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T-Birds notebook: Stingy Hughes, third line, and NHL is watching

Thunderbirds goalie Liam Hughes is off to a great start for Seattle (Brian Liesse/ T-Birds)

The Thunderbirds split their weekend road games in interesting fashion. Friday, they beat the Vancouver Giants in a game that they didn’t play particularly well. Saturday, they played better in regard to puck management and at five-on-five but, were done in by taking too many penalties and allowing three power-play goals to the Portland Winterhawks.

Liam Hughes was one constant in both games as the 19-year-old goalie is off to a hot start.

Seattle showed they had faith in Hughes this summer when they moved Dorrin Luding and Carl Stankowski out in two separate trades. So far, Hughes has responded.

Its early still but in the three games he has played, Hughes has an impressive .934 save-percentage to go with a 2.34 goals-against average. He’s allowed just seven goals and four of those have come on opponent’s power plays.

One of those power-play goals came on a five-on-three chance opening night and two of the three Saturday were on bad bounces that are hard to fault the goaltender on. When playing even strength, Hughes has been even better and his save percentage jumps to .964 when Seattle is playing five-on-five or four-on-four.

As Seattle’s young defense continues to develop, having a solid presence like Hughes in net will pay dividends.

With two more games coming up this weekend, here is the latest surrounding the Thunderbirds.

Third line emerges

The Thunderbirds have scored 10 goals to start the season. Nine of those scores have come from Dillon Hamaliuk (3), Zack Andrusiak (2), Nolan Volcan (2) and Matthew Wedman (2). The 10th came off the stick of defenseman Owen Williams on an assist from Andrusiak.

So, all 10 goals have come from shifts taken by Seattle’s top two lines.

As the season progresses, Seattle will need to start getting production from its bottom six. This weekend saw the emergence of a third line that my just be able to do that.

Graeme Bryks centers the line with Jaxan Kaluski and rookie Payton Mount on the wings. That trio came on strong in both Vancouver and Portland. Kaluski was a wrecking ball Friday night, causing problems on the forecheck and drawing penalties. Saturday night, the third line won most of their shifts and while they didn’t score, they spent time in the Portland end, generated chances and gave head coach Matt O’Dette productive minutes.

That kind of effort will eventually result in the puck going in the net and if Seattle can get that line going, it will start to pose match up problems for opponents.

Cade McNelly suspended for three games after one-man fight in Portland

The Seattle-Portland rivalry seems to be as heated as ever. Both of the games the two teams played this season have featured a bucket of penalties being handed out. Seattle defenseman Cade McNelly will be the first player involved to sit for his actions during a melee late in the second period on Saturday.

The WHL handed out a three-game suspension for McNelly Monday afternoon for a one-man fight. It’s the first suspension of McNelly’s career and he won’t be available for the Thunderbirds until Seattle hosts the Edmonton Oil Kings on Oct. 13th.

Two Thunderbirds on the watch list

The NHL’s Central Scouting service released its preseason watch list for the 2019 NHL Draft Monday and two Thunderbirds showed up on the list. Defenseman Jake Lee along with Hamaliuk both were given ‘C’ ratings by the NHL.

That rating indicates a fourth through sixth-round grade but the NHL Central Scouting list is by no means a predictor to what actually ends up happening. The scouts that make up the service do not view players as much as the scouts from individual teams and these rankings should be taken as more of a guideline than any true ranking.

Where will Lee and Hamaliuk end up going? We won’t know until June of 2019 when the draft gets underway in Vancouver.

The WHL should have a strong showing in this coming NHL Draft and seven of the 11 CHL players that were given an ‘A’ rating play in the WHL.