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T-Birds sign four 2001-born prospects

The Seattle Thunderbirds took a big stride in bolstering their future by signing four 2001-born prospects on Wednesday.

Graeme Bryks, Samuel Huo, Cade McNelly and Cole Schwebius all committed to the Thunderbirds and will be eligible for full-time roster spots this season as 16-year-olds.

Bryks, a native of Edmonton, Alta., was an eighth-round pick in 2016. Before Wednesday, Jake Lee was the only prospect from the 2016 draft class that had signed with the T-Birds.

Playing in the Alberta Midget Hockey League last season, Bryks had 26 points in 32 games on 11 goals and 15 assists. He possesses WHL-ready size at 6 foot 2 and 185 pounds. In a press release from the team, general manager Russ Farwell described Bryks as a two-way center who will make a strong bid to play on the team in his first full season of eligibility. With Seattle’s forward ranks being thinned after winning the WHL Championship last season, finding young talent who can step in right away will be crucial to future success.

Huo, a training camp invitee as a 15-year-old, is from nearby Richmond, B.C. and played with the Burnaby Winter Club last season, which has produced a number of recent T-Birds players, including center Mathew Barzal. Huo had 32 points in 28 games with Burnaby last year and, like Bryks, possesses good size at 6 foot 3 and 170 pounds.

McNelly bolsters the T-Birds’ blue line for the foreseeable future and projects as a hard-hitting, stay-at-home defenseman. Farwell compared him to current T-Birds 20-year-old Turner Ottenbreit, who has become a fan favorite in his three seasons with the team. A late birthday, McNelly is still only 15 but will be eligible for a full-time roster spot this season. Another training camp invitee in 2016, McNelly didn’t shy away from any contact despite being one of the youngest players on the ice.

Schwebius adds depth to the T-Birds goaltending pipeline and becomes the third draft pick from 2016 to sign with the team. He has been impressive in both training camps with the team and shown steady improvement since being selected in the Bantam Draft. Prior to his signing, the only two goaltenders the team had signed were Carl Stankowski and Matt Berlin, so Schwebius not only bolsters the future in net but adds some much needed insurance between the pipes right now. Schwebius had a very good season for the Okanagan Hockey Academy Elite 15 team last year, posting a 1.93 goals against average and a .911 save percentage.

Wednesday should be a day that has a great impact on the T-Birds’ future, as there were many questions surrounding the team’s lack of depth in the 2001 class. It can be concerning when players don’t sign right away, but Seattle seems to have quieted some of those fears by adding four prospects who have a real future in this league.