Thunderbirds Twitter mailbag: Imports and newcomers
The junior hockey season came to an end last Sunday as the QMJHL champions, the Acadie-Bathurst Titan, beat the WHL’s Regina Pats in the Memorial Cup Final and its now officially summer in the hockey world.
The Seattle Thunderbirds, of course, have been off since their first-round exit from the WHL playoffs against the Everett Silvertips. With the weather heating up and the team into its off-season mode, we took to the twitter world to see what questions T-Birds fans had about the club heading into the summer.
Here are the top three questions:
@rohkeus asked if Seattle would be selecting one, or two, players during the upcoming CHL Import Draft.
The CHL will hold its annual import draft the week after the NHL Draft in late June with each team allowed to make up to two selections. Seattle learned earlier this month that Sami Moilanen had signed with a team in Finland and would not be returning to the Thunderbirds in the fall. That ensures that Seattle will make at least one pick.
Nikita Malukhin is the remaining import on the Thunderbirds roster and his future with the club is not clear. Coming over from Russia last year, Malukhin was raw. He showed he had size and a good shot but an injury in preseason slowed him down and he never seemed to get his feet under him. He appeared in 52 games for the Thunderbirds and scored five goals and recorded four assists. The hopes were that he would develop into a power forward but by the end of the season Malukhin was a healthy scratch more often than not. He only got into one game against Everett in the playoffs and that was thanks to an injury to Moilanen.
So, it will not be surprising to see Seattle use both import picks in June. The loss of Moilanen hurts as he would have been a potential 30-goal scorer had he returned. The import draft is filled with a lot of unknowns but don’t be surprised to see Seattle look for a scoring forward with its first pick to try and make up for Moilanen’s absence.
If Seattle does use its second pick, it may choose to look up front again. Defensively, Seattle should return seven players that saw some action last year – this includes 2017 second-round pick Tyrel Bauer who appeared in two games. It would seem that the Thunderbirds have their defensive group set, however there is always room for a highly skilled puck-moving defender, should one be available in the import draft.
@ehogeberg asks who will step up to fill in for the losses of Turner Ottenbreit and Moilanen?
Ottenbreit’s graduation leaves both a void on and off the ice. The captain was a steady force on the blue line and this year Jake Lee could play the same role on the ice. The 2016 first-round pick had a strong season last year as a rookie and by year’s end was playing in Seattle’s top-four pairings. He was used heavily on the penalty kill and is a strong, physical player who showed flashes of being able to chip in offensively. This coming year is Lee’s NHL draft season and he looks ready to take a big step.
Off the ice, Nolan Volcan seems to be a perfect fit to be the next captain. Volcan is entering his 20-year-old season and is coming off a year that saw him set career marks in goals (32), assists (44), points (76), and the potential for an even bigger WHL final is there. Volcan was invited to the Pittsburgh Penguins camp last summer and there is always the chance someone will sign him to a pro contract this summer and send him to the AHL. Volcan has been through it all with Seattle and assuming he returns, look for him to be the T-Birds leader on and off the ice.
As mentioned prior, Moilanen’s departure leaves a hole in Seattle’s offense. Some of that could be made up with an import pick and from returning players taking the next step in their development. Players like Dillon Hamaliuk, Samuel Huo, Holden Katzalay, and Tyler Carpendale all showed positive signs last year and the Thunderbirds will need them to chip in more on the score sheet this year.
@Dish47 asks which youngsters should fans keep an eye out for during training camp
Training camp is always a good way to get a look at the future coming for the Thunderbirds. This year the obvious guy to watch is 2017 first-round pick Payton Mount. The Victoria native came up for a handful of games with Seattle last season but now will get a chance to stay with the team from the start. He was impressive in last year’s preseason – scoring one of the prettiest goals you’ll see against Vancouver – and should make the team this year. Training camp will be the first look as to how he has progressed.
The previously mentioned Bauer will be another guy to watch. Like Mount, he looked like a good prospect during camp last fall, and has the size to play defense in the WHL right away. Seattle also should have most of their 2018 draft class in camp, highlighted by first-round pick Kai Uchacz. The forward was a high riser in the draft and could end up being a steal. A player of local interest to watch is ninth-round pick Mekai Sanders who hails from Gig Harbor and grew up going to Thunderbirds games.