THUNDERBIRDS

Henrik Rybinski looking to leave impression with Thunderbirds

Apr 22, 2021, 11:46 AM
Florida Panthers prospect Henrik Rybinski has been the Thunderbirds best player this season. (Brian...
Florida Panthers prospect Henrik Rybinski has been the Thunderbirds best player this season. (Brian Liesse)
(Brian Liesse)

Traditionally, hockey players use the summer to work out, skate, and hone their skills. This past summer lasted a year for the WHL which meant players had a great deal of time to work on those skills. Seattle Thunderbirds center Henrik Rybinski took advantage and came back stronger and faster than before.

But he spent the summer working on more than the physical aspects of the game. He looked inward as well.

“It was a much-needed summer,” the 19-year-old from Vancouver says. “It gave me a break from the game and helped me mentally, let me reset and figure out what makes me, me, and what type of play I bring to the table that no one else can. It was a really positive offseason. As much as it sucked not playing, it allowed me to come into this season and play well.”

Play well he has.

Through 14 games he leads Seattle with 16 points and has centered the Thunderbirds top line. He’s been a regular on the Thunderbirds penalty kill, a top faceoff guy, and is tied for the team lead with points on the power play.

Basically, he’s doing it all for the Thunderbirds and playing the best hockey he’s played since joining Seattle through a trade in 2019.

“He came bursting on the scene when he first joined us,” head coach Matt O’Dette says. “I think we’re seeing that same type of player but a mature version of that, but obviously bigger, faster, stronger. He’s taken his game to the next level.”

Rybinski has recorded a point in all but three of Seattle’s games and been the most consistent player on the roster.

While he’s recording points, his contribution to the team goes far beyond the traditional goals and points statistics. He plays an all-around game, is a tenacious forechecker, and a top possession player.

While he enjoys the points — most players do — he knows he can contribute without them.

“Obviously, goals and assist are important, that’s how you win a game but there’s a lot of other things,” Rybinski says. “Getting on the D and stripping pucks creates more time for your team to be on offense and less time in your D-Zone. It’s the little things I think I can bring to the table. I think I’m a good two-way player and being that way, you have to have those little things.”

The forecheck is where Rybinski really stands out.

He attacks the opposing defense with abandon, which often surprises defensemen, and as Rybinski refers to it, he ‘strips the D’ of the puck. It’s a role he relishes and one that has always been a part of his game.

That play helps create possessions for the Thunderbirds. The WHL does not supply fans or media with advanced analytics but the team tracks those numbers independently. They track which players are possession players, which players spend more time in the offensive zone, and which guys are driving the Thunderbirds attack.

Rybinski’s analytics match the eye test.

“It’s a work ethic thing, it’s a tenacity thing. He sees the puck and he wants to get it back, he’s like a dog on a bone,” O’Dette says. “His analytics are very good. His value is much more than points. Often, he’s matched up against the top players. Not only can he help keep them off the scoreboard he can chip in points himself. If he’s out there he drives play, there’s a good chance we’re in their end and keeping it there.”

O’Dette has used Rybinski as a shut-down center as well this season.

Against Portland, he’s out against Seth Jarvis, when it’s Everett you’ll see Rybinski matched up against Gage Goncalves, and Adam Beckman is the draw when Seattle plays Spokane.

It’s a role that Rybinski played a little bit during his first year in Seattle but this year, it’s been a nightly event.

“I love doing it,” Rybinski says. “It’s an opportunity to prove myself against other top guys who have (NHL) contracts. I love the challenge and I really enjoy it.”

Getting an NHL contract is on Rybinski’s mind somewhat.

After being drafted by the Florida Panthers in 2019 he has yet to be offered a contract. If he’s not signed this season, he’ll be placed back in the pool to be eligible for drafting in the upcoming July Draft. Another team could select him and if not, he’d have to wait to try and earn a free agent contract after an overage season.

With the season he’s having, it’s hard to imagine that an NHL team would want to pass on him. He’s got the size, speed, and skill to play pro hockey and a contract feels inevitable, whether it’s with Florida or one of the other 31 NHL teams watching.

“Everyone’s always watching so you have to be at your best,” Rybinski says. “I try not to think about it. It’s not really about the money, I just want a chance to play. I try to think about how I can get better today. Sometimes it gets in your mind but I try not to let it cloud my mind often.”

Rybinski is a thoughtful, introspective guy who is soft-spoken off the ice. He’s spoken loudly on it this season and has been the Thunderbirds most valuable player this season.

As the season enters the final 10-game stretch, Seattle is dealing with a number of injuries and therefore, will have to lean on Rybinski even more. There is no playoff seeding to fight for, so the team is just out to win games.

Rybinski is ready to do that and looking to finish this bizarre season with a flurry.

“I want to leave a lasting impression,” he says. “Just play really hard these last 10 games and when I’m done have my teammates and the coaches look back and say ‘Rybie was really great for us’. To do that I have to keep playing the way I’ve been playing, keep moving my feet, and keep working hard.”

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