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.