When it was announced that former Thunderbird Alexander True had signed an NHL deal with the San Jose Sharks Wednesday morning, it meant seven players off the T-Birds 2017 Chynoweth Cup winning roster are now under contract to NHL teams. True spent last season, his first as a pro, playing in the Sharks system, but on an AHL deal with the San Jose Barracuda. The new contract just signed is an entry level NHL deal.
Earlier this year True's former Seattle teammate, Scott Eansor, inked a two-way deal with the New York Islanders. While Eansor is likely to be on the roster of the Islanders AHL affiliate the Bridgeport Sound Tigers for a second season, he's now officially part of the Islanders NHL family.
A day before the announcement of the True deal with San Jose, it was announced that last year's T-Birds captain, Turner Ottenbreit, had inked his first professional contract with the Colorado Eagles, the AHL affiliate of the NHL's Colorado Avalanche. Of course during last season another T-Birds defenseman, Austin Strand, signed an entry level deal with the NHL's L.A. Kings.
Besides all being part of that T-Birds WHL championship roster, what else do those four players have in common? They were all signed as free agents. Not a one of them was an NHL draft pick. It means that after they were passed over in the NHL draft, they didn't stop working to reach their dream. And True and Eansor initially signed AHL, not NHL deals, but they weren't satisfied and used their first year as pros to improve their stock.
Having a rink side seat every night of their T-Birds careers, it was easy to root for these four players as they grew not only as players but young men. Those undrafted guys are like the underdogs and we seems to always root a little harder for the underdog. We know they haven't yet reached their ultimate goal of actually playing in the NHL, but these signings are another successful step along that journey. I don't have a crystal ball that will tell me if that journey will, in the end, be a success, but having seen how hard they have worked to get to this point, it's hard to not imagine them reaching that goal.
Not every player is fortunate to get drafted into the NHL like Mat Barzal, Ryan Gropp, Keegan Kolesar and Ethan Bear were. But like the Eansor's and True's of the world, those players still have to prove their worth every day. They are all on the same footing now, not necessarily equal in skill, but they all have the same shot. Draft status no longer matters. As much as we rejoiced in the NHL debuts of Barzal and Bear, tell me you aren't stoked for the chance to see Eansor or True take a shift in an NHL game? Tell me you don't expect Ottenbreit to someday follow True's lead and turn that AHL deal into an NHL contract?
Add in the signing of Sami Moilanen to a pro deal in his native Finland and that makes nine players from the championship roster who have signed pro deals. The signings may not be done. Defenseman Jarret Tyszka is looking to impress the Montreal Canadiens, the team that drafted him in the fifth round of the 2017 NHL draft, and earn a pro contract in their system. Younger players like Jake Lee and Dillon Hamaliuk are entering their first season of draft eligibility. Maybe an undrafted player will emerge this season and follow the path of Eansor, True, Ottenbreit and Strand by impressing an NHL scout enough that they earn a pro deal.
If nothing else these most recent signings should show that being passed over in the NHL draft is not the end of the road.