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T-Birds notebook: Imports, Harsch, Barzal, and Konowalchuk

The Seattle Thunderbirds will look to replace the production of Sami Moilanen in the CHL Import Draft (Brian Liesse/T-Birds)

Despite the Monday morning drizzle, it is officially summer in Seattle. That usually means there is no hockey news but the Seattle Thunderbirds have been busy this offseason.

They have a new general manager in Bil La Forge, they’ve created a new player development position and filled it with a former T-Bird player, and now they prepare for the CHL Import Draft.

Seattle has picks 29 and 89 in Thursday’s draft that features teams from all three of the major-junior leagues. Thunderbirds vice president of hockey operations Russ Farwell said last week that the team will be making two import selections.

Earlier in the summer it was learned that Sami Moilanen would not return to Seattle for his 19-year-old season as he had signed with a team in his native Finland. Last week, Farwell confirmed that the team had notified Russian native Nikita Malukhin that they would not be bringing him back to play for the Thunderbirds, leaving the club with both its import spots open.

The loss of Moilanen is a blow to the Thunderbirds offense. Coming off a season marked with a couple of injuries the speedy winger played in just 50 games where he scored 22 goals and 45 points. He ends his Seattle career by appearing in 120 games and notching 43 goals. His biggest goal came in Seattle’s Game 6 win of the WHL Championship Series in 2017.

Malukhin came over from Russia last year and never quite got his feet under him. He was a raw player with good size and a good shot but wasn’t able to keep up with the speed of the WHL. He was limited to 52 games and scored five goals. By the end of the season he was a healthy scratch on numerous occasions.

With the loss of Moilanen’s scoring ability, and a second forward in Malukhin, it would not be surprising to see Seattle select two new forwards on Thursday. The Thunderbirds have a number of young, and promising looking, defenseman returning and don’t have as strong a need on the back end. However, there is a lot of unknown in the Import Draft and if there is a high-end defenseman who can move the puck the Thunderbirds may pull the trigger.

One new wrinkle in this year’s draft is that the CHL will once again allow teams to draft import goalies. The CHL had banned goalies from the draft in 2014 in what has roundly been criticized as a short-sighted ploy by Hockey Canada to boost its own country’s goalie development.

There was a notable goalie transaction for Seattle this past week as the Thunderbirds shipped back up Dorrin Luding to the Saskatoon Blades for conditional draft picks. That leaves Liam Hughes as the only goalie who played in the WHL last season on the roster. While there is always a chance that Seattle chooses an import goalie, the Luding move more likely suggests that Carl Stankowski is healthy and headed towards a return or that the team is happy with the progression of Cole Schwebius as a potential back up. Schwebius will be 17-years-old this year but has not played a WHL regular season game after appearing in five preseason games with Seattle last fall.

The import draft takes place Thursday morning.

Here is the latest news surrounding the Thunderbirds:

Ex Birds making news in the NHL

The NHL was back in Las Vegas last Wednesday for the annual NHL Awards and one former Seattle player made a big splash. Mathew Barzal took home the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s top rookie. Playing with the New York Islanders, Barzal turned in a spectacular rookie campaign that saw him pot 22 goals with 63 assists for 85 points in 82 games which led all rookies and was tops on the Islanders.

The news wasn’t as good for former Thunderbirds head coach Steve Konowalchuk. It was announced Friday evening that the Anaheim Ducks had relieved Konowalchuk of his assistant coaching duties after just one season on the Anaheim bench.

After finishing with a 44-25-13 record and in second place of the Pacific Division the Ducks would go on to be eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Harsch and Tyszka go camping

After no Thunderbirds players were drafted during the NHL Draft last weekend in Dallas, there is some development camp news. Reece Harsch appeared on a development camp roster posted by the Vegas Golden Knights so it appears the defenseman will be headed to the desert. He will be joined in that camp by former Thunderbirds winger Keegan Kolesar.

Jarret Tyszka will be joining the Montreal Canadiens camp again this year after being drafted in the fifth round of last summer’s NHL draft.

There may be more current Thunderbirds invited to camps as NHL teams begin to put together their camp rosters this week.