General manager Russ Farwell optimistic about T-Birds season

Sep 17, 2014, 7:09 AM | Updated: 11:20 am
Mathew Barzal and the Thunderbirds are expecting a lot of excitement this season. (T-Birds photo)...
Mathew Barzal and the Thunderbirds are expecting a lot of excitement this season. (T-Birds photo)
(T-Birds photo)

The Thunderbirds continue to prepare for their season opener in Portland Friday night with some questions about their roster still unanswered. They remain over the limit with their 20-year-olds, have three goaltenders and are waiting to see who comes back from NHL camps.

These types of roster situations are nothing new to a junior hockey team and general manager Russ Farwell is optimistic that they’ll get straightened out. He’s also optimistic about the T-Birds upcoming season. Seattle will be in for an interesting year as the team will be one of the younger teams in the WHL, especially up front.

Farwell feels that the club will get better as the year goes on, as those young guys get their skates under them. With training camp and the preseason concluding, he says that they are happy with the steps some of the young guys have taken so far.

“I wouldn’t say we’re surprised because he looked good in the playoffs, but Peterson has taken a good step,” he said. “(We’re) real happy with Kolesar’s fitness and quickness. It’s interesting with him, he’s been really good in practice and really taken a step. He hasn’t had that out on the ice yet … There’s another real level with him.”

Kolesar could play a big role this year as the team will be looking for guys to provide secondary scoring to make up for some of the offense lost from last season. Farwell praised Kolesar’s work in the offseason as he’s come into camp 10 pounds lighter, leaner, has been sharp so far in practice and they want to see him transfer that into game action.

There are also are going to be some rookies who have to step up and provide depth.

“I think we’ll have quality right through to our fourth line,” Farwell said. “We’ve experimented with (Nolan) Volcan, (Kaden) Elder and (Donovan) Nuels together. They’ll chip in with some points because there’s some quality there. They play the right way and they’re possession guys.”

One of the biggest offseason questions centered around what Seattle was going to do with their 20-year-olds. They traded Jaimen Yakubowski in the offseason but still have five on their roster. Defenseman Evan Wardley is one of those guys and he’s currently in training camp with the Montreal Canadiens. With his availability still up in the air, it sounds like the decision on the over-agers is also still up in the air.

“Mostly just to know what 20’s are back, I don’t want to string those guys out,” Farwell said about the gameplan on making a decision. “As soon as we knew Wardley would be back we could look at what we want to do.”

Tied to the 20-year-old situation is the competition for the two goalie spots on the roster. Taran Kozun is one of the 20-year-old players and was good for Seattle last season after he was acquired from Kamloops. Danny Mumaugh and rookie Logan Flodell are also in the mix and the T-Birds have a tough decision to make.

“They’re all still possibilities,” Farwell said. “A lot of times exhibition clarifies it, it’s clear as mud right now as nobody has grabbed the job. Kozun played real well with us last year. We’re hoping he’s going to be the guy and jump out but he’s got to go out and do it. Both the other guys can play so we’re still sorting it out.”

The T-Birds are going to generate a great deal of attention from NHL scouts and media this season. They have potentially six to eight players who have a chance to be selected in June’s draft. Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp and Ethan Bear are the biggest names, as all three have been ranked as either first-round picks or early-second-round picks. With good seasons, Kolesar, Alexander True, Lane Pederson, Logan Flodell and Florian Baltram could also impress scouts and be selected.

While that attention is great for the Thunderbirds and their organization, it also has its challenges.

“That brings the emotions a little closer to the surface,” Farwell said of a player’s draft prospects. “The pressure sometimes can be a problem in a draft year so we’ll have to manage that. But it’s exciting and the potential for this team is huge so it will be good.”

These are still young players and there is no way to keep them from going on line and seeing where they are ranked or who’s saying what about them. That can add to some of the pressure these young guys are feeling. Farwell believes you can’t keep players from looking on line.

“You can’t hide from it,” he said. “You’ve just got to keep your priorities and if the team does well, everyone will get a chance to get picked. We have to stay together and be focused. How do you do it? It’s going to be really hard to shield guys from the reality. You can’t trick them, they’re after you so you’ve just got to enjoy it.”

Barzal and Gropp have been highly thought of NHL prospects from day one. Ethan Bear burst on the scene last year and this summer when he made Team Canada’s roster for the Ivan Hlinka U-18 tournament. Bear, who joined Barzal on the team, opened eyes both in the camp leading up to the tournament as well as during Canada’s gold-medal run. It has helped vault him up in the rankings and given the young defenseman some extra confidence.

“It was huge,” Farwell said. “I think I see it in his game but you never know with Ethan because he never seems too rattled. The reality is that’s the best 22 players in Canada so it’s starting to hit home … Bear has really taken a step, he’s confident and he’s trying things with the puck, I think he’s going to get some numbers.”

Getting numbers from the defense will be a big factor for Seattle this season. If the defensemen can chip in, move the puck and set up the forwards it will take pressure of the younger guys up front.

When Shea Theodore returns from camp with the Anaheim Ducks the team will get a huge boost as he is one of the best defensemen in the WHL.

“It’s important,” Farwell said about the defense scoring. “It’s not just the total numbers but it’s that ability to add that extra threat. Theodore jumping in, when he shoots the puck it’s no different than any centerman shooting to score. If we have Theo we have a chance to be really good on the back end. Any time you’re on the ice with him it’s like having an extra forward, so that’s going to really help.”

Farwell uses the word “if” when talking about having Theodore in the lineup. There is an outside chance that he would stick with the Ducks but that seems to be unlikely. Anaheim is a good team that already has a young defensive core and it appears that having Theodore spend another year in junior would be the best gameplan.

As the season is now set to kick off, the expectations surrounding the team are high. Last year the team made a priority of finishing with at least the fourth seed in the Western Conference. They managed to do that and advanced past the first round of the playoffs after beating the Everett Silvertips.

Where do they want to end up this year?

“It’s interesting,” Farwell said. “I don’t think we have a set spot in mind because we are so young up front. If we could stay in (the top four) til Christmas then I’d be really happy because I think we’ll get better and better. Doesn’t matter what you want to be, you’ve got to prove it in the end. We’d like to be in the top four and then realistically you have a chance to win.”

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General manager Russ Farwell optimistic about T-Birds season