Thunderbirds GM Russ Farwell reflects on last year, discusses plans for the offseason
Jun 27, 2016, 11:08 AM
With the CHL’s annual Import Draft set to take place Tuesday, I sat down with Thunderbirds general manager Russ Farwell to discuss Seattle’s success during the 2015-16 season and the team’s plans to build on that next year.
Now that the dust has settled, give us your thoughts on this past season. Do you feel the team overachieved? Underachieved? Did you finish about where you thought you would?
Farwell: It took us a while to settle in and really get going. We had played well at times against some of the good teams but getting a real consistency took us a long time, and then that whole Christmas period we were just treading water. We lost three guys at the same position and were just trying to survive and get some points. We didn’t really get going until that last part of the year. We thought we should be in the race.
It was a funny year because of the market. Red Deer was in on every single deal and trying to improve their team for the Memorial Cup, so it made improving your team really difficult without overpaying. So we had to decide before the deadline what the one move we wanted to make was and thought the (Landon) Bow addition would be the best for us. We really came together after that and the guys took off. We had a strong finish and kept it going in the playoffs. I can’t say I really expected it to go like that but we thought we should be competitive this year, and Bow really helped to round things out for us.
Looking back on the last series, where do you think you guys fell short? Was it their playoff experience that gave them the edge?
Farwell: I thought their big guys had some experience in the Finals before and their guys really stepped up, and I thought they outplayed our best guys. Losing those first three games in overtime, if we had just scored one goal, we could have given them much more of a series. We weren’t able to score, but I thought we played hard and our guys were into it all the time.
I didn’t think they overpowered us, but they were able to dig in and we weren’t able to outwork them, which we had been doing all through the playoffs. I thought (Jordan) Papirny was really good in the series and gave them excellent goaltending. It held them in it at times until they were able to get that big goal.
You’re losing a lot of important pieces this summer. What will be the focus during the offseason? Who on the current roster do you expect to step up, and at what positions do you feel you’ll need to look outside of the organization to improve?
Farwell: In Junior, you know you’re turning over the team. (Jerret) Smith and (Jared) Hauf gave us excellent play all year long, but we knew they would be moving on. I think (Brandon) Schuldhaus is ready to step up and play a lot more minutes. I think (Jarret) Tyszka will really benefit from the experience he had. He’s going to step up. We’ve got a couple young guys on defense that will be coming in and trying to earn spots and we’ll see what happens in the Import Draft.
Up front, we’ve got some guys where it’s really make-or-break time for them. Guys like (Garan) Magnes and (Owen) Seidel. Some of these guys need to nail down steady jobs right at camp. I think (Matthew) Wedman is ready to step in and give us more minutes. It’s going to be a bit of a puzzle because we do have strength at center, but I think he’s ready to play more. I think he’ll push his way into the lineup more. I think (Elijah) Brown is ready to play as a 16-year-old and we’ll get him started.
There are questions around your top three centers. Do you expect all of them to come back?
Farwell: We expect to see (Alexander) True. He told us he definitely wants to play and there isn’t really anything out there that should affect that. He’s not going to go straight to the NHL. He’s told us he really wants to play in no uncertain terms, so we expect to have him back for sure.
(Scott) Eansor is a bit of a question. If someone gives him a chance to play in the minors, we’d have to see how it goes. But he wants to play if that doesn’t materialize.
(Mathew) Barzal is the only really strong question. It just depends how good of a camp he can have (with the New York Islanders) and if he is ready to step up and play. Mat’s a very talented guy and he’s going to go there and really challenge, but he is a guy that needs to play in the top six forwards. That entails a lot, so we’ll just have to wait and see. We have to plan that he’s not back so we’re not caught by surprise and then we’ll just wait and watch training camp and react if something happens.
You mentioned that you have some young guys fighting to fill out the third defensive pairing. Who are some of the players you expect to be vying for those spots?
Farwell: (Reece) Harsch is a guy that I didn’t think had a very good camp last year compared to what he did as a 15-year-old, but he has really grown. We had a spring camp in Calgary and he has really filled out since we saw him last. He’s a good kid and really goes after everything hard. I think he’s going to take a real run at the team.
(Jared) Pelechaty is a gutsy little guy and he gave us good minutes when he was up and he’s gonna come and compete for a spot.
The other guy is (Kabir) Gill, who we haven’t seen here yet because he’s been hurt a couple of times. He hasn’t played much yet but he’s another guy where if he has a really good summer and got stronger he could compete for a spot. But this will all depend on what happens in the Import Draft.
Successful drafting over the past couple of years has created a good problem in that you have somewhat of a logjam at forward. Do you expect to make some trades this offseason to give some younger guys a chance?
Farwell: No, I don’t think so. We’re not going to guess who is going to step ahead and who isn’t. We’ve got some guys we signed two years ago – Mackenzie Wight, Wyatt Bear, (Ian) Briscoe came in when we had some injuries, and (Luke) Ormsby – those guys are coming and knocking on the door trying to get a spot. We’re going to get to camp and see. We signed (Dillon) Hamaliuk after spring camp and he’s grown quite a bit. They won’t all make the team, but all of them will have a shot. We’ll go to camp and let things sort themselves out and then adjust. We’re not going to try and guess. It’s a possibility for any of these guys, but we don’t know who those guys are yet.
Last season represented perhaps the most successful campaign in T-Birds history. Do you foresee this team taking a step back with all of the players you’re losing, or do you think you have enough of a foundation that you can make another run next year?
Farwell: I think we have to wait and see who is back. If everyone was back, then we’d be in a position where we may have to add a piece or two to get back and then see if we could compete for a championship again. I think that’s a real possibility. These guys have all gained a big year of experience and are all bigger and stronger. Guys do move on, and that’s kind of how you evolve, so that experience does count for something.
But trying to predict it right now is hard because we don’t know who all will be back. We’re certainly not going to take it apart, but we just have to wait. Some of the decisions, in Barzal’s case, is a little bit in Mat’s hands but is certainly a decision the Islanders have to make. We have to wait until they make their decision and then go from there.