Third line has been key in the Thunderbirds goal-scoring surge
The Thunderbirds have been having fun scoring goals of late. A lot of goals.
Coming into the year, Seattle was supposed to struggle scoring goals. They lost all the big scorers from the team that won the WHL Championship last year and the rebuild was supposedly in full force.
But 47 games into the season Seattle is the second-highest scoring team in the U.S. Division. They’ve scored more than the Portland Winterhawks and their four first-round NHL draft picks. They’ve scored more than the first place Everett Silvertips and have pulled to within six points of the lead.
They’re scoring at a higher pace than last year’s Champs did. This year’s Thunderbirds are averaging 3.81 goals-per-game compared to 3.51 for the Mathew Barzal led version.
So what gives?
The Thunderbirds, who are riding a five-game win streak, may lack the dynamic scorers that they had last year, but they are getting goals up and down the lineup. The returning players who make up the top-six forward group are doing their part.
Donovan Neuls leads the team with 54 points which is just edging out Nolan Volcan’s 53. Finally getting playing time, Zack Andrusiak is having a career year with 52 points and Austin Strand has rediscovered his offensive game from the blue line, chipping in with 44 points.
Seattle’s also getting big contributions from its third line.
It’s a line that is made up of two rookie wingers in Dilon Hamaliuk and Samual Huo and centered by the veteran Noah Philp. The trio has been a big part of the Seattle scoring surge over its five-game win streak.
They’ve combined for five goals and 12 points over the five outings – a stretch that has seen the Thunderbirds average over six goals a game.
“They seem to have the advantage most nights,” Seattle head coach Matt O’Dette said. “Against some of the top teams, that’s difficult but those guys are playing well. Those two young kids are coming into their own and play with a lot of pace. ‘Philper is doing a great job with those kids.”
Philp is the pivot and has turned into a great pick up for the Thunderbirds. After playing his first two WHL seasons in Kootenay, he was sent to Seattle in a trade during the preseason.
He’s adapted well, notching career highs in goals (11), assists (21), and points (32) in 47 games with Seattle. Philp has been the veteran presence between the two promising rookies.
“I try to be a good role model,” Philp says. “Those two guys are pretty good on their own and I think they’ve found the confidence in their own game and I can’t take credit for that.”
Hamaliuk played 17 games with Seattle early in the year last season. He still is considered a rookie and has been impressive. Listed at six-foot-three and 182 pounds, Hamaliuk has the proto-typical power forward build.
He’s a physical player but unlike many power forwards, he can skate. That’s translated into many chances generated and while he struggled to finish early in the year, he’s finding the back of the net now.
“I say confidence for sure,” Hamaliuk says about the reason for his uptick in scoring. “Just working hard in practice and staying on the ice a little extra, it’s been helping me a lot.”
Hamaliuk has 12 goals so far but half of them have come over the past 10 games. That extra time in practice is paying off for sure.
Huo is the third ingredient to the line and while the 16-year-old rookie is still struggling to finish, he’s another young guy on the come. He’s a big body that can skate, dig the puck out of corners and lug it up ice. He flies around the zone and you get the feeling that the goal-scoring breakthrough is coming soon.
“I think just those two guys and myself have found a little confidence in each other,” Philp says of Hamaliuk and Huo. “It’s tough when you’re switching lines and I think just playing together repetitively and knowing each other’s strengths is helping us.”
The three have had a little bit of power play time but have done most of their damage while playing even strength. Philp has picked up 81-percent of his points at even strength while Hamaliuk is at 87. Those are the two highest percentages on the club among players with more than 10 points.
Having a third line that can win shifts and chip in even-strength goals is going to be a huge key for Seattle moving forward. A line like that can cause match up problems and give the team balanced scoring.
Seattle is going to need balanced scoring as it suddenly finds itself in the middle of the U.S. Division race. The teams around the Thunderbirds have loaded up with higher profile players, flashier players, and the road is going to be tough.
With two games against Everett this coming weekend, the next big test is here. The Thunderbirds will keep trying to grind out shifts, goals, and wins to keep pace in the race. If they do, expect Hamaliuk, Philp, and Huo to be in the center of things.