T-Birds notebook: Second line, World Juniors and trade deadline
By Andy Eide
The mid point of the Thunderbirds season is here.
Well, technically there are still three more games to play before they’ve hit the actual mid point, but with the holiday break here, we’re calling it the mid point.
Seattle finds itself with a slim lead in the U.S. Division at the break. They lead the Everett Silvertips by one point and it looks like the rest of the season will be a dog fight. The T-Birds picked up a big win Saturday night in Kennewick to snap a mini-losing streak and sent them home for the holidays on a good note.
Will that win propel them in the second half?
Here is the latest surrounding the team at the break:
What’s my second line?
Before the season started there was a lot of anticipation for Settle’s second line made up of Scott Eansor, Jamal Watson and Nolan Volcan. Those three were terrors in training camp and displayed an impressive combination of speed and tenacity.
They had the potential to cause match up headaches for opponents and could shut down top lines throughout the league while providing secondary scoring. They were going to be a powerful compliment to Seattle’s top line of Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp and Keegan Kolesar.
In the first 33 games of the season however, we’ve only seen that second line in eight games total.
Due to injuries and now the World Junior Championships the Watson-Eansor-Volcan combination has not been able to get on the ice consistently. When together they were as advertised and Seattle was 7-1 in the eight games they played in.
Over that stretch the T-Birds outscored their opponents 30-15 and didn’t allow more than two goals in any one game. Those three are key in suppressing shots and goals for the T-Birds. Strong on the forecheck they cause all kinds of issues for defenseman trying to move the puck.
We also saw during that stretch that the Eansor line was a good puck possession line, which ultimately helps the T-Birds on defense — the opposition can’t score if they don’t have the puck.
Without that line intact the T-Birds are 12-10-3-0.
Clearly, a big key to the second half will be having those three back in the lineup together each and every night.
Trade deadline is coming
The WHL does not allow trades to be announced during the holiday break but once the teams get back in action, the trading season is on. The deadline to make a move is January 10th and you can bet that the T-Birds are looking to improve.
Seattle is most likely looking to add a forward and/or a defensman for the second half run. Making a trade is easier said than done of course. You need to find a willing partner who has the pieces you want. With the amount of parity in the league this year, there should be a number of teams shopping which will drive up prices for top players.
One high-end player that has been linked to Seattle in rumors is Swift Current’s Jake DeBrusk. The Broncos have only won ten games this year and you would assume they are going to be sellers at the deadline.
DeBrusk was a first round pick of the Boston Bruins this past June after potting 42 goals last year. He is having a strong season again and would be a giant addition to the T-Birds lineup.
He won’t come cheap however. So, if the rumor of Seattle having interest in him is true the challenge becomes how much they are willing to give up for a 19-year-old player who will not be in the WHL next season?
We will have full coverage of the trade deadline and any moves Seattle makes so keep checking the blog.
World Junior Championships are here
The annual World Junior Championships are set to get underway in Helsinki later this weekend. Canada and the U.S. will kick off the tournament with a huge opening day game on Saturday morning at 10 AM. That game could have a big Seattle flair to it.
Mathew Barzal has already been named to Team Canada and will play in that game. Scott Eansor is still on the bubble for the U.S. team but looks like he may have a strong chance to make it. The Americans made their first round of cuts on Sunday and Eansor survived. He is one of 14 forwards remaining on the roster and it’s hard to imagine they would want less than 14. The U.S. Team is in Finland now to continue preparing for the tournament and Eansor is with them.
All the U.S. games, including the big tilt with Canada on Saturday, will be televised on the NHL Network.
Former Bird update
With the holiday break here it is a good time to check in on how some recent T-Birds are fairing in the pro ranks.
Shea Theodore is playing in the AHL with the San Diego Gulls. He’s appeared in 25 games for San Diego and has four goals to go with 15 points. Theodore has been called up to Anaheim on three occasions but has yet to appear in an NHL game.
Former captain Justin Hickman has appeared in 23 games for the Providence Bruins of the AHL but has yet to register a point. He has 19 minutes in penalties so far.
Branden Troock is in his second season with the AHL’s Texas Stars and in 19 games this year has three goals and 10 points.
The Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL — which is an Anaheim Ducks affiliate — have two recent T-Birds on its roster. Goalie Taran Kozun has appeared in eight games for Utah and is 4-2 with a goals-against of 3.09 and a save percentage of .891. Roberts Lipsbergs is Kozun’s teammate once again and the Latvian product has six goals in only nine games with Utah. Lipsbergs started the season in Adirondack before being traded to Utah — he appears to be off to a good start.
After suffering a knee injury in training camp, defenseman Evan Wardley has been sent to the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL. In his first nine games he’s recorded one goal and three points.
Follow Andy Eide on Twitter @andyeide.