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Thunderbirds looking to shore up forward positions as training camp continues

Second-year player Elijah Brown is battling for an increased role with the Thunderbirds (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

KENT – The rookie portion of Thunderbirds training camp is over as the veteran players will get on the ice for scrimmages Friday and through the weekend.

It’s no secret that the Thunderbirds have open spots to be earned on this year’s roster due to players from last year’s championship squad moving on to the pro hockey ranks. The forward group is where the majority of the openings are and the next couple of weeks will determine who earns a spot and who earns a bigger role.

“Its wide open,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said about his forwards after Friday morning’s practice. “This year more than any year, there’s no set spots up front. There is opportunity for young guys to come in and make the team. There’s opportunity for the returning guys to get an increased role, more responsibility and more ice time and situations. I think guys are excited for that and it creates competition in camp.”

While the coach says no spots are set, there are some returning players that are as close to set as can be. Donovan Neuls is back and the 20-year-old will most likely be on Seattle’s top line with returning players Nolan Volcan and Sami Moilanen.

Centers Mathew Wedman and Elijah Brown are back and have a shot at earning increased roles and playing time. First-year Russian import Nikita Malukhin will be looking to find a spot to play up front for the Thunderbirds as well.

Luke Ormsby and Zack Andrusiak are two returning forwards who spent time last year in third and fourth-line roles. They are a year older and have a chance to move up in the rotation. Seattle has 20-year-old Tyler Adams back and traded for Blake Bargar this summer to help bolster its forward grouop.

After that, you have a group of young players and rookies looking to earn a spot on the team. Names like Dillon Hamaliuk, Tyler Carpendale, Cody Savey, Holden Katzalay, Eric Fawkes, and Nakodan Greyeys are all in the mix to find a spot this year.

O’Dette and his coaches will be assessing how these players perform in scrimmages this week as well as upcoming preseason games, which begin next weekend in Everett. It’s an on-going evaluation.

“Starting with fitness testing, we’re seeing who put the work in over the summertime,” O’Dette said of the evaluation. “How guys conduct themselves off the ice. Obviously, what they do on the ice is important but we’re looking for high character guys, guys that are going to fit into our culture. We want guys who are earning their slots. Nobody is going to get a slot because they’re and older guys and it’s their turn. It’s nobody’s turn, you have to earn it.”

O’Dette also wants guys who can play with a high compete level.

“Every hockey player that’s competitive wants as much ice time as they can get,” he said. “We want those type of guys. We don’t want guys who are satisfied not playing a lot.”

As the preseason moves on, the battle for playing time up front will be the most intriguing battle to watch.