When last season ended, the average age of Seattle's top six defenseman was 18.7 years old. The average age of Seattle's six defensemen in the lineup Saturday versus Kelowna was 16.6 years old. With 19-year olds Jarret Tyszka and Reece Harsch out with injury there was no one older than the 18-year old Owen Williams in that group of six Saturday and Williams just turned 18 less then two weeks ago.
Payton McIsaac won't be 18 until the day after Christmas. Jake Lee turned 17 in July. Simon Kubicek doesn't celebrate his 17th birthday until December 19th. Tyrel Bauer has been 16 for all of six months and Luke Bateman had a 16th birthday less then a month ago. Had he not been suspended, the still 16-year old Cade McNelly (his 17th birthday is October 17th) would have most likely played both nights.
The T-Birds defense was only slightly older when Harsch was in the lineup the previous night in Everett. The average age of the group against the Silvertips was just barely over 17 years old (17.1). Seattle's defense is not just young, but they are green with very few games of WHL experience under their belts. Yet over the past three games the T-Birds have surrendered nary a 5-on-5 goal. The last 180:17 minutes of minutes of hockey and the goals against have been five power-play goals, one empty-net goal and one 3-on-3 overtime goal. One of those power-play goals came at the tail end of a seven minute penalty kill for Seattle against Portland last weekend and another was in the last 30-seconds of a three minute Kelowna power play Saturday.
As rough as Seattle's breakouts have looked early this season, when the puck is in their defensive zone for extended periods of time, they are keeping shots to the outside and keeping the front of the net fairly clear of traffic. In just slightly over 300 minutes of hockey this season the T-Birds have surrendered just three 5-on-5 goals and two were scored in a seven minute span opening night. While it would be silly to think they will keep up that pace over the course of the season, it is still a remarkable feat.
The T-Birds goaltending has been a big reason for that along with veteran forwards being responsible in the D-zone, but that young group of defenseman are doing their job too. If you've ever been in the military, you are familiar with the acronym OJT, on the job training, and that is exactly what many of these young d-men are getting.
Speaking of goaltending, on the weekend Seattle's goalies stopped 82 of 85 shots faced. Start right there when you want to know how the team earned three of four points in the two games. It started up in Everett Friday night when, in his WHL regular season debut, Cole Schwebius denied 38 shots in the 2-1 overtime loss to the Silvertips. Not bad for a 2016 10th round bantam pick.
After missing that game with a lower body issue, Liam Hughes showed no ill effects Saturday with his 44 save performance. Hughes now sports a 3-1 record with a stellar 2.00 GAA and a save percentage of .947. Hughes is yet to record that first WHL shutout, but it's coming, but lets also realize that shutouts are really a team stat. Hughes has given his team a chance to win in all four of his starts.
Dillon Hamaliuk continues on his 68 goal pace for the season. Five games, five goals. In reality he should actually have more. he's been denied at least twice in the early going by an opposing goalie's goal-robbing save or a rolling puck. There were NHL scouts in the building Saturday and they had to like what they saw from both Hamaliuk and Lee, two first year draft eligible Thunderbirds. The pair combined for two goals including a game winner.
I keep getting asked the status of Tyszka, who is still working through concussion symptoms after suffering from a head shot in a preseason NHL game last month. The answers is, I don't know but when there is a TBD (to be determined) behind your name on the weekly injury report, you can assume it's probably long term. The question now is whether Seattle is comfortable enough to continue throwing out that young group in Tyszka's absence, or do they need to spend some assets to look for a more experienced defenseman to help get them through the first part of the season?
It was nice to see the power play, which struggled early to find a rhythm, strike for three goals against the Rockets. There is still work to be done as the passing still is not as crisp as it needs to be, but the effort Saturday was a step in the right direction.
Am I the only one who sees the confidence in rookie Payton Mount grow with each game he plays, each shift he takes? Once he fully understands he belongs here, he's going to start producing. It's like Hughes and the shutouts. He's on the verge. Speaking of 16-year old rookies, we've only gotten small doses of him in the early going but center Jared Davidson makes the most of his ice time. He's quick, willing to battle for pucks and has shown an ability to win face offs. Definitely another player to watch develop over the next four seasons.
My T-Bird Three Stars for the weekend:
Third Star: LW Dillon Hamaliuk. A timely goal late in Everett to get the game to overtime, earning the T-Birds a crucial point in the standings. It's becoming his signature goal scoring move, a power drive to the net in tight space with a deft finish. Saturday he scores the game winner on the power play against Kelowna. Going back to last season he now has goals in six straight regular season games.
Second Star: G Cole Schwebius. A road start versus a divisional rival in a hostile environment for a team that doesn't particularly play good hockey in front of you. 38 saves later you're the main, if not only reason your team steals a point in a game they had no business getting to overtime. Welcome to the Dub.
First Star: G Liam Hughes. Unable to go Friday, Hughes got a hold of some recovery water and showed no sign he had been suffering a lower body injury just 24 hours earlier. 44 saves on the night and feisty as ever. With the game in hand he still came up with some incredible saves late as the Rockets skated 6-on-3 after a couple of last minute Seattle penalties. 113 saves on 118 shots in his last three starts. Only one of those goals scored against him was even strength.