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Thunderbirds lock up top draft pick as Sam Oremba signs with club

The Thunderbids selected 75-goal scorer Sam Oremba with their first pick in Wednesday's WHL Bantam Draft. (Lucas Punkari/Prince Albert Daily Herald)

The Seattle Thunderbirds announced Tuesday that they have signed first-round draft pick Sam Oremba to a standard WHL player agreement.

The high-flying Oremba averaged 2.4 goals per game last season playing Bantam hockey in Regina. That equates to 75 scores in 31 games. It’s a lot of goals — he ended up with a league-record 133 points — and it would seem like he was always scoring.

“I think there was one game where I didn’t score a goal, but our line did score,” Oremba says. “I don’t think there was a game where our line didn’t score a goal. I bounced back the next game and scored a couple of goals.”

That’s quite a bounce back and his line was pretty good as well considering both of his linemates from the Regina Monarchs were also drafted during last week’s WHL Bantam Draft.

It was his offensive prowess that caught the eye of the Thunderbirds scouts during the season. As they prepared their draft list, Oremba started to climb up the board.

When they picked at seven during the first round, selecting the 5-foot-11 forward was a no brainer. For Oremba, he wasn’t sure what to expect as he watched the draft unfold with his parents at their home in Regina, Saskatchewan.

“I was getting pretty excited,” he says of draft day. “I knew I was going to be in that range of the draft and once I knew Seattle was up and when I got picked by them I was pretty thrilled. I talked to them a couple of times throughout the year. They showed a lot of interest but so did a lot of teams, so I didn’t know where I was going to go.”

He says that he didn’t know much about Seattle and the Thunderbirds other than watching former players Mathew Barzal and Ethan Bear play the Regina Pats during the 2017 WHL Championship season. He was in attendance for a couple of the games and watched the others on television.

Signing with Seattle was an easy choice for Oremba, who says he’s wanted to play in the WHL ever since attending his first Pats game when he was younger.

As he’s learned more about the Thunderbirds he’s even more excited that that dream is here.

“I found out by talking to (Director of Player Personel) Cal Filson that Seattle was going to be really good,” he says. “We’re really young and have some good prospects coming up, had a good draft last year. I really wanted to come and I’m really happy.”

His numbers leap off the page, but he says he’s more than just a scorer. He also sounds like the type of player that checks a lot of boxes on general manager Bil La Forge’s wish list.

“I’d say I’m a highly skilled forward with lots of speed,” Oremba says. “I can score a lot if you put the puck on my stick but I can also make plays. I play a 200-foot game and you can rely on me in any situation, whether it’s power play or penalty kill, end of game, anything, you can rely on me and I’ll get it done for you.”

Scoring 133 points in Bantam is a big deal but Oremba also got a taste of tougher competition last year. He played five games up a level against older players with the Regina Pats Canadians Midget AAA club. He scored a goal and added a pair of assists.

It was a learning experience for him, one that he hopes will help him going into next season when he’ll play with the Pats Canadians full time to prepare for his rookie season in the WHL in 2022.

“Going into it I knew it was going to be a lot harder,” Oremba says. “They’re bigger, stronger, and a lot faster. Once I got up there it was awesome and getting into a couple of games really helped a lot.”

Oremba doesn’t know any of the current Thunderbirds, or any of last year’s draft class, but he has heard from some of his new teammates.

Conner Roulette, Cade McNelly, Kai Uchacz, and Jordan Gustofson have all reached out to Oremba to welcome him on the team. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thunderbirds have canceled their normal spring camp for prospects so Oremba will have to wait until the fall training camp to hit the ice with his new club.

Like many, or most, young hockey players, Oremba admires Edmonton Oilers star, Connor McDavid. But, he says a couple of years ago another player caught his eye and it’s one that is familiar to Seattle.

“When Seattle was here, I saw Barzal and was impressed by how good he was, how he could score and how he could skate and I really liked the way he played,” Oremba says.

It’s an extra kick to play for the same team that Barzal did but Oremba knows he won’t get to wear number 13 in Seattle. He’s OK with it.

“I have a number,” he says. “I wanted to wear 19 but it’s taken so I’m going to wear 91.”