Summer is officially here and with the warm weather and baseball dominating the sports scene, it’s hard to think about hockey.
Despite the rising temperature outside, the Seattle Thunderbirds have been busy over the last couple of weeks. For starters, Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk and assistant Matt O’Dette were honored recently by the Seattle Mariners. The two coaches threw out the first pitch before a game with the Toronto Blue Jays and were accompanied by the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
After throwing a pitch that unofficially was called a strike, Konowalchuk saw Seattle get busy over the last week shoring up some of its 2017 Bantam Draft picks.
First to sign up was the team’s first-round selection, Payton Mount. The forward from Calgary, Alberta played last season for Delta Academy in Vancouver while scoring 30 goals in 30 games. The Thunderbirds selected Mount with the 19th pick in the 2017 Bantam Draft.
A day later they inked their second-round pick, defenseman Tyrel Bauer. The 41st pick overall hails from Cochrane, Alberta and picked up 17 points in 36 games for the Airdire Extreme last season. Seattle continued their signing frenzy by getting its fourth-round pick, Luke Bateman, to sign. Another defenseman, Bateman was taken by Seattle with the 85th pick and hails from Kamloops, British Columbia.
The Thunderbirds then signed an undrafted player, Holden Katzalay to a standard WHL contract. Katzalay is entering his 17-year-old season and will be looking to find a roster spot at this fall’s training camp. The three draft picks will be in camp as well but will not be able to play with the Thunderbirds until next season.
Getting your draft picks signed early is a good sign for the defending WHL Champs and speaks to the current state of the franchise. However, it also makes the 2016 draft class’ situation even more curious.
Seattle has only signed defenseman Jake Lee from their 2016 draft class. Just last week, 2016 third-round pick Alex Swetlikoff announced that he committed to play NCAA hockey with Denver University. While the 2016 players are entering what would be their rookie seasons and wouldn’t be making a huge impact this season, down the road the T-Birds could be looking at a hole in talent for the 2001-born age group.
NHL Draft looms for a couple of T-Birds
The NHL Draft will take place in Chicago this coming weekend and it could be a big day for a couple of Thunderbirds.
Defenseman Jarret Tyszka seems like a lock to get selected at some point over the weekend. Reading the draft experts and the tea leaves, it looks like Tyszka could be picked during the third or fourth round on Saturday.
Winger Sami Moilanen also has a chance to be picked up. The Finnish import had a strong rookie season in the WHL, potting 21 goals while adding 22 assists. Strong numbers for a 17-year-old rookie but you have to wonder if Moilanen’s 5-foot-8 frame is scaring off NHL teams. Watching Moilanen play, you see him play bigger than the tape measure says he should be able to play. He’s strong and not afraid to take on bigger defensemen and that could convince a team to select him.
Mathew Wedman also could hear his name called this weekend. The center struggled with injuries this past year and didn’t post eye-popping numbers. He has size though, and the NHL likes big centers so some team could take a late-round flyer on Wedman.
T-Birds with Team Canada
Summer is also the time of year that Hockey Canada starts announcing its summer camp rosters.
Goalie Carl Stankowski will be playing at Canada’s Summer Showcase in his hometown of Calgary starting July 22nd. The camp is used to determine Canada’s under-18 team that will travel to the Czech Republic in August to compete in the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup. Stankowski broke out for the T-Birds in this spring’s playoff run and is no stranger to Hockey Canada. He played last year in the under-17 tournament in November.
Defenseman Jake Lee will also be in Calgary in July but he will be auditioning to make the aforementioned under-17 team for Canada.
Ex T-Birds headed to the bright lights of Vegas
Two former Thunderbirds ended up on the roster for the NHL’s newest franchise Wednesday night.
The Vegas Golden Knights held their expansion draft during the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas and finally have a full roster to work with. With the first pick of the draft, the Golden Knights picked goalie Calvin Pickard off the Colorado Avalanche roster.
Pickard, who set a WHL record for career saves while with Seattle, played in 50 games for Colorado last year and posted a 2.97 goals-against and .904 save percentage. He also back-stopped Canada to a gold medal in this spring’s World Championships.
Later in the evening, Vegas acquired defenseman Shea Theodore in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks. Theodore spent the past season up and down with Anaheim and finished with 34 games in the NHL where he picked up nine points. He is Seattle’s all-time leader in points by a defenseman.