Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Now the Waiting Begins

A flurry of activity, from player signings, schedule announcements and national team invites, to NHL drafts and a CHL Import draft selection, put an end to the Thunderbirds busy month of June.

The last scheduled event on the calendar until training camp was Tuesday's annual two round CHL Import Draft. With center Alexander True, whom the T-birds chose in last summer's draft, already on the roster, Seattle spent just one of it's allotted two choices. Picking 44th in round one, they chose hulking Swedish center Gustav Olhaver. The native of Angleholm, Sweden is listed at 6'6", 213lbs. Just this past weekend Olhaver was selected in the 7th round of the NHL Draft by the Colorado Avalanche. Olhaver, who celebrates his 18th birthday at the end of the week, adds another 1997 born player (18 year old) to the Thunderbirds roster. With this addition Seattle now has 11 such players on the team.

I can't tell you much about Olhaver. Like you, I can read his stats over at Eliteprospects.com and it appears he put up decent numbers. Here's a link to a scouting report on the big Swede: http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1smso5k.

At the end of this past T-birds season it was a prevailing thought among many who follow the club that Seattle would look to the import draft to find an elite offensive-minded defenseman to fill some of the void created by the departure of Shea Theodore to the pro ranks. But when Seattle announced the signing of '98 born defenseman Brandon Schuldhaus on Monday, it seemed clear to me that there wasn't room for another d-man on the roster.

Not that there is much room on the roster for another forward. As of today there are 13 forwards on the Seattle roster returning from last season. Toss in Olhaver, who tweeted minutes after the draft that he is coming, and you have 14 forwards on the club before you get to any possible 16 year old rookie forwards such as Matthew Wedman or Wyatt Bear. But late Monday night I thought Seattle would possibly look for a forward in the Import Draft, of they type who could fill the void left by Roberts Lipsbergs, someone who could come in and immediately give the team a 30 goal season.

Is Olhaver that guy? He could be, you never know. Upon further reflection though, this choice makes sense because you already have so many returning forwards who should increase their goal totals from last year to pick up the Lipsbergs void. What the team lacks is a little more grit and physicality up front. What were Seattle GM Russ Farwell's first comments regarding the drafting of Olhaver? "We are excited to add a NHL drafted player with his size where we were picking."

Matt Barzal had 12 goals in an injury shortened season. The recent New York Islanders first round draft pick should be able to conservatively double that number. Meanwhile players like Keegan Kolesar (another player selected in the NHL draft this past weekend), Scott Eansor, Nolan Volcan, Donovan Neuls and Lane Pederson should be able to increase their 2014-15 goal totals. Meanwhile, Olhaver is a big body who can create space for those players and that will help them increase those numbers. Olhaver himself told the T-birds, "I'm a tall forward that can get to the net and be hard to move. I can play a physical game and am smart with the puck." If the Thunderbirds other import player, True, has been able to add weight and muscle to his 6'4" frame this offseason, the team will, along with Kolesar, have three big-bodied players who play a similar, physical game.

As I mentioned earlier, the T-birds announced Monday they had signed 2013 5th round Bantam draft pick Brandon Schuldhaus to a standard WHL player agreement. Many observers at Seattle's training camp a year ago thought he played well enough to earn a roster spot as a 16 year old. Indeed, he was one of the last cuts in camp because there just wasn't going to be enough opportunity for him to get significant playing time. Instead he returned to the prestigious Shattuck St. Mary's prep school in Faribault, Minnesota. Schuldhaus already had good size but this year he should be more physically mature. What I remember most about his time in camp last season was he played a responsible defensive game but had a knack of when to jump up and join the attack. The T-birds now have eight signed defenseman who will be competing for the seven roster spots for the 2015-16 season.

On paper, this is a very talented team as we head into the dog days of summer, slowly counting the days until training camp arrives. Players are deep into their offseason workout programs. There could always be a trade or two between now and then but if this roster stays intact, there is going to be some fierce competition for playing time once the season rolls around and how the players train in the summer could be the difference in who is on the ice this winter.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Junesin' for Some Hockey

Summer officially started this past weekend but we certainly have a lot of hockey news this week affecting the Thunderbirds. First off, Seattle announced it's six game exhibition schedule which begins with three games at the traditional preseason tournament up in Everett the weekend of September 4th. The T-birds are in the Tri-Cities the following weekend for a pair of contests, before they host Victoria in their only preseason home game Friday, September 18th. Earlier Seattle announced their regular season home opener, which will be Saturday, October 3rd at the ShoWare Center versus Prince George. We can surmise by this that the team will begin the regular season on the road the previous weekend. The full regular season schedule will be unveiled Wednesday and that's when we'll find out where and who the T-birds open the regular season against.

Meanwhile the T-birds have signed Elijah Brown to a standard WHL Player Agreement. Brown was Seattle's first round selection in the May WHL Bantam Draft. The Edmonton, Alberta native was selected 15th overall.

This is the earliest the Thunderbirds have inked their first round bantam selection since 2010, when they drafted defenseman Jared Hauf fourth overall, meaning there will be none of the wait associated with the last four top Seattle selections. In 2011 the T-birds picked Ryan Gropp in round one, eighth overall, but Gropp waited until October of 2013 before deciding on Seattle.

Matt Barzal was Seattle's first round pick, and first overall, in the spring of 2012 but he didn't announce he was joining Seattle until the following spring. Of course 2013's first round pick, defenseman Dante Fabbro, remains unsigned while another defenseman, Jarret Tyszka, the top choice of the T-birds in the spring of 2014, was just recently brought into the fold when he signed his player agreement with the club in April, 11 months after Seattle picked him 16th overall.

We have to remember that these players have options, such as NCAA hockey or staying and playing closer to home. Additionally these aren't just player decisions but family decisions. The parents are also weighing the options of what is best for their son going forward. let's not forget that Seattle had two other first round picks in that time span, they just weren't their first overall selections. But both Keegan Kolesar (2012) and Kaden Elder (2013) signed shortly after they were drafted in the first round of their respective drafts.

What should get you excited if you are a Thunderbirds fan is that Seattle will have a minimum of six first round WHL Bantam picks on their roster this coming season with Hauf, Gropp, Barzal, Kolesar, Elder and Tyszka and room for a seventh should Fabbro opt to join the club at some point.

Nolan Volcan wasn't a first round selection. Instead, Seattle chose him high in round two back in the spring of 2013. He was the fifth pick of the second round, 27th overall. Volcan played like a young first rounder this past season though and Hockey Canada rewarded him by inviting him to Canada's U-18 team summer camp. The word came down Tuesday, the same day Barzal was extended his expected invite to Canada's U-20 (World Juniors) summer camp. That means three T-birds are heading to national team summer camps this year. Earlier this month USA Hockey released the list of their World Junior summer camp invitees and it included Seattle's Scott Eansor.

The week is not over though as the NHL Draft takes center stage this weekend down in Sunrise, Florida. The first round begins Friday night and expect Barzal to hear his name called within the first 15 picks. I can't see him lasting past the 10th pick, but if he does,in my opinion, someone would be getting a steal. Three other Seattle players should be locks to hear their names called; Gropp, Kolesar and defenseman Ethan Bear. A few others have an outside chance of being drafted such as Alexander True and Turner Ottenbreit. My darkhorse though, is Eansor. I would not be surprised to see some team take a flyer on him in the final round.

And, lest we forget, next Tuesday is the CHL Import draft. Seattle currently only has one import player on the roster, True, so they will be making a selection with their first round pick. Whoever the T-birds pick, they will be looking for a dynamic player who can jump right in and contribute from day one, because unlike the signing of Brown, this first round pick will have to have an immediate impact. The prevailing thought is they will look for a defenseman who can take up the slack for the departed Shea Theodore. In other words someone with a good offensive game who can be affective on the power play but defensively responsible.