Four T-Birds likely to be picked in this weekend’s NHL Draft
Friday evening marks the beginning of the 2015 NHL Draft, where no fewer than four Thunderbirds are expected to be selected by professional clubs. The first round takes place Friday night, with Rounds 2 through 7 occurring on Saturday.
If Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp, Ethan Bear, and Keegan Kolesar are all drafted, it would mark the first time since 2003 that four T-Birds were picked. That year a whopping five were taken, with Zack Fitzgerald kicking things off in Round 3 at no. 88 overall.
Barzal will be the first T-Bird to come off the board and is going to be the highest picked since defenseman Thomas Hickey went fourth overall to the Los Angeles Kings in 2007. The scouting report on the Coquitlam, British Columbia native shows that he is recognized as one of the best skaters and passers in a deep draft and possesses elite vision and playmaking ability. Barzal makes those around him better and forces coaching staffs to game-plan around his abilities. If given even a sliver of space, Barzal will find it and make the defense pay.
Mike Morreale of NHL.com calls Barzal a “fantastic east-to-west skater with the capability of creating time and space for linemates.” Over the past two seasons, he has been Seattle’s best offensive center and shown the ability to thread passes to teammates over long distances and handle the puck in tight spaces.
The two biggest knocks on Barzal are that he doesn’t use his above-average shot enough, instead looking for the pass too often, and that he is injury prone. The former is accurate and Barzal has acknowledged that it is an area in which he is working to improve. Regarding Barzal’s injury history, it was a very unfortunate circumstance and the timing for his draft stock couldn’t have been much worse, but the truth is that it wasn’t a hockey-related injury and when he returned, he was better than ever.
Barzal should be picked somewhere in the top 10, and has been rumored as high as sixth overall to the New Jersey Devils, who are in desperate need of a forward with a high scoring ceiling. If the Devils pass on Barzal, it’s a strong possibility that he could be picked up by San Jose ninth or Colorado 10th. At the absolute latest, he shouldn’t get past Boston at No. 14 overall.
Gropp should be the next T-Bird selected, and could go anywhere from the mid-second to mid-third round. Despite his impressive height, Gropp is not a power forward in the traditional sense. He’s a very good skater and possesses elite straight-line speed and his shot is one of the best in the draft this year. Rather than using his size to bowl over his opponents, he uses his reach and big body to protect the puck and shield defenders, giving himself space to fire off his shot.
Born one day after last year’s draft cutoff, Gropp is the oldest player in this year’s NHL Draft. He averaged nearly a point per game as an 18-year-old and should eclipse that number as he continues to add strength and hone his offensive game. The ceiling for Gropp has him as a top-six goal-scoring wing due to his elite shot, great skating, and high hockey IQ.
Both Kolesar and Bear figure to be picked on Saturday somewhere in the third or fourth round.
Unlike Gropp, Kolesar fits the definition of “power forward” to a tee. He’s big, strong, plants himself in front of the net, and isn’t afraid to mix it up with his opponents. After his rookie season, Kolesar wasn’t on many draft boards but has shot up the rankings after putting up 38 points and 85 penalty minutes in 64 games this season.
With an incredible work ethic and natural strength, Kolesar has the ability to eventually make an NHL roster but will need to continue to work on his skating, which improved a great deal between his 16- and 17-year-old seasons. He’s an intimidating presence up front and nearly impossible for opposing defensemen to move out of the crease. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native isn’t the flashiest guy in the draft, but knows his role and doesn’t try to play outside of his abilities. He’s more likely to try and skate through the defense when carrying the puck into the offensive zone than around it.
Bear, a native of Ochopowace, Saskatchewan, receives tons of praise from those who have had the chance to watch him consistently. He’s a balanced two-way defenseman who plays in all situations for the Thunderbirds and should do the same if and when he makes it to the NHL.
His shot is hard and accurate from the blue line and he looks like he has a future as a power-play quarterback. He had 38 points on 13 goals and 25 assists in 69 games this season, despite not being on Seattle’s top power-play unit for much of the season when Shea Theodore was in the lineup. Those numbers should make a noticeable jump this year when he gets the chance to play on a unit that could feature each of the aforementioned draft eligibles.
Bear isn’t big for a defenseman at 5-foot-11 and right around 200 pounds, but he doesn’t shy away from contact or going hard into the corners. He’s good defensively, but should continue to work on his agility and lateral movement to keep up with speedier forwards as they try and get the edge on him entering the zone.
When this weekend is all said and done, it has a chance to be Seattle’s most highly regarded draft class since 1999, when the T-Birds had two players picked in the first round, two in the third, one in the fourth, and one in the seventh. We’ve seen elite players get picked and we’ve seen a high volume of guys taken, but this year should be one of the better combinations of talent and depth to come out of Seattle in recent memory.