The T-Birds have added another top player in Ryan Gropp (photo Penticton Vees)
By Andrew Eide
Out of nowhere the Seattle Thunderbirds have landed another blue chip player to their roster. The team announced Tuesday that 2011 first round draft pick Ryan Gropp has signed with the club giving them another top prospect to join their already deep squad. The great start the T-Birds are off to all of sudden feels that much better.
For head coach Steve Konowalchuk he now has one more weapon to deploy on the ice as the club tries to keep up the pace they’ve started on.
“Its exciting,” he said of the addition. “I mean he’s a good player with elite offensive talent and with really good pro potential. Its exciting when we get those kind of players.”
Now that all the ink has dried and Gropp is in the fold — how will he fit in?
Seattle has been rolling lines and finding the right spot for Gropp will probably take some time. Konowalchuk points out that with the exception of the Mathew Barzal line, they’ve already been juggling who plays where – and can now add Gropp in the mix.
“We’ll see, you know things on our team have changed,” he says. “The one line (Barzal’s line) has stayed together for the last little bit but the other line (Brandon Trook-Connor Honey-Alex Delnov) has bounced around a little bit. So its still a work in progress, once he gets in the mix, depending on who’s playing well and who’s not he’ll be in that mix and I’m sure things will move around and where they settle we’ll see.”
Gropp is listed at 6’3″ tall and 190 pounds which is great size for a forward and will fit in with the already big T-Birds forward group. The potential is there for Gropp to potentially click with a number of players.
“(Gropp is a ) very smart play maker, he has patience with the puck,” Konowalchuk says of his new player. “He usually brings someone too him and he’s able to get his line mates the puck with time and space to do something with it.”
That kind of description makes it sound like Gropp could fit in down the middle – playing center on one of the T-Birds lines. While Konowalchuk has yet to decide where to play him, we can speculate.
It seems unlikely that Konowalchuk would break up the Barzal line at this point. They have been the most consistent line so far and are playing at a high level at both ends of the ice. When Connor Honey returns you could see 20-year-old Erik Benoit stay in the middle between Honey and Troock – somewhere he has been the last few games. That would open up the possibility of a Alex Delnov-Gropp-Seth Swenson line as a third, or perhaps you could add Riley Sheen instead of Swenson.
Either way that is a pretty strong third line and would mean your fourth line would consist of a mix of Swenson or Sheen, Mitch Elliot, Keegan Kolesar, Scott Eansor, Michal Holub, and Carter Folk. That would be a formidable energy-type line that would give opposing fourth lines some trouble.
You may also see Gropp on the power play as his skill set sounds like a perfect addition to one of those units.
The benefit of having four lines to roll is that you can cause match up issues with your opponents. With two, and maybe three, potential scoring lines the opposition will struggle to match that with their shut down line. Most nights Seattle should have a favorable match up with one of their top lines against a lesser opposing line. On top of that you can keep your shifts short which will keep your team fresh and wear down your opponents who will have a hard time matching your energy by the end of the game.
The bottom line is that Seattle has the potential to become tougher to play than they already have been this year and being able to roll lines helps in the regular season but is a huge asset to have come the post season.
Gropp is not expected to play Wednesday at Kamloops (coincidently his home town) but could see his first action this weekend as Seattle has two home games on Friday and Saturday.
Without being in training camp one wonders how long it will take Gropp to pick up the T-Birds system and adjust to the WHL . Konowalchuk thinks that the forward will pick it up quickly.
“I don’t think its going to take him too long because he’s playing at Tier II and he’s not coming from midget hockey,” Konowalchuk said. “He’s played a year of Tier II so the step up won’t be as big as someone coming from midget hockey, but it will be a bit of transition to get to know his teammates.”
When that happens, look out.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyeide