Five takeaways from the Thunderbirds weekend in Everett
Hockey returned to the Puget Sound this weekend as the Thunderbirds finally got to play some games. Seattle went 1-2 at the Delta Hotels Pre-Season Classic in Everett and will continue the preseason action Thursday in Kennewick.
In all three contests over the weekend, penalties were something that head coach Matt O’Dette mentioned after the game. Seattle averaged seven power plays against in the three days and it was an issue that the head coach said would be addressed moving forward.
It wasn’t just Seattle that was called for a lot of penalties in Everett.
The nine games played averaged 11 power-play chances per game. During the regular season last year, WHL games averaged just under eight power-play chances per contest. So why the uptick in the preseason?
“I think there’s multiple reasons,” O’Dette said after Sunday’s game against Spokane. “The refs are cracking down on multiple things. It’s training camp, guys are trying to make teams and show what they can do. I think that’s combination of those two things leading to the penalties.”
Despite that, O’Dette wasn’t happy with the penalties his charges took.
Several of the Seattle penalties came after the whistle and should be easily avoidable. The timing of penalties also hurt, as the Thunderbirds twice were down two men due to multiple infractions. Both of those attempts led to goals against for Seattle so there is room for improvement moving forward.
As the preseason continues here are some takeaways from the weekend.
The CHL Import Draft is often a roll of the dice. Its hard to gauge how a player coming from Europe will adjust to not only the North American game but also living in a new country and learning a new language.
After three games, it appears that Seattle’s two new imports are adjusting just fine.
Andrej Kukuca, the winger from Slovakia, displayed the scoring and play-making prowess that led to him piling up big numbers in Europe. He scored the overtime game-winning goal against Everett on Saturday with a mad rush up the ice. He also helped on four other goals and has a three-game scoring streak going as he picked up a point in each contest.
Simon Kubicek arrived from the Czech Republic Friday, had a quick skate, and was in the lineup Saturday night. The defenseman was sharp in his own end and scored twice on shots from the point. He already has three points in his first two games with the Thunderbirds.
As both players continue to play and progress, they could end up being much needed jolts to a Thunderbirds offense that was looking for scorers coming into the season.
Power play potential
While the Thunderbirds haven’t given their power play a ton of work in practice yet, we saw a few glimpses of what could be a dangerous unit. This was especially true during Saturday’s win against Everett where the Thunderbirds were 2-for-8 on the power play.
More encouraging than the goals was how crisp the ‘first unit’ looked. That unit included Jarret Tyszka on the point, Kukuca and Zack Andrusiak on the half boards, Nolan Volcan roaming down low, and Mike MacLean in front of the net.
Those five moved the puck efficiently and quickly. They generated good looks and shots while on the ice and showed that Seattle may have something interesting once they get to know each other a little better.
The power play still has work and tinkering to do before the regular season begins. Due to injury and illness, Seattle didn’t have a few guys who could also be thrown into the mix. That includes guys like defensemen Reece Harsch and Jake Lee, both of whom could be looking at some time on the point this year.
Forwards Dillon Hamaliuk and Noah Philp also didn’t skate this weekend, nor did rookie Payton Mount. As those guys work their way back into the lineup, O’Dette will have a few options with which he can build what could be two potent power-play units.
Big Mike on display
MacLean not only played on the power play for Seattle and scored a big goal, but he played in all three games and in all situations. As one of the four 20-year-old players on the club right now, his future with the team is up in the air.
The WHL only allows for three over-aged players on the roster so a move will have to be made by mid-October. Its too soon to say who is staying and who is going but MacLean sure made a case for himself this weekend, whether its with Seattle or another team in the league.
A glimpse of the future
All through training camp Seattle’s 2018 draft class impressed. This past weekend was the first glimpse we got of them playing against guys wearing opposing colors. Often in the preseason, young prospects go silent as room and time on the ice disappears quicker than they are used to.
Seattle’s group acquitted themselves nicely. None of the prospects appeared overwhelmed by the speed of the game or the size of the older opponents. The first three Seattle picks, Kai Uchacz, Lucas Ciona, and Connor Roulette all picked up a point over the weekend.
O’Dette even threw Uchacz and Roulette out for a shift during the three-on-three overtime period Saturday night against Everett.
“I feel comfortable putting them on the ice, which is a really good sign,” O’Dette said Saturday. “Kai is a reliable player and Roulette is a dynamic offensive guy so three-on-three is right up his alley.”
2018 pick MeKai Sanders did not play this weekend thanks to a quirky agreement between USA Hockey and the CHL which doesn’t allow American players to play in the WHL until they are sixteen. Seattle has signed seven of the nine picks it made in the 2018 draft which bodes well for the future.