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Hockey Challenge 2014

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8.27.2014

Blue/White/Camp Thoughts

"Training Camp" wrapped up Monday with the annual Blue/White scrimmage where Team White took down Team Blue 4-2. It's always exciting to see some hockey again but I also think fans and bloggers alike tend to get a little too worked up over a few scrimmage sets. The fact is, these kids are only showing what they have over a very small set of days and I would hate to think that decisions of any large scale magnitude are being made based on a few days over, say, an entire season(s) worth of a players history.

That said... here are a few thoughts I had from watching the Blue/White game and one of the scrimmages.

  • The issue on Brandon Schuldhaus has been answered as he tweeted that he was returning home to Minnesota. I'm really not surprised by this one bit and I wholeheartedly agree with Jon's post yesterday regarding what I would have done if I were Schuldhaus. Absolutely no point in risking your eligibility to possibly sit in the stands for 30+ games when you could go back to one of the top prep programs in the country and be ready to possibly take hold of a top 4-5 defensive spot on the team next year.  I did like what I saw from Schuldhaus in his time here. He has a very good hard shot, has good size and skates pretty well despite the fact that he hunches over just a tad bit. As his legs get stronger I imagine coaching staffs/skating coaches will encourage him to stand up a little taller and get a little more out of his stride. Nothing major... nit picking. It's always nicer to get players in the fold right away but it just doesn't always work out for the player to do that and I can't blame him for choosing to play it safe and head back home this season (full disclaimer... the team *could* have sent him home as well. I'm just guessing that all things considered they would have kept him.)
  • I bet Equipment Manager Ben Calkins was the happiest of all the campers having to put name bars on all of those jerseys knowing half of them are probably headed home the next day. Fans and this blogger sure do appreciate not having to look down at our rosters every 30 seconds to see "who was that".
  • Most unheralded player I liked? 15 year old Jared Pelechaty (spelled Pelechatty on his jersey I think... can anyone confirm?) A smaller defender at just 5'8" had some really good moments during camp concluding in a nice defensive stop on a Shea Theodore rush. There are dozens of WHL defenders who can attest that stopping Shea Theodore on a rush is no easy task. I have no idea whether Seattle has listed him or if he was just a camp invite but I would have to think Seattle will get him on their list (at least I hope they do!)
  • The most obvious observation (stop me if you've heard this already) is that Barzal, Gropp and Hickman looked good. Yes, they did. I think they're going to have a monster year. Hickman scored twice Monday and Barzal is, well, Barzal. So let me take a second to point out just how good I think Gropp is going to be this year. Last season saw 6 players who were 17 years old score more than 30 goals. I think Gropp can easily pot 30 and could even threaten 40 with a little bit of luck. I think Hickman will join him as well with a chance to hit 35 as well. That puts Barzal somewhere in the neighborhood of 60-65 assists... and... yup that seems about right. Sam Reinhart had 69 last year as a 17 year old and Brayden Point has 55. Seems reasonable to put him somewhere between the two.
  • Kevin Wolf did not stand out very much to me and I would have to agree with some of the comments that I can't really envision him getting very much ice time this year. That would seem to open the door for another team to give him a shot and perhaps Farwell trades him to a team willing to give him some ice time for a younger project defender or an older role playing forward?
  • We now know that Nick Holowko has signed an education contract with the Tbirds and that would seem to indicate that he has made the team. I liked his game a lot last year during training camp and while I didn't think he stood out as much this year I certainly like his selection to the team.
  • Wyatt Bear was one of the few 15 year old players I was really interested in seeing in person, mainly because his twitter talks about almost nothing but working out with a little hockey sprinkled in. Kids like this have to be really interesting to the team because if he is actually working out as hard as it appears that he is... chances are he is going to maximize the talent that he has. I can't guarantee he'll have a WHL career but I do know that he was one of the few 15's to make it to the Blue/White game and he seemed to be involved in goals nearly each scrimmage day. I'm really interested to see how his game develops.
  • Luke Osterman looks like an agitator type at forward but I'm not 100% sure he has signed. I haven't seen any indication that he has left town, so that will have to wait for Friday (or tomorrow if they release their roster).
  • I didn't think any of the goalies really separated themselves over the two days that I saw and in light of that I'm still sticking to my prediction that Kozun stays and one of Mumaugh or Flodell probably gets traded and that is likely to be Mumuagh.
  • As for the other 20's, I think the jury is still out. I thought Adam Henry and Sam Mckechnie were both trying a little bit too hard and Evan Wardley didn't participate. Your guess is as good as mine. If Osterman is a foward and makes the team, I think this team is short one defender and the likely means Wardley/Henry.
  • I didn't see a lot from Michael Sauer. If you're fighting for a spot on the team I would have liked to see a little bit more obvious fire.
  • Hauf looks like he wants to hit everything that moves but I'm not really going to be super impressed by that until I see him do it against older players.

So where do I see it right this minute (knowing this could change real quick based on the roster coming out literally any minute now)

Forwards: 14

Justin Hickman (20)
Ryan Gropp (18)
Scott Eansor (18)
Calvin Spencer (18)
Mathew Barzal (17)
Florian Baltram (17)
Alexander True (17)
Keegan Kolesar (17)
Lane Pederson (17)
Nick Holowko (17)
Donovan Nuels (17)*
Luke Osterman (17)*
Nolan Volcan (16)
Kaden Elder (16)

Defense: 7

Evan Wardley/Adam Henry (20)
Shea Theodore (19)
Jaret Smith (19)
Jared Hauf (19)
Kevin Wolf (18)
Ethan Bear (17)
Sahvan Khaira (16)

Goalies: 3

Taran Kozun (20)
Danny Mumaugh (18)
Logan Flodell (17)

*- Not convinced that Nuels makes it and we don't know the status on Osterman yet. If Osterman leaves without signing I would expect Nuels to make it and even if he IS around Nuels still might make it if they want to carry 14 forwards. I also think there are WAY too many 17's in here for my liking and especially up front and as such I would not be surprised to maybe see a goalie packaged with one of them for an 18 or 19 year old forward.

I really feel like this team could be on the cusp of something really special, if not this year, certainly next year. But, I don't currently have a lot of faith in this forward group at the moment. You are counting on getting a lot of production out of guys who have yet to show it. That doesn't mean they can't or that they won't... it just means you're hoping on a lot of "IF's". I'd love to see that group solidified a little bit with another veteran forward to push everyone down the depth chart a notch and round out the whole unit.

14 comments :

Anonymous said...

Tyler,

What did you think of True and Baltram? It was tough for me to get a read on either of them.

Thunnex said...

True looks like his has good skill but he's very thin, so I'm kind of reserving judgment until I see what he can do against bigger and older players. I have a feeling that he might have a tough time with puck protected.

Baltram can really skate... but I couldn't get a read on much more than that.

So overall, I was encouraged by both of them but I think there is going to be a learning curve for sure.

Anonymous said...

ive said all offseason that I truly think Tbirds will be a real young team that will finish in the top 5 in the West this year. They will by no means win the championship or anything but they will make playoff and maybe win 1 round at the most. They are an extremely young team and this seasons experience and the fact that Barzal/Gropp/Bear could be 1st round NHL picks, will make the 2015/16 version of the Tbirds a extremely good team that will push for a title. If the Euros turn out good and the other 17 year olds play well this season, like I said next season will be their year.
This season they will be extremely exciting team and score a lot of goals but on the flip side, due to how young they are, they will have a lot of those off games. I am extremely excited to see Seattle play this season and build all the experience.
They need to desperately get Dante Fabbro to join the team at somepoint this year(like how Gropp did last year). Him and Khaira would be unbelievable to have in 2015

Tyler Smith said...

For the most part I agree with you... But I'm going to go out on a limb to say that while they are by no means the favorite to win the championship (and I have also been saying all off-season that next season is going to be our real push), as things stand right now I'm thinking top 4 in the conference with a decent chance of at least making the Conference Finals.

I say this for a number of reasons...

1) While we are looking at losing 10 - 11 players from last season, almost all of them are forwards. YES, this might hamper our total goal output, but based on the stats from last season, I am less concerned with goals scored and more concerned with goals against. Last season we gave up 249 goals, the most of any team to make the playoffs in the Western conference. While keeping stats last season, I got interested in looking at what our record would have been if every period we gave up 3 or more goals was reduced to 0, and we would have had a record of 49-13-2-4-4 good for 108 pts (the extra 4 at the end represents the minimum of 4 additional points we would have gotten for games that would have gone into OT but didn't) which was 20 points more than we ended up with. Now I understand no team is going to get through the entire season without giving up 3 or more goals in a single period at least a few times, but in 216 total regulation periods that Seattle played last year, this happened in 25 periods or 11% of the time. Overall it happened at least once in 20 games or 27% of the season. To me that is way too high (especially considering the fact that our record was 4-16-0-0 when we gave up 3 or more goals in one or more periods (and 2 wins were OTW's) and our record was 39-9-1-3 when we didn't give up 3 or more goals in a period). Basically this is a long winded and stat driven way to say that with our older and stronger defensive core, along with Khaira who can replace Wolf, I expect to see all these numbers go down.

2) Although we are probably going to see a decline in goals score as well (but how much remains to be seen), I don't believe this is going to be as big of a problem as some people think it will be. First because of the reason I stated above (when you give up fewer goals, you don't need to score as many to still be successful... Look at the Seahawks), but second because I think the offence is going to have much higher puck possession numbers. Yes last season we scored the most goals as a team since the 07-08 season, but we still spent a lot of time in our own zone. Based on the players we have returning and the new players coming in, I expect to see a lot more time in the offensive zone this season. We all know what Barzal and Gropp bring to the table in terms of their hands, but I also expect to see an improvement in both Ensor's and Kolesar's game in this area as well... And while I have not seen True or Baltram play yet, based on what I have read about them (and paired with the fact that they are both Euro's), I'm assuming they both have good hands for 17 year old's as well (especially Baltram who we most certainly didn't draft for his size (5'10") or at least compared to most other players we have drafted). Pair that with an increased ability for us to get the puck out of our defensive zone (which I think has been a thorn in the T-Birds side for a number of years) and I think we are good to go.

Tyler Smith said...

3) Lastly, and in my opinion probably the most important part, the US Division is not going to look the same as they did last year. Now I'm no expert on any or all of the other teams, but I do think I know more about them than your "casual" fan (but if anyone wants to disagree on any of these points, please do so):
1) Spokane is currently struggling to find decent players and with the loss of Holmberg and Aviani I think they are in some serious trouble.
2) Tri-City will almost certainly be better than last year, but considering where they ended up, I would be hard pressed to see them competing for the Division Championship (though stranger things have happened).
3) Portland will still be good this year... I think this is the last year before they finally (HOPEFULLY) fall off their "power trip", but they still are likely to lose a combined 264 points in Brendan Leipsic, Taylor Leier, Mathew Dumba, and Derrick Pouliot, who should all be playing in the AHL this season... And pair this with a lack of team chemistry with their new coach; things might get tougher for them than people think.
4) Everett always seems to be the wild card... Yes they haven't been much better or much worse than Seattle over the last few seasons, but they always seem to win when they are expected to lose and lose when they are expected to win.... And with Constantine working on his second season back as coach, things could get interesting.

I am by no means saying Seattle is going to run away with the Division or that they will even win it... But I think if Seattle can set themselves up to be at least in the top 2 of the division (if not number 1), things could get really interesting come playoff time... But it all comes down to one thing... Consistency.

Anonymous said...

Portland probably finishes atop the division and possibly the conference. No way do they match last years totals. I think the US division looks like this:
Portland
Seattle
Everett
Trip City
Spokane

BC looks like this:
Kelowna
Victoria
Vancouver
Prince George
Kamloops

So basically the same as last year except maybe Vancouver or PG surprises us. Kamloops could too for that matter. I don't think the BC division will be as bad this year, but overall I think the western conference is done being the powerhouse it has been in recent years due to Portland's inevitable decline.

Anonymous said...

Hard to call the Western Conference the league's powerhouse when over the recent past the Eastern Conference has won 4 of the last 5 WHL titles.

Anonymous said...

What are your thoughts on what you have seen on Lane Pederson and if he will make the team or not?

Thunnex said...

Anon 8:50 - I do think you can pretty easily say the Western Conference has been tougher even if the East has one the WHL Finals 4 out of 5 years. One team in the East being better than one team in the West doesn't really cancel out the pile of data we have that would suggest that the West has been the stronger and deeper conference top to bottom.

Anon 12:18 - Pederson definitely makes the team. Hasn't flashed enough for me to really get a good feel of his game yet. So I'm going to punt on this for now.

Anonymous said...

Is there any concern that this team might become a one-scoring-line team? Gropp, Hickman and Barzal together sure looks potent, but what do we do for a second scoring line?

Anonymous said...

that is a HUGE concern as of now. No set secondary scoring. Top dmen and shutdown lines will be all over Gropp/Barzal/Hickman and we just have to hope guys like True,Kolesar,Baltram,Pederson etc etc can find a scoring touch. If I was Russ I would definitely try to trade for a scoring 19 year old. Maybe on a team that is in rebuild mode...ex. maybe someone like Cole Ully in Kamloops maybe?.. Im sure he will be in Dallas organization after this season so he may be a good guy to trade for this year.

Anonymous said...

And there is the best argument against hickman-barzal-gropp forming a permanent line. With how much kono changed lines last year I don't think we will see those guys together all the time. Also, we do need secondary scoring but at least to start the year I think Russ will try to make that happen from within. There are a lot of guys on this roster that look like they could score if given the chance. We probably will trade a 17 for a 19 at some point but I bet the 19 we get is more of a shut down guy. Having said that I am most definitely in favor of us picking up a guy like Cole ully, I just don't think its gonna happen.

Anonymous said...

A huge x-factor in that discussion has to be Scott Eansor.. After a slow regular season, he busted out with 4 goals in 9 playoff games. He could make a big difference when determining what we have in those other lines. That, and we don't really know what we have in the Euros just yet.. But this team really needs to trade defense for a good offensive game changer.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't able to get to any of the pre-season games in Everett. Anyone have any opinions to offer about what they saw?

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