Thunderbirds 2016-17 roster preview
Sep 21, 2016, 3:01 PM
With the Thunderbirds season around the corner, here’s a preview of the team’s roster.
Scott Eansor. Entering his fourth and final season with the T-Birds, Eansor is everything you want to see in a hockey player. No one works harder night in and night out than the relatively undersized native of Englewood, Col., who is sure to be a frontrunner for the captaincy this season. He’s evolved from a third-line checking center into a true two-way contributor and as such, should get plenty of looks from pro teams as the season wears on.
Cavin Leth. A trade deadline acquisition last year, Leth showed enough in his brief stint with Seattle to lock up an overage spot this year. A versatile forward who could play on the first, second, or third line, Leth is a veteran who likely will have a letter stitched to the front of his sweater when the season begins. Following some offseason departures, Leth will have every opportunity to contribute more offensively in this, his final WHL season.
Elijah Brown. A player who figures heavily into Seattle’s future plans, Brown is a 16-year-old former first-round pick who will likely use this season to adjust to the rigors of the WHL before being expected to contribute heavily. However, based on what we’ve already seen out of him, don’t be surprised if Brown does some special things in his rookie season. His skating ability is off the charts and he always seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Mathew Barzal. His return is the team’s biggest question mark, but if he does come back, Barzal should be a front-runner for league MVP. He makes everyone around him better and could very well average two points per game as a 19-year-old. One of the best talents to ever come through Seattle, his presence would instantly vault Seattle’s expectations through the roof.
Garan Magnes. Magnes is a player that general manager Russ Farwell specifically named as someone who needed to show improvement over the offseason to make the team. He made a difference in training camp and registered one point in the preseason, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough for him to crack the final roster. The puck seemed to end up on his stick whenever he was on the ice and his speed would be a valuable asset on a lower line.
Layne Bensmiller. Newly acquired from Prince Albert in exchange for Nic Holowko, Bensmiller is a player who could benefit from a change of scenery. He started last season well with Calgary, registering 24 points in 44 games, but struggled after moving to Prince Albert, with just six points in 30 contests. Bensmiller met his new teammates prior to the team’s final preseason game versus Everett, then promptly went out and scored a goal and the game-winner in the shootout.
Alexander True. A player we’ve seen occasional flashes from — particularly in the postseason last year — True is a player who will be counted on to take a major step this year. Now 19 years old, True will need to be more consistent with his production. He really clicked with Leth in last year’s playoffs and if the two can continue to build their chemistry, both could be in for a special year.
Mackenzie Wight. Wight is the first 17-year-old on this list who will be fighting to win a full-time spot on the roster, along with Wyatt Bear, Luke Ormsby, and Ian Briscoe. Wight may be the most offensively skilled of the bunch, but it remains to be seen whether there will be space for him in the lineup this season.
Sami Moilanen. Seattle’s latest import pick, the 5 foot 8 Finnish import has shown impressive offensive skill in the preseason and looks like he’ll be ready to contribute immediately. Despite his smaller stature, Moilanen hasn’t been afraid to go hard into the corners, but also has the finesse you’d expect of a player with his build. His effectiveness could play a major role in Seattle’s overall team success this year.
Donovan Neuls. A player who probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves, the 19-year-old Neuls is a jack-of-all-trades for Seattle. He’s generally thought of as a third-line energy player but has proven capable of so much more, as demonstrated by his 10 points in last year’s playoffs. He’s another player who Seattle hopes will carry that production into and throughout the regular season. Neuls has a high motor and never takes a shift off, which means he will continue to be excellent defensively. His best moments have come when on a line with Eansor and Volcan, and I’d expect to see that combination continue this year.
Owen Seidel. Seidel missed significant time at the end of last season with an upper-body injury and, based on the training camp and the preseason, it seems there may be some lingering effects as he has yet to play. Seidel isn’t particularly big at 6 feet tall, but he plays an aggressive game that fits well on the third or fourth line. With an unknown timetable for his return, it remains to be seen how his eventual recovery could influence the roster.
Matthew Wedman. The hero from last year’s Western Conference Championship, the 17-year-old Wedman was able to come along slowly during the 2015-16 campaign but should figure more heavily into Seattle’s plans this season. A team that’s deep at center, it will be interesting to see how Wedman is utilized as his talent warrants a higher spot on the depth chart than the fourth line. However he’s listed on the nightly lineup card, expect head coach Steve Konowalchuk to find him plenty of ice time.
Wyatt Bear. Another player we haven’t seen a ton of this preseason, Bear has only appeared in two contests and is also struggling with a lower-body injury that currently has him listed as week-to-week. A big, strong forward, Bear has seen a few WHL games as both a 15- and 16-year-old. It seems the team likes what they see out of the Hodgson, Man. native, but his current status may make it tough for him to lock down a roster spot at this time.
Dillon Hamaliuk. Hamaliuk is just 16, which means he’d need to play in at least 40 games, per WHL rules, if he did make the team. With such a deep forward group, it may be difficult to make that happen. He’s a power forward with a hockey pedigree (his brother Dalton currently plays for the Spokane Chiefs), but has a lot working against his potential to make the team.
Luke Ormsby. Ormsby was a fun player to watch in training camp and the preseason and plays a fearless game with some offense sprinkled in. He’s shown no hesitation mixing it up with bigger, older players in front of the net and in the corners. His style of play and high motor should give him a very good chance to make the team.
Nolan Volcan. In his first year of NHL-draft eligibility, Volcan was passed over by each NHL club. If he was just a couple of inches taller, that likely wouldn’t have been the case. Generously listed at 5 foot 9, Volcan is as tough as they come. Similar to Neuls and Eansor, he’s generally thought of as an energy player, but he’s become so much more than that. His point total should continue to increase this year and NHL teams should begin to take more notice.
Ian Briscoe. Another 17-year-old fighting for his spot on the team, Briscoe played in three preseason games last year and four this year but has yet to register a point. He’s an offensively-oriented player with good speed who averaged nearly a point per game last season playing for the Winnipeg Wild Midget Triple-A club last year.
Keegan Kolesar. A player who seems to have a huge season on the horizon, Kolesar is likely in his final year with Seattle after signing his Entry Level Contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. A power forward in every sense of the word, Kolesar is as strong as they come but has the soft hands to make defenders look foolish. Nearly a point-per-game player last season, he should see a huge jump in his numbers this year as one of Seattle’s top offensive threats.
Luke Osterman. Now 19 years old, Osterman has been a healthy scratch for a good chunk of his WHL career and hasn’t played above the fourth line much. Known mostly for never hesitating to drop the gloves, Osterman is usually charged with protecting the team’s skilled players. He’s a good locker-room presence and has willingly accepted the role he plays, but it remains to be seen if that’s enough to earn him a roster spot.
Anthony Bishop. Recently acquired from Saskatoon in exchange for Logan Flodell, Bishop is an 18-year-old offensive defenseman who seems to fit the mold of what Seattle lost with the sudden retirement of Jared Pelechaty. The left-handed shooter is a bit undersized and it remains to be seen who he’ll partner with when the regular season begins. After scoring only two points in 40 regular season games with Saskatoon last season, he had four points in six preseason games this year.
Turner Ottenbreit. Ottenbreit seemed to be an afterthought in Saskatoon when Seattle acquired him two seasons ago, but he’s proven to be a huge steal since coming over. Now expected to be a top-pairing defenseman, Ottenbreit will be counted on to shut down the opposition’s top scorers and also has the mean streak that could help offset the loss of enforcer Jared Hauf.
Jarret Tyzska. A player with high expectations, Tyszka was able to come along slowly last year on Seattle’s third pairing. He should move into the top four this year and, therefore, will be expected to be a contributor in all situations. Best known for his offensive skills, Tyszka should see lots of power-play time and will surely improve on his six points from last season. He had four in just six regular season games, so he appears ready to take the next step.
Bryan Allbee. At 19, Allbee is a player to keep a close eye on this year. He hasn’t really had a consistent role since entering the WHL during the 2014-15 season, but will need to find his place this year. He was touted as an offensive defenseman when Seattle acquired him last season and he’s shown consistency in that role during the training camp and preseason. If he continues to play well, he will force his way into a concrete role on Seattle’s blue line.
Reece Harsch. Harsch is a big defenseman and the team wanted to add some muscle to his frame over the offseason. It appears he did that and would be a very good fit as the team’s seventh defenseman. He’s 17, so he has no minimum number of games, and plays a different style than many of the T-Birds other d-men. It appears that his development path may closely resemble that of Brandon Schuldhaus.
Brandon Schuldhaus. Schuldhaus is the biggest defenseman on the Seattle roster and will likely be counted on to replace some of what was lost with Jared Hauf’s departure. Schuldhaus showed marked improvement from the beginning of the last season to the end, eventually earning the trust of Konowalchuk in the playoffs. Along with Tyszka, he made up the third defensive pairing last year and very well could slide into the top four this season.
Ethan Bear. Bear was one of the WHL’s best offensive defensemen last season with 65 points in 69 regular-season games. He continued that success in the postseason with 22 points in 18 contests and, on the top pairing with Ottenbreit, should see even more opportunities to make plays this year. It will be his last campaign in Seattle as he’s signed his Entry Level Contract with the Edmonton Oilers. He’ll quarterback the team’s top power-play unit and has a chance to lead all WHL d-men in scoring this year.
Tyson Terretta. At 16 and with at least six defensemen likely in front of him on the depth chart, it may come down to the numbers for Terretta, who would also need to make it into 40 games as a 16-year-old. His strong performance in training camp led to Seattle signing him, so the future is bright for the High River, Alta. native, but his time may have to wait until next year.
Carl Stankowski. Even though he’s only 16, Stankowski could see significant playing time this season. However, the future is incredibly bright for Stankowski, who could very well be the team’s starting netminder as soon as next season and have the team set in net for a number of years.
Rylan Toth. The newly acquired Toth is the latest in what is becoming a long line of veteran goalies acquired by the T-Birds. At 20 years old, Toth has one season in Seattle but brings extensive playoff and Memorial Cup experience. He’s put up very good numbers in two full seasons with Red Deer and is someone the team can trust night in and night out between the pipes.