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The NHL could make this summer drafty for 5 Seattle Thunderbirds

Henrik Rybinski was the Thunderbirds' highest-ranked NHL prospect. (Brian Liesse/ T-Birds)

Despite the chilly, cloudy mornings in the Seattle area of late, the Thunderbirds are into their summer routine.

Rookie Kai Uchacz looks to be a big piece of Thunderbirds’ future

For five Thunderbirds players, there is a chance that this summer could be one that their names get called in June’s NHL Draft. It’s the dream all young hockey players have and the reason they all signed on with Seattle to play in the WHL.

The NHL Central Scouting Service released its final 2019 Draft rankings last week and Seattle’s Henrik Rybinski, Jake Lee, Dillon Hamaliuk, and Roddy Ross showed up on the list. The list only ranks players who are in their first year of eligibility so Seattle center Matthew Wedman, who at 19 is still eligible to be selected, was not ranked.

This year’s draft will be held in Vancouver between June 21st and 22nd. The Central Scouting rankings are guidelines and not necessarily a true gauge of where a player will be selected. They do not see these players as frequently as the NHL clubs do and often teams have differing opinions than those of Central Scouting.

Rybinski was the highest ranked Thunderbird.

He was ranked 123rd among North American skaters thanks to a tremendous second half of the season. After starting in Medicine Hat, he returned home to play for the BCHL’s Coquitlam Express while waiting for a trade from the Tigers. Seattle acquired him on New Year’s Day and he took full advantage of his chance with the Thunderbirds.

Playing in Seattle’s top-six forward group, the six-foot-one, 176-pounder scored seven goals along with 28 assists for 35 points in 33 games. He was a relentless forechecker that routinely forced turnovers and helped extend possession time for the Thunderbirds in the opponent’s zone.

Hamaliuk didn’t get a numerical ranking from NHL Central Scouting due to what they called ‘limited viewings’ because of his season ending injury at the end of December. Before getting hurt, Hamaliuk was off to a strong start. He potted 11 goals and 26 points in his 31 games and has the size that should attract NHL interest. How his injury affects his draft stock will be a question heading into June’s draft.

Jake Lee ranked 146th among North American skaters

Lee, a defenseman, moved up and down the rankings over the course of the season.

He’s a big, strong, two-way defenseman that plays with an edge and drew a lot of attention from scouts this year. A former first-round Bantam Pick, he’s used to the scrutiny that comes with being a prospect.

“You definitely felt quite a bit of pressure for the draft,” Lee said before heading home for the summer. “You learn to deal with it and manage it, day by day. What happens now you can’t really control until the draft. I’m pumped for it.”

Lee was a mainstay on the Seattle blue line and finished with three scores and 21 assists in 67 games for the Thunderbirds.

Regardless of what round, or what pick, he’s selected with in June, he already has his eyes set on next season. He’s not resting on his laurels and has a long list of skills he plans on developing further this summer. Included in that list are his skating, footwork, puck handling, and his shot.

He will return for his third year in Seattle this fall and is part of the new core of the Thunderbirds as the team hopes to turn back into the up stream of the junior hockey cycle.

“It’s crazy to think about how fast the time flew,” Lee said. “It’s more responsibility and I think myself, and a couple other guys who are aging up, are excited about that and we’ll welcome on the new guys.”

Roddy Ross ranked 17th among North American goalies

The story of Ross’ rise to the Thunderbirds top goalie is well documented by now.

Spotted in an AJHL preseason game, he was put on the Thunderbirds list and signed on New Year’s Day. From there he became the number one starter, finishing the season with a 16-5-1-2 record, a .919 save-percentage and a 2.76 goals-against average.

He was calm in the net, and off the ice, and wasted no motion while the chaos of the game swirled around him. Ross led the Thunderbirds into the playoffs, something that didn’t seem possible before he joined them.

For a guy making a jump in quality of leagues, he never wilted.

“I think I felt a little more pressure,” he said about the jump. “More when I thought about it than just doing it. There were some times I’d think about the playoffs and take a deep breath. I was pretty nervous but just calmed myself down and went through it.”

He went through it and it just might result in an NHL team selecting him in the draft.

At six-foot-four, he has the size that NHL scouts like and combined with his performance this year, he drew attention. By season’s end, he was getting post-game interviews with NHL scouts.

“That’s any kid’s dream, to get drafted,” Ross added. “I think I’m just going to work hard, and we’ll see what happens from there. Hopefully it goes my way. I’m just going to go with the flow.”

Will Wedman get picked?

After a break out season that saw him lead Seattle with 40 goals and 76 points, Wedman’s NHL prospects are interesting. He’s been passed over by the NHL twice and this summer will be his last chance to be drafted.

The NHL loves big centers and at six-foot-three and 195 pounds, Wedman checks that box. He can be a punishing physical presence who played in all situations for Seattle. The 40 goals blew away his career best of 17 that he notched the season prior.

Over his four-year tenure with Seattle he’s improved each season and has become a much better skater than he was as a lanky 16-year-old. He’s turned into a strong defensive forward who can score and this past year won 54-percent of his faceoffs.

Like Ross, he started drawing attention from scouts as the season moved forward.

At 19, there is a chance that he goes undrafted in June but even if that is the case, there is a strong possibility that he will be invited to an NHL camp this summer. That puts his future with the Thunderbirds in some doubt. While eligible to return as an over-ager, he also can play pro hockey in the American Hockey League.

If an NHL team likes him enough, that could be where he ends up playing next season.

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