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Seattle Thunderbirds training camp takeaways

Nolan Volcan (left) and Elijah Brown move the puck during the T-Birds Blue-White game (Brian Liesse)

After a week of practices and scrimmages, the defending WHL Champion Seattle Thunderbirds will now turn their attention to the preseason.

This Friday in Everett they will get to square off against the Vancouver Giants and skate against, and hit, players from a different team. Judging by the physical nature of Sunday night’s Blue-White game, the team is ready for it.

Training camp featured five days of scrimmages that gave us a glimpse of what the Thunderbirds have in the pipeline, as well as the beginning of what kind of team they are going to ice this year.

Here are a few takeaways from Thunderbirds training camp.

Payton Mount looks like the real deal

The 2017 first-round pick from Victoria dazzled during the rookie portion of training camp. He was the best player on the ice with good speed, great hockey sense and a nice scoring touch. He scored goals in nearly every session and created chances on every shift.

Often, 15-year-old prospects shine in the rookie games but then fade when main camp opens as they compete with older guys. Not Mount. He was just as prominent when matched up against the older players and scored a goal in the Blue-White game on Sunday.

Does Seattle need a goalie?

Carl Stankowski was the most notable absentee from training camp this past week. The second-year goaltender was not in camp as he continues to recover from an injury sustained with Team Canada early in the summer. There was no official word on how long he is expected to be out, but if he is not ready to go this week, the T-Birds may be in the market for a veteran goalie.

Outside of Stankowski, 19-year-old Matt Berlin is the only goalie that Seattle has signed in its system. With three games this coming weekend, asking Berlin to play in all three seems like a stretch. The Thunderbirds did have 2016 draft pick Cole Schwebius in camp but he has yet to sign a WHL agreement.

Elijah Brown looks ready to take a step

A year older now, 2015’s first-round pick, Brown, looks ready to take on a bigger role with the Thunderbirds. Last year he got into 64 games but was mostly relegated to the bottom lines and limited ice time. At times he struggled, like many young players do, with play in the defensive zone.

He looks to have learned a great deal from last year’s experience and turned in a strong camp. He was all over the ice in scrimmages and the Blue-White game. He’s been digging pucks out of the corners, back checking and even showed a willingness to be physical when he needs to. Brown still displayed the great speed and play-making ability that he’s always had but with improvements in the other areas, he could see significant more ice time this year.

Brown has a chance to earn the second-line center spot. It’s assumed that Donovan Neuls will be the top center and with Mathew Wedman nursing an injury, Brown might just swoop in and take advantage of his opportunity.

Seattle will be a physical team

It shouldn’t come as a surprise but new head coach Matt O’Dette is going to continue playing a physical brand of hockey. He said as much when he was hired this past summer and there was a lot of hitting in camp.

Defenseman Turner Ottennbreit is no stranger to big hits and he doesn’t seem to have pulled his foot of the gas. Newcomers Cody Savey and Cade McNelly were delivering huge body checks all week long as well. Seattle will be searching for offensive chemistry as the season starts so having guys who can play a physical, grind it out type of game may be a huge asset in the season’s early portions.

Nikita Malukhin is a big guy

The Russian import made his Seattle debut this week and he is as big as advertised. He’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds and could be a force down low for the Thunderbirds. While he’s still appears to be getting his feet under him and adapt to the North American style of play, he seemed to get stronger with each scrimmage.

“He’s young, he’s a little bit on the raw side,” O’Dette said last week. “There’s some talent there. He’s a big guy who can move fairly well and shoot the puck.”

The walking wounded

Stankowski wasn’t the only Thunderbirds player who was not in action due to injury this past week. Mathew Wedman did not take part in the scrimmages as he nurses a lower-body injury. Defensemen Reece Harsch and Tyson Terretta were in camp but limited in their participation due to injuries. Tyler Adams did skate in most of the scrimmages but missed the Blue-White game due to an injury as well.

There is no injury report during the preseason so it’s not known if any of these players will be ready to go this coming weekend in Everett.