Breaking down the Thunderbirds’ opening night roster
By Tim Pigulski
A look at the Thunderbirds’ roster as they prepare for their regular-season opener on Friday.
LW Mitch Elliot (19): Elliot had a solid preseason, putting up two points in four games to go with 13 PIMs. Elliot hasn’t demonstrated much of a scoring touch over his first three seasons in the league, but has decent speed and a huge body that can cause problems in front of the net if he can get himself there. Expect Elliot to improve on the five points he put up last year and finish with somewhere around 20, still playing the game with an edge. With the offseason trades of Chance Lund and Jacob Doty, it will be even more important for Elliot to play a physical game. Should a defenseman go down with injury, the big forward could find himself filling in on D, where he saw some time last season.
C Justin Hickman (18): Hickman put up three points in five preseason games, along with a plus-3 rating and 14 PIMs. The 18-year-old forward has good size (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and plays a solid two way game. Hickman has looked impressive so far in preseason and training camp, so bigger things should come out of him this year. Also playing the game with a bit of a nasty streak (106 PIMs last season), it will be important for Hickman to remain focused on being a solid two-way forward.
RW Branden Troock (18): This will be an important season for the young power forward from Edmonton. After notching 26 points in 58 games in 2011-12, the T-Birds will look for Troock to be a top-line wing and potentially double his point total from last year. He averaged over a point per game in the preseason, and if he can maintain a similar pace during the regular season it could mean big things for the ‘Birds.
C Tyler Alos (19): Towards the end of his 16-year-old season, Alos showed some offensive promise playing on a line with Colin Jacobs and Mitch Elliot. Even though he hasn’t become a big-time scorer, Alos still plays an important role on this team. Reports say that he’s a favorite of the coaches for his hard work in all three zones, as well as his contributions to the community off the ice. While he may not be the type of guy who will show up in the box score much, Alos is the type of player that every team needs. He knows his role and he fills it well. It’s likely that he’ll see more time on the wing than at center this season.
RW Connor Honey (18): Having had half a season in the WHL and a now being detached from the drama of last year, Honey is another player who will be expected to produce on the top two lines. Not much was seen out of Honey during the preseason due to what is listed as an “upper body injury,” but he should be back and at full strength for the opener. General manager Russ Farwell has stated that he is expecting a big offensive contribution from the right wing, so 50 points (he had 21 last season in 46 games) should not be out of the question.
C Brendan Rouse (20): Rouse will likely find himself as a center on one of the top two lines. He began showing strong chemistry with Honey and Troock towards the end of last season, and his season this year could be defined by how well those two play. The 20-year-old center plays a solid two way game and will likely find himself playing on special teams in addition to his regular role. Rouse averaged nearly a half a point per game in 48 games last season, missing significant time between November and January due to injury. He played well this preseason, notching four points in five games.
RW Daniel Wray (17): Wray didn’t suit up for the T-Birds as a 16-year-old, but he’s got good size and appears to like to use it, accumulating 58 PIMs in 33 games last year in the Alberta Midget Hockey League. He’s not going to be a big offensive producer in the bottom six, but he should be able to help offset the losses of some of the T-Birds’ bigger forwards this offseason.
LW Riley Sheen (17): Sheen was an exciting player during the preseason. He’ll often be the smallest player on the ice, but he makes up for his lack of size with an active stick and great puck handling abilities. He’ll be very useful in the shootout and could be in for a breakout season after not getting much playing time in Medicine Hat. Big things probably shouldn’t be expected from Sheen this season, but as he adds a bit of muscle and gains confidence he could be an asset in the future.
C Luke Lockhart (20): Lockhart is another one of those “must-have” type players — he works extremely hard every time he is on the ice, also adding a bit of an offensive touch. Last season his offense dropped off a bit (37 points compared to 48 in 2010-11), but he’s managed to stay healthy throughout his career despite always being the first guy willing to sacrifice himself by laying out in front of a slap shot. Luke has developed into a fan favorite for his hard work in all facets of the game and it’d be a great “going away gift” if he could finally have a legitimate shot at the playoffs in his final WHL season.
RW Seth Swenson (19): Much has been made on this blog of Swenson’s breakout after being acquired by the T-Birds last season in exchange for Marcel Noebels. He showed a scoring touch this preseason with three goals in four games and could be the type of player who can give the T-Birds a strong second line. If he has a good season, he could give the T-Birds two quality scoring lines — something that hasn’t necessarily been present for the last couple of seasons.
LW Alexander Delnov (18): Like Swenson, Delnov will be essential to providing the T-Birds with a strong second scoring line. Between the top four wings (Troock, Honey, Swenson, and Delnov), the team should be able to put up a few more goals. He’s got tons of potential, as the Florida Panthers acknowledged in drafting him this offseason. During the preseason he demonstrated that he won’t need much time in adjusting to the North American style of play, so he should come out of the gates ready to go. Look for Delnov to have a Noebels-like impact, putting up around 50 points in his first WHL season.
LW Roberts Lipsbergs (18): Listed as a left wing on the T-Birds’ website, it’s more likely Lipsbergs will suit up as one of the four centers. The Latvian import isn’t big, but he’s already demonstrated a solid scoring touch and strong chemistry with his teammates. He plays a North American style game, so his adjustment should come quickly as well. Lipsbergs is a more offensively oriented center than any others on the T-Birds’ roster, so we may see his role increase as the season wears on.
C Connor Sanvido (19): Sanvido will likely see more time at wing with Rouse, Lockhart, Lipsbergs, and Hickman manning the center spots. Drafted in the first round of the 2008 WHL Bantam Draft, Sanvido has potential but hasn’t been able to realize it yet. However, he has a solid shot coming off the wing and should be able to add a decent scoring punch to the T-Birds’ bottom six forwards.
RW Michal Holub (16): The youngest player in the T-Birds’ forward crop, this will be a year for Holub to develop his game in one of the bottom six wing spots. He’s got good size at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds and showed some potential in training camp. He didn’t put up any points in the preseason but did have 10 PIMs, so look for him to play a more physical than offensive role in his rookie season. He’ll be an intriguing player to watch develop over the next few seasons.
Jerret Smith (17): Smith didn’t play for the ‘Birds as a 16-year-old, but his offseason showed some definite promise, gaining him a spot on NHL Central Scouting’s Preliminary draft rankings. The emergence of Smith made 20-year-old Deagle expendable, a move that we won’t really know the effects of until the season is well underway. Untested at the WHL level, it will be interesting to see if the talented Smith can pick up the game quickly. That’s not often an easy task for defensemen.
Kevin Wolf (16): Wolf is a big kid at 6-foot-6, but he is also untested at this level. More of a stay-home defenseman than an offensive contributor, Wolf played well in the preseason. He’ll be one of a number of young defenseman, including Smith and Taylor Green, expected to step up and play significant minutes without much experience. Wolf doesn’t appear to be much of the fighting type either, so his name might not show up on the score sheet often. That can be just fine for a defenseman, as the most important stat for him will be his plus/minus rating.
Jesse Forsberg (19): Forsberg was a very solid acquisition by Farwell this offseason. After trading Deagle, Forsberg is now the defense’s elder statesmen, having played three seasons in Prince George. He plays a consistent defensive game with a serious physical edge, accumulating over 100 PIMs each of the past three seasons. He’s appeared to gel well already with his teammates and should play top two minutes this season. Forsberg’s play will be very important in determining how the T-Birds’ defense holds up. He wore the “C” in Prince George and appears to have already developed into a leadership role with the team, so don’t be surprised to see him with a letter on his jersey this season.
Shea Theodore (17): Big things are expected out of the defenseman who played for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Championship Tournament this offseason. Theodore’s offensive prowess is well-known and earned him a preseason “A” rating from NHL Central Scouting, and he very well could find himself as a first-round draft pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. If he can maintain his impressive offensive skills and improve in his own zone (he was a minus-36 last season), the young defenseman will continue to slide up the draft boards. He’s acknowledged that he could improve in his own end and has vowed to focus on developing that aspect of his game this season.
Evan Wardley (18): Wardley is a big, physical defenseman who will be counted on to provide some big hits and drop the gloves occasionally. However, Wardley’s skills aren’t limited there — he’s also a solid defensive defenseman and will be counted on to step up and play big minutes after appearing in 29 games last season. He looked good this preseason and should develop into a reliable defender this year.
Taylor Green (17): Many expected that the enormous Green (he’s 6-foot-7) to make the transition to forward this offseason, but he’s still listed as a defenseman on the official roster. With the team carrying seven defensemen, it’s still very possible that Green could line up at forward from time to time this season. He put up a solid three points in six preseason games, and his big body could be a huge asset, whether he’s screening the opposing team’s goalie or clearing forwards out from in front of his own net.
Jared Hauf (17): Drafted fourth overall in 2010, Hauf will be counted on to make a huge jump this year. Last season was a tough adjustment for the big defenseman, but he has been compared to former Spokane Chief Jared Cowen, showing he has some skill in addition to his size. With the subtraction of Deagle, it’s likely that Hauf will find himself in the top four defensemen. He has great chemistry with Theodore off the ice, and it looked like that translated to chemistry on the ice this preseason. He, like Smith, is listed on NHL Central Scouting’s Preliminary draft rankings. Between Hauf, Green, Wolf, and Wardley, the T-Birds should have an intimidating defense.
Daniel Cotton (18): The backup job was Cotton’s to lose this preseason, as he was the only one vying for the spot that had any decent WHL experience, appearing in 17 games last season backing up Calvin Pickard. However, Cotton wasn’t able to separate himself from the competition this preseason, posting an unimpressive 5.99 goals against average and .838 save percentage. He will continue to compete with Justin Myles for the backup spot, as Farwell has stated the team plans on carrying only one of the two.
Brandon Glover (20): Glover has huge skates to fill this year, but he’s looked like the real deal this preseason, posting a 2.43 goals against average a .911 save percentage to go along with some impressive saves. He played very well for Calgary in last year’s playoffs and the hope is that he can play close to that level this season. Simply having a tested goalie in net should do wonders for the defense’s confidence. Glover, for obvious reasons, is another player that will go a long way in determining the team’s success this season.
Justin Myles (17): Myles had a decent preseason, moving himself into competition with Cotton for the backup spot to Glover. Depending on the direction Farwell goes this season, Myles could very well be competing with Cotton and Mumaugh for the starting job next season once Glover graduates. For now, he’ll need to learn a thing from the older goalies to put himself in the best position for his future. Whoever the backup is, don’t expect Glover to spend too much time on the bench this season.
Follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski.