in exchange for prospect Stefan Burzan and a third round draft pick. While Burzan never made it out of training camp and onto the Seattle roster, the T-birds used that third rounder in the spring of 2010, the 64th pick overall, to draft Theodore.

Earlier in that round with the 48th pick, Seattle had chosen James Neil, a right winger out of Surrey. So, we'll never know if the T-birds would have been able to draft Theodore had Boyer never requested a trade and instead reported to camp. The T-birds didn't have a 4th round pick that year meaning their next selection was in the 5th round, #92 overall and Theodore would have probably been long gone by then. I guess we owe Jeremy Boyer a big "thank you!"

This all segues nicely into what happened Thursday, the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft in which Seattle made nine selections. It started in round one when, with the 15th overall pick, Seattle chose Elijah Brown a playmaking center out of Edmonton. Brown is described as "having speed that creates opportunities all over the ice". In round two the T-birds grabbed Carl Stankowksi, a goalie from Calgary. It's the highest Seattle has drafted a netminder since choosing Calvin Pickard in the second round back in 2007. Want a little more intrigue? Pickard was the 38th player selected that spring, Stankowski was the 37th player chosen Thursday.

And this pick makes sense as well. Seattle has a couple of goalies they're very high on, 18 year old Logan Flodell and 17 year old Ryan Gilchrist, to tend goal for the next few years. When those two are ready to move on, Stankowski should be ready to take over between the pipes.

Outside of Brown and Stankowski, the two T-birds picks that intrigued me the most were 5th rounder Sabir Gill, a defenseman out of Vancouver's North Shore Winter Club, and forward Chase Sakic, selected in the 8th round out of Englewood, Colorado. Gill has a champion's pedigree, having been a part of a Western Canada Bantam championship team. He registered 70 points (20g, 50a) and quarterbacked his team's power play. We often hear coach's say that winning is a learned habit. Well, Gill comes with that habit already learned.

Sakic, is the son of Joe Sakic, a two-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Colorado Avalanche, and a certain Hall of Famer who enjoyed a stellar 20 year NHL career, so he obviously comes with good bloodlines. Chase didn't last until the 8th round because he was on the fence about the WHL. He made it clear before the draft he wanted to follow in his dad's footsteps and play in the Dub.

He most likely lasted that long because of his size. He's listed at just 5'4" and 130 lbs. I don't have any idea how much bigger he's going to get but size was also a knock on his dad when he played in the WHL for Swift Current back in the 1980s. While he may not have the size yet, the one thing that Chase Sakic probably does have as a result of growing up around an NHL locker room, and some of the best hockey players in the world, is that innate hockey IQ that you just can't teach. He's seen first hand from his dad and the players around his dad in the NHL what it takes to play at the highest level, the day-to-day commitment to being the best. Of the nine players Seattle drafted Thursday, he was the first to tweet out how excited he was for the chance to be a T-bird and play in the WHL. He is ready to get his career going.

1 comment:

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