T-Birds notebook: Trade deadline approaching, Kubicek shines and a look at the weekend
The Thunderbirds left Portland Tuesday night and headed east, just like they did last New Year’s Eve, for a swing through the Eastern Conference.
They’ll be in Lethbridge Friday night, Medicine Hat Saturday, and Sunday at Swift Current before heading back to the United States.
With the Jan. 10th WHL trade deadline just over a week away chances are that Seattle general manager Bil La Forge won’t be as busy as he was a year ago. But will he be quiet?
La Forge has made significant moves already, starting with a three-player trade in May and more recently a trade that sent overage captain Matthew Wedman to the Kelowna Rockets.
Despite some rough nights in the first half, Seattle is in a position to push for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but the Thunderbirds also have an eye towards the future. The sense is that Seattle won’t be moving young players or other assets at this deadline.
“We’re not going to be counter-productive and go against what we’ve done,” La Forge said prior to the holiday break.
The Thunderbirds still have some older roster players that could be attractive to contending teams, if La Forge were interested in acquiring more future assets. Most notable is goalie Roddy Ross.
Ross, 19, has been solid for the Thunderbirds this season in sporting a .912 save-percentage despite some tough nights from the players on the ice in front of him. Could the Philadelphia Flyers draft pick be on the market?
His status for next season is uncertain as he would be old enough to sign with the Flyers and join their American Hockey League team.
“I’m always going to listen but I’m not actively shopping anybody at this time,” La Forge said. “I think I’m happy with our group… I’d like to make us better at some point too, if I could find something to help us then I’d consider it.”
Wednesday, the Edmonton Oil Kings picked up goalie Beck Warm from the Tri-City Americans in effect shrinking the goalie market more. It seems less likely that Ross would be moved but if the right offer came La Forge’s way, he has shown no fear in making moves that will help his club.
Here’s the latest surrounding the Thunderbirds:
Simon Kubicek plays well at World Junior Championships
Seattle has been without Kubicek for about a month as he was home competing for the Czech Republic in the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championships. Team Czech managed an opening-game upset of Russia but was unable to get in the win column again and were eliminated Thursday.
Kubicek played well for his home country. He was in the Czech’s top defensive pairing, manned the point on the top power play, and ended his five games with a goal and two assists while being named one of his team’s top three players of the tournament. The 2020 NHL Draft prospect will make his way back to Seattle although it’s unknown exactly what date he’ll rejoin the Thunderbirds.
Matthew Rempe suspended
Rookie center Matthew Rempe received a one-game suspension from the WHL for his five-minute major and game misconduct kneeing penalty Tuesday night in Portland.
He won’t play in Friday’s game against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. In 20 games with Seattle, the 6-foot-8 rookie has five goals and 10 assists.
Seattle was without Henrik Rybinski Tuesday due to injury and its unclear if the Florida Panthers prospect will be ready to play Friday. He is listed day-to-day but if he can’t go, the Thunderbirds will be down two centers in Lethbridge.
What to watch for this weekend
With the Rempe suspension and potential of Rybinski still being out, look for Mekai Sanders to get more ice time this weekend. The rookie from Gig Harbor made his debut Tuesday after missing the first half of the season with a lower-body injury. He saw limited ice time in his first game but had some strong moments, throwing a big open-ice hit and also taking one to make a play.
Friday night will be a test for Seattle as it takes on a very good Hurricanes team. Lethbridge is second overall in the Eastern Conference, trailing Edmonton by six points. The Hurricanes have scored the second-most goals in the WHL to date and have the league’s second-rated power play. Seattle still only has one road power-play goal, but Lethbridge has struggled short-handed this year, ranked 18th. Is this the game the Thunderbirds break through?
Lethbridge is led by Buffalo Sabres first-round pick Dylan Cozens. The 2019 draftee is off to a hot start with 20 goals and 46 points in 30 games.
Saturday night the Thunderbirds will be in Medicine Hat to take on the one team to score more goals than Lethbridge has. The game with the Tigers will feature a matchup of two of the league’s more exciting 16-year-old rookies. Conner Roulette has been great for Seattle, scoring 10 times with 18 points in his 26 games. Medicine Hat features the top-scoring rookie in the WHL, Cole Sillinger, who has 12 goals and 37 points in 31 games.