NHL camps have started so we thought we would go around the boards to hear what story lines each of our NHL to Seattle team members will be focused on throughout the preseason.
The WHL Impacts
by Andy Eide
The NHL preseason gets going in a week and four teams have decisions to make that will impact the Northwest’s WHL clubs.
Both the Seattle Thunderbirds and Everett Silvertips will be watching the action with interest, as two of their 20-year-olds may not be returning. For Seattle’s Matthew Wedman and Everett’s Wyatte Wylie, the next month could be life-changing.
Wylie will be attending his second camp with the Philadelphia Flyers after being selected in the fifth round of the 2018 draft. The Everett native has not signed a contract with Philadelphia yet, but when he was a guest on the Sound of Hockey Podcast, he talked about going to camp with the mission of landing a contract.
Cracking the Flyers NHL roster doesn’t feel realistic at this point, but, if he turns a good showing at camp and in preseason games, an entry-level contract and a spot in the American Hockey League is a strong possibility.
Wylie is coming off his best year in the WHL. In 67 games last season, the defenseman scored 11 goals, 36 assists, for 47 points with the Silvertips. His development path appears to best be served in the AHL but that decision will be up to the Flyers.
Like Wylie, Wedman is eligible to play in the AHL this year.
The Florida Panthers took the 6-foot-4 center in the seventh round of June’s draft after he turned in a career-best, 40-goal campaign for the Thunderbirds. Wedman has NHL size, is physical, wins faceoffs and will most likely be Seattle’s captain, if he returns. He was passed over in the draft twice before and Florida may choose to send him back to the WHL for a ‘prove it’ season. That would benefit Seattle as they are going to have a young team and could use Wedman’s veteran presence at the top of the lineup.
In Spokane, the Ty Smith watch is on for the Chiefs.
The New Jersey Devils first-rounder in 2018 got a long look in camp last year with the Devils and could land himself in the NHL at 19-years-old. Unlike Wylie and Wedman, his options are the NHL or the WHL as he is too young to play in the AHL. If he comes back, the Chiefs become the favorites to win the U.S. Division.
Smith is coming off a monster year in Spokane that saw him score seven goals while adding 62 assists in 57 games. The defenseman quarterbacked the Spokane power play, has speed, and the vision that makes him attractive to the NHL.
New Jersey made a big splash this off-season by signing P.K. Subban to bolster its defensive corps. Does that have an impact on what happens with Smith? Training camp and the preseason will give us a glimpse but don’t be surprised if Smith starts the season in the NHL.
A similar situation is brewing in Denver with the Avalanche’s first-round pick from June, Bowen Byram.
The Vancouver Giants defenseman was selected with the fourth pick overall and
Colorado’s decision with him could swing the balance of power in the WHL. Byram was the league’s best defenseman last year, scoring 26 goals in the regular season before leading the league in scoring for the playoffs as he led the Giants to overtime of Game 7 in the Championship Series.
Vancouver would lose that overtime game to the Prince Albert Raiders but return most of the lineup that got there.
Colorado is on the verge of being a great team and Byram could add to an already talented blue line that features young players like Samuel Girard and Cale Makar. Do they want to add an 18-year-old Byram to that mix, on a team that could compete for a Stanley Cup?
Byram will get a look in the preseason to prove he’s NHL ready but if Colorado determines that one more year of seasoning in Junior is best for his development, he turns the Vancouver Giants into WHL Championship contenders.
The NHL preseason is always a time of nail-biting for teams in the WHL and this September will be no different.
by Darren Brown
Oh, thank goodness, we’re back to writing/talking about actual hockey and imagining what will happen when said hockey commences in a few weeks. Phew!
There’s one huge elephant in the room that I’ll be keeping an eye on during this training camp season, and that is the unsigned restricted free agents from around the NHL. This year’s class of unsigned RFA’s is absurdly talented, and the sheer volume of outstanding young players that have yet to re-sign is staggering, considering how close we are to camps opening. As of the writing of this story, the following players have not yet signed contracts with their respective teams:
Kyle Connor – Winnipeg Jets
Patrik Laine – Winnipeg Jets
Matthew Tkachuk – Calgary Flames
Brock Boeser – Vancouver Canucks
Zach Werenski – Columbus Blue Jackets
Charlie McAvoy – Boston Bruins
Ivan Provorov – Philadelphia Flyers
Mikko Rantanen – Colorado Avalanche
Mitch Marner – Toronto Maple Leafs
Brayden Point – Tampa Bay Lightning
That’s… a LOT… of really good players, and that’s not even the entire list.
At first glance, it’s hard to fully understand how it could be the case that so many talented young players would want this kind of ongoing distraction entering the season. In the past, it was just assumed that players leaving their entry level deals would sign team-friendly contracts, avoid drama, and go along their merry way. The first contract after the ELC would be a nice raise, sure, but the whole point for the players was to set themselves up for unrestricted free agency down the line, when the real big tickets would get signed.
But the game is now younger and faster than it has ever been, and guys coming off of their ELC’s no longer have to be playing in depth roles. These are now the guys that make their teams tick. The players know it, the agents know it, and the teams know it, and for that reason, the Werenski’s, Laine’s, and Marner’s of the world are no longer taking hometown discounts just because they are RFA’s and don’t have the leverage of signing with another club. Instead, they’re utilizing the only leverage they have by simply waiting it out to put pressure on the organizations that own their rights.
If you recall last season, William Nylander garnered a ton of attention in the hockey world by holding out on Kyle Dubas and the Maple Leafs all the way until the December 1st deadline, after which he would not have been eligible to play in the NHL for the entirety of the campaign. It worked out financially for Nylander in the end, as the embattled forward ultimately landed a six-year deal worth $6.9 million annually, but one has to wonder what kind of damage the standoff did to his season, as he ended up notching just seven goals in 54 games.
While I don’t expect all of the aforementioned players to hold out that long, it is feasible to imagine a world in which at least a few of these guys – many of them cornerstone pieces of their franchises – are not in their teams’ training camps and could even miss some regular season games.
Has your favorite young player signed yet?
The Next Ones in Anaheim
by John Barr
I do not have a deep knowledge of the Anaheim Ducks prospect pool, but there are a few guys in their system that I’ve had my eye on for a while. Sam Steel, Troy Terry, and Maxime Comtois are three names I have been tracking since their amateur days.
Sam Steel played for the Regina Pats when they met the Seattle Thunderbirds in the 2017 WHL Final. Steel stood out as an elite talent in those playoffs with 23 points in 30 games. The following season Steel played in the World Juniors where he stood out again with 9 points in 7 games. Last season he got to play in 22 NHL games and had 11 points. He is pretty much a lock to make the Ducks this year, but I am still interested to see how he looks this preseason and who he is lined up with in the Ducks lineup.
Sam Steel (@ssteel23).
Get to know this name, folks. pic.twitter.com/IoprCqt26h
— NHL (@NHL) March 27, 2019
I first noticed Troy Terry in January 2017 when playing for the US he went 3 for 3 in the shootout of the semi-final game of the World Junior Championship that sent the US team to the gold medal game. The United States went on to win that game where Terry once again scored a shootout winner. He ended that tournament with 7 points in 7 games. Later that season he would be a noticeable contributor during Denver University’s National Championship run. Terry had 34 games in the NHL last season with 13 points and when he was in the AHL, he scored 41 points in 41 games. Terry is probably another lock to stick with the Ducks this year.
Comtois is the youngest of the three Ducks on my radar and is by no means a shoo-in to make the team this year. He was a significant presence for Canada in the last 2 World Juniors where he averaged a point per game over both of those two tournaments. Comtois scores at whatever level he plays. He had 42 goals in 41 games for Drumminville in the QMJHL last year, 10 points in 15 games with the San Diego Gulls (the Ducks AHL affiliate), and managed 7 points in 10 games in his brief stint with the NHL.
— San Diego Gulls (@SDGullsAHL) May 18, 2019
Centers with local ties in San Jose
by John Barr
Former Seattle Thunderbird, Alexander True, and Bonney Lake native, Dylan Gambrell, had great years in the Sharks’ AHL affiliate last year as the top 2 centers for the San Jose Barracuda. Both are expected in the NHL someday, and with the Sharks’ re-signing of Joe Thornton makes the center position pretty crowded. Both True and Gambrell are probably ready for the NHL. That said, I just I can’t imagine the Sharks will bring either of them up to sit in the press box on game days. Moving True or Gambrell to wing might be an option, however, neither of them seen much work at wing since their Junior and College days respectfully. I am rooting for both of them, but hard to see a scenario where both of them make the NHL team this year. It should be really interesting to see how both of them perform and how they are utilized throughout the preseason.