How does the Thunderbirds’ 2015 NHL Draft class stack up?
When the 2015 NHL Draft concludes on June 27 in Florida, the Seattle Thunderbirds could have one of their biggest draft classes in franchise history.
The T-Birds should have at least four players selected by NHL clubs in the draft and there is still a remote opportunity two or three more players will be nabbed. Having four players selected would represent the most the team has seen picked since the 2003 draft when six T-Birds were chosen. In 1997, eight T-Birds were drafted, which is the high-water mark for the club.
Seattle has seen six players picked by the NHL three times in franchise history: 2003, 1990 and 1982. There have been five drafts that have seen five players selected and three times the club has had four players picked up by NHL teams.
Mathew Barzal projects to be the lone first-round pick this year and he will be the first player picked that early since Shea Theodore was selected 26th by Anaheim in 2013. Patrick Marleau (1997), Peter Nedved (1990) and Ryan Walter (1978) were all taken with the second overall pick, which is the highest a Seattle player has been selected.
Barzal won’t go second overall this year – Boston University’s Jack Eichel is the consensus No. 2 pick – but he has a chance to be the highest selected T-Bird since Thomas Hickey went fourth overall to the Los Angeles Kings in 2007. If Barzal goes in the top 10 he will be the sixth Seattle player to be off the board by pick 11.
Hearing your name called from the podium on draft day doesn’t mean you have an automatic ticket to the NHL. These players will still have to put in the work to continue to develop if they want to live out their dream of playing in the NHL.
Looking at Seattle’s first-round draft picks – excluding Shea Theodore, who is just beginning his pro journey – 10 of the remaining 13 first-rounders went on to play a meaningful number of games in the NHL. Marleau has lasted the longest, playing in 1,329 NHL games. That bodes well for Barzal’s chances on making, and sticking, in the NHL.
But what about his teammates?
Seattle players selected in the later rounds haven’t fared as well. Of the 49 guys picked in Rounds 2 through 5, only six have gone on to play regularly in the NHL. But that is no reason for Ryan Gropp, Keegan Kolesar and Ethan Bear to be discouraged. They only have to look behind their bench for inspiration. Steve Konowalchuk was a third-round draft pick in 1991 and he went on to play 790 games for the Washington Capitals and Colorado Avalanche.
It gets even better.
The rosters for the two Stanley Cup Final combatants – the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks – are littered with lower-round draft picks. Of their regular players, 16 players were chosen in Rounds 2 through 4, eight more were selected in Rounds 5 through 6 and four were undrafted all together. The undrafted group includes former Spokane Chief Tyler Johnson, who just happens to lead the NHL in playoff scoring.
There is a great deal of anticipation to the success the T-Birds should have on the ice next year. After all, they will feature at least four NHL draft picks to go along with their maturing younger players. Having multiple players drafted does not equate to automatic success the next year, however.
The last four times Seattle has had four or more players drafted by the NHL they have suffered a losing record the following year. The 1999-2000 club, after having five players picked in the 1999 draft – including first rounders Oleg Saprykin and Scott Kelmen – was the last to have a winning season.
Every year is different, though, and there is no reason to think that the T-Birds won’t be one of the better teams in the Western Conference next year.
The NHL Draft kicks off with the first round on June 26 from Sunrise, Fla. The later rounds will take place the next day and when it’s all said and done, the T-Birds will be well represented. It’s an exciting time for the players and the Seattle organization and it will be fun to watch where the T-Birds’ drafted players end up.