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Hockey Challenge 2014

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Preseason Roster, Notes

The Thunderbirds have posted their preseason roster. A few things to note.

  • No Barzal. All along I have said that I don't think we have too much to worry about when it comes to Barzal signing on with the team and I will still maintain that to be the case. However, I would say I'm a little more nervous than I was yesterday. No Barzal in this preseason is a strong indication that he still hasn't signed. I'm not worried yet... but on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being "I'm not worried, leave me alone" and 10 being "Crap, here come another 100 'fire Russ' comments" my stress level just went from about a 3 to a 4.  If that makes sense...
  • Wray, Bell, Low, Holub and Folk are the forward guys listed who we may or may not have expected. Kolesar is still around but he's 15 and already signed, so that is cool but he can't make the team. 18 forwards if you count Kolesar and Delnov (who isn't listed). If you subtract either Lockhart or Rouse and Kolesar you wind up with 16 forwards. My best guess is that leaves maybe 1 or 2 cuts to make but I wouldn't be shocked to see them carry an extra guy until they are sure that Delnov will arrive.
  • On defense. Wolf sticks around despite having a so-so camp. He was already signed though so not much of a shock there. Jerret Smith, who showed some very interesting offensive potential in camp, is still around. Only 8 defensemen are listed which would indicate to me that Deagle is definitely staying and they may not make another cut on defense. Maybe 1 cut if they wanted to send someone home to get more playing time. No Douglas as well... he might have been a slight surprise to some.
  • In net... a mess.  5 goalies are still listed and I think it is anyone's guess as to who has the lead in the backup goalie race. I think Cotton is being given a chance to either play himself on the roster or play himself off the roster. His spot to win or lose. If he falters... I'm guessing Myles or Mumaugh and if I had to place a bet... I'm going with Mumaugh.


Lund Traded

Chance Lund has been traded to the Swift Current Broncos in exchange for a 6th round Bantam Draft pick.

This helps clear the 20 year old situation but won't quite solve it.

This doesn't come as much of a shock to me. A 6th round pick isn't terrible value for a 20 year old player and especially one who hasn't really shown a lot in his previous seasons.  Early in the 2011-12 season Lund looked like he was ready to take things to the next level but he slowed as the season wore on and was rarely a factor late in the season.

Seattle will now presumably choose two players from the Brad Deagle, Luke Lockhart and Brendan Rouse group.


Caution and O/A's

A funny thing happens around the time of training camp. Fans start making their annual trek over to Showare Center where they pick apart each and every single play and event. They pick every moment apart as if there is a hidden scoreboard that keeps track of positive plays and negative plays and by the end of camp the players who make the team are the ones who simply played the best over a 3-4 day period.

So let me get this straight... we're going to evaluate players based on a few short days rather than evaluating them based on the dozens of games they played in front of scouts last year in addition to the 3 or 4 days of training camp?

I would have to hope that the coaching staff had largely already decided who they wanted to make the roster this season prior to camp. That doesn't mean that a player with an extremely strong camp can't crack the roster but I would hope their evaluations are based on a whole lot more than a small handful of scrimmages.

This relates very directly to what I believe the Thunderbirds should do with their Over Age situation.  The decision on whether to keep Brad Deagle, Luke Lockhart, Chance Lund or Brendan Rouse to round out the two remaining 20 year old spots on the roster should probably be based on their body of work and not just a few days of camp.

In my mind, I think Deagle probably has to make this roster, leaving the choice down to Lockhart, Lund or Rouse. Deagle was the most solid and reliable defender last year, including Theodore. 

I've seen some claim to believe that the team has "plenty of D" with the acquisition of Jesse Forsberg. They believe that adding Forsberg makes Deagle redundant on the roster... or something to that effect.

For the sake of entertainment... let's see what that would look like:

Let's say Deagle isn't on this roster.  Your top pairing is probably Forsberg and Shea Theodore. Your second pairing is likely to look something like Evan Wardley and Jared Hauf.  No disrespect to either of those players (both of whom I like on various levels) but I think you are taking a major risk if you're going into the season asking those guys to play 20-25 minutes a game.  Phil Pietroniro might fit into that equation somewhere and so might Jarret Smith or Kevin Wolf or Reid Fritzke or Taylor Green. None of those players have been battle tested within the WHL.

So, do you feel comfortable with those guys as your top 4 after surrendering 292 goals in 72 games last year? At a rate of just over 4 goals a game? Quite frankly, I don't.  And again, that isn't a knock on Wardley or Hauf. I really like what I've seen from Wardley and I think Hauf has a chance to eventually turn into a very good player.

If you get rid of Deagle, you're keeping two of Lockhart, Lund and Rouse. For the sake of argument I'll group Lund and Rouse together. Look how many forwards this team might have (in no particular order):

Folk/Ross (?)

That makes 18 possible forwards. You have established depth at the forward position, something you don't really have on the blue line.

If you keep Deagle and go with Lockhart (or Lund/Rouse, whatever) as your final OA spot.... You now look like this:

Forsberg - Theodore
Deagle - Wardley
Hauf - (whoever)

I suddenly feel a lot more comfortable about a defense where Hauf/Wardley are getting 15-20 minutes a night with Deagle, Forsberg, Hauf and Wardley eating up PK minutes to free up Theodore to play a ton of PP minutes to go with his normal minutes.

While the offensive "potential" of guys like Lockhart, Rouse and Lund are enticing the problem comes down to positional scarcity. Those guys don't play defense and Deagle does.



I won't be able to attend the sessions today but beat writer Andy Eide (@AndyEide) is there tweeting updates along with the team itself.

Here are a few of my observations from the session yesterday.

- More people were there than have been in previous years. You're always going to have parents and some older players but there were definitely more fans than previous years.
- Mathew Barzal looked very good though possibly unchallenged. I thought he looked to break out offensively a little bit too much but you simply cannot deny his talent. He is a 15 year old playing against 15 and 16 year old's and he is a cut above everyone else in terms of skating ability and puck handling. I'll be very interested to see how he plays against the big boys.
- Michal Holub passed the eye test for me. I think he makes the team if he continues to play like he did yesterday. Showed good speed getting to the outside and around the corner with the puck, he always seemed to be around the action and generally "looks" like a player who belongs in the league.  He has to keep it up... but I think he probably makes the team.
- Keeping with the '96 players for a moment... I thought Jordan Ross outplayed Carter Folk.
- Dylan Gambrell has some nice skills and it will be really interesting to see if they can get the U. of Denver product signed.
- I thought Kevin Wolf struggled. I heard that he played better in the morning but he didn't look very solid yesterday afternoon.
- Austin Douglas is improved but I think he is still a long shot to make the team. I'd like to see him be more assertive on the ice.
- Danny Mumaugh looked fine although he was barely tested in his half.
- In the '97's... I thought Keegan Kolesar looked pretty good at times. He has a nose for the goal to go with decent speed and some decent handles. He should be ready by next year.
- Hunter Lester is a listed player from Idaho and while he isn't the swiftest of skaters he was always around the puck and had a nice session. He sticks out like a sore thumb with the Michigan colored pants with the number at the bottom. The line of Lane Pederson, Lester and Kolesar had some decent shifts.
- I didn't notice Tristan Simm or Luke Van Schaack at all after they scored in the early session.
- Nick Holowko has good chemistry with Barzal and that very well could be enough to make the team next year.
- Jordan Roberge had a nice session and seemed to be around the net a bunch. He had a goal.
- Evan Cusmano is an interesting player. He's a big body... very big body... and he doesn't exactly fly around the ice. But he always seemed to be in the right places and he has pretty decent hands.
- Cody Lightfoot had a few impressive hits including one that was a touch high on Holub.
- Ethan Bear, the 2nd round pick, still looks a bit raw and unsure of himself to me but he has a solid frame and skates well. Another year of seasoning and he should be fine.

I'm probably forgetting a few things... but that is what I have. I'm missing the sessions today but I'll be back in the rink tomorrow afternoon for what I believe will be a main camp scrimmage.


Rookie Player Research

Here are some notes I've compiled on the rookies that played in the initial scrimmage this morning. Some guys we already know a lot about (Barzal) and some we know a fair amount about (Kolesar, Douglas, Wolf, Mumaugh, etc.)  Here are some notes I found on players I'm not as familiar with.

- Nick Holowko played with Barzal on the Burnaby Winter Club last year and also participated in the Western Canada Bantam Championships playing with Barzal on Team BC.

- Dylan Gambrell played with Danny Mumaugh with the Colorado Thunderbirds U-16 club last season and has publicly committed to the University of Denver and his Elite Prospects profile says he is originally from "Boney, WA". I feel like I'm stuck in a bad dirty joke... but I don't have a clue where Boney, WA is.  He is one to watch... he must be at least a little curious about the the CHL if he wanted to come to camp. Tbirds had him playing with Holowko and Barzal this morning.

- Tristin Simm is a listed player from Surrey, BC and played for the Semiahmoo Bantam A1 team last year. I can't find much else on him.

- Jordan Ross was selected in the 9th round by the Tbirds in 2011 and played for either the Tisdale Trojans or the Balgonie Prairie Storm last year and by some reports had a fantastic year and tallied a bunch of points. He was in camp last year.

- Nash Dabb is a listed player who played for the North Shore Winter Club and appeared to be one of the leading scorers.

- Carter Folk is a 4th round selection of 2011 and was in camp last year as well. I can't find a lot from him... but he did score a goal this morning.

- Jordan Roberge is a listed player and a '97 born player. He played for the Langley Bantam A1 team last season.

- Luke Van Schaack is a '97 listed player as well and tallied twice this morning. The line of Folk, Roberge and Van Schaack appeared to have a good morning. He played for the Wenatchee Jr. Wild but also came over and played for the Seattle Bantam team in at least one tournament. Obviously it would be a cool story if he made the team but don't get your hopes up.

I'll do some more research and be back with some more notes tomorrow. I will be tweeting from the afternoon scrimmage as well.

Rookie/Training Camp Opens

Training Camp slash Rookie Camp has opened this morning with a Blue/Grey game featuring '96 and '97 players.  I'm not able to attend this morning but I will be in attendance for the afternoon session and will tweet out some updates.

Here is a link to the roster and lines for this morning.


Vacation Over

Summer vacation (from writing) is over and it's time to talk some hockey. If you're a hockey fan, you have to love this time of the year. No matter how bad your team was in the previous season... come August, we all have some level of belief that they will be better in the upcoming season. A ton of things have happened since I was able to opine on the state of the team so let's get right to the bullet holes.

  • ESPN 710 fired ex-beat writer Mike Caccioppoli and hired two new writers.  Andrew Eide (@AndyEide) and Tim Pigulski (@tpigulski) will now cover the Tbirds for the radio affiliate. Caccioppoli, in my opinion, was a poor writer and had a poor knowledge of hockey and the inner workings of the WHL. I'm well aware that a small set of fans passionately agreed with his opinions (and that's great) but his interviews with Russ were borderline offensive and most of his blog posts were either simple game recaps (that could be found on the Thunderbirds website) or combative interviews with the accommodating General Manager. Andrew will serve more as the "reporter" for the blog while Tim will handle the "analysis". From what I have seen and read so far the coverage will be vastly improved from what it was in the past year.  I have read several of Andrew's posts and I think they are have been largely excellent. I wasn't a particularly big fan of one of Tim's first articles but I'm not going to take him to task this early in the job. I think some things Tim has written since, have been excellent.  Since I believe the new blog/coverage is worthy of reading (I didn't before) I will be adding it to the links at the side of the page. Check out Andy and Tim.
  • Seattle picked up a 20 year old goaltender from Calgary named Brandon Glover. By most accounts Glover is a solid addition to the team and should help solidify the defensive zone for a defensive unit that is still very young. I think you could make an argument that the team will be better off without Calvin Pickard in goal. Losing Pickard in goal is an obvious loss in skill... but often I have seen teams play passively around a goaltender with an excellent reputation and I think there were times where the Tbirds wound up standing around watching Pickard make saves (or not).
  • Seattle selected two players in the Import draft and the reports I have seen have been very good. Alexander Delnov is a Russian winger who was considered by some to be a sleeper with excellent upside after being selected by the Florida Panthers in the 4th round. His compete level is excellent and he should be a solid contributor immediately. I caution Thunderbird fans with their expectations. I would fully expect Delnov to score some points and be a solid player but I think it would be unfair to expect him to be an immediate superstar and 95 point scorer. Give him some time to adjust to the American game and he should be just fine.  Seattle's other selection was Center Roberts Lipsbergs from Latvia. Lipsbergs should also be a solid player but will likely be more of a depth Center in his first season. He also wore the "A" for the Latvian team which would indicate some level of leadership qualities. Delnov  has plenty of size at 6'0" and 187 lbs and Lipsbergs is a tad on the small side at 5'10" and 176 lbs but he should be just fine.
  • Ah yes... the "big" trade. I may have waited until the end to get to this. Last week the Tbirds traded disgruntled (he had asked for a trade) forward Colin Jacobs to the Prince George Cougars in exchange for 19 year old defensemen Jesse Forsberg. This is a fantastic trade for the Thunderbirds. Jacobs, in my opinion, has been one of the most overrated and disappointing players in the last 10 seasons. A player with a pretty solid set of hands, Jacobs' skating speed and ability just never seemed to improve. He had trouble creating space and when you can't create space with your feet you have a hard time using your hand skills to create opportunities. There is a reason why Jacobs' had so much success on the Power Play during his 17 and 18 year old seasons.  In exchange for Jacobs, Seattle picks up a veteran defensemen in Jesse Forsberg (requested a trade) who was also the Captain of the Cougars last season.  The addition of Forsberg gives Seattle a pretty solid pairing of Deagle (should they keep him) and Forsberg... which would allow Shea Theodore to focus on doing what he does best... quarterback the power play and help put the puck in the net. The more defensive minutes that can get covered by Deagle, Forsberg and the other defensemen... the less pressure there will be on Theodore to play more than 20-25 minutes a night. Theodore is a blossoming talent but you have to be careful about putting too much pressure on a 17 year old to play like a 19 or 20 year old in this league.
  • The Training Camp schedule was released today and I have to admit that I don't really like it. Scrimmages on Thursday and Friday will be at 9am and 4:30pm making it pretty tough for working folk like myself to attend training camp. I'll adjust my schedule and find a way to attend a couple of the sessions.  Saturday will have a scrimmage at 3pm while Sunday will feature scrimmages at 9am and 4:30pm again.  Monday will be a full jersey wearing scrimmage at 5:30pm.
  • EDIT: Ah yes the Doty trade. How quickly I forget things. The Doty trade was another productive one by Russ even if Riley Sheen never plays (and I have a hunch he will). Doty was a fantastic kid and I have met his mother and they are wonderful people... but I think it was clear that Doty was having trouble developing enough foot speed to ever have an impact in this league beyond his tremendous fighting prowess (a skill that a poor/developing team doesn't have the luxury to carry). If he thinks he should be getting more of an opportunity... good for Russ for getting him out of here and giving him that chance while getting player who was a year younger and may develop into an offensive player.
This is going to be a pretty important season in the RE-development of this franchise. At some point they have to be able to turn the corner and win some games and I have a pretty good feeling that this is the season. Does that mean they are going to win the US Division... no... I don't think it will be. I think they still trail teams like Portland in overall talent. But they should be improved over last season and I think they have a pretty solid shot at getting back into the playoffs in the back end of the bracket. We should all get a clearer picture after training camp and some preseason games.

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