May 2nd, 2019, RED DEER, ALBERTA, CA
The Western Hockey League’s annual life changing event for teenagers across western Canada and the United States went off with only a couple of hitches (depending on which team you support). In all, the Seattle Thunderbirds made 13 total selections, and two trades, one was bigger than the other.
The morning had a certain excitement to it, with the uncertainty of projected first overall pick, Mathew Savoie, and what Kelowna had planned with the fifth overall selection, keep it, or move it for immediate help with them hosting next year’s Memorial Cup.
Seattle selected eighth overall, and picked center, Jordan Gustafson. Gustafson is praised by our friends over at Draft Geek (DraftGeek provided nearly all the insight, with in-depth scouting reports on the players in this recap) as the best two-way center in this year’s draft. A fast skater with high positional IQ, Gustafson projects to be a massive piece of Seattle’s future. He contributed 31 goals, 39 assists for 70 points this past season with the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers. That wasn’t all for Seattle in the first round, however.
Moments after the Gustafson selection, Seattle made a huge splash with one of the biggest trades of the morning. It was announced that the 2020 Memorial Cup host, Kelowna Rockets had acquired forward, Dillion Hamaliuk (2000), defenseman, Jake Lee (2001) and goaltender, Cole Schwebius (2001). In exchange, the Thunderbirds received forward, Conner Bruggen-Cate (1999) the 10th overall pick in 2019, a 2021 second round pick and a 2022 first round pick. There are certainly a lot of moving parts to this trade, and while it is difficult to see fan favorites move on, something that is clear in this trade, is that Seattle is committed to last year’s draft class and this year’s as comprising the next nucleus to hopefully lead Seattle back to the promised land. The future picks could be used on players, or as trade bait moving forward to add to the new core.
Seattle made their second pick of the first round when they selected Kevin Korchinski. Korchinski is a puck possession machine. Whether he his lugging the puck out of his own zone himself, or providing an outlet pass, he tends to make the right decisions. Already an offensive dynamo, he posted 47 points this season (10 G, 37 A) with Saskatoon Generals Bantam AA of the SBAAHL. Still young, he’ll need to learn to be more responsible in his own end, but that will come with time.
Seattle had two selections in the second round. First, they took Spencer Penner with the 29th overall pick. Penner, a product of Manitoba was described as a steady two-way defenseman with offensive and defensive upside. Spencer was over a point per game this past season with Eastman Selects Bantam AAA, amassing 40 (14 G, 26 A) points over 35 games. What he lacks in flash he more than makes up for in dependability and physicality; something any WHL executive and coach wants in a top four d-man. The second pick in the second round was an American product, Gabe Ludwig. Statistically, his sample size is small for last year having only played 11 games, but managed to put up 22 points (8 G, 14A). Fellow Dubnetwork contributor, Zach Moffat did see him play a handful of times but raved about his ability, not only with the puck but a motor and a compete level that was unmatched by his peers during those viewings. Something Seattle Thunderbirds fans have come to love with the likes of former players, Scott Eansor and Nolan Volcan.
The fourth round saw Seattle take Conner Gourley. His presences on the board so late in the draft has raised some eyebrows, but there is no intel on what caused him to fall out of the first round. Gourley is a big, smooth skating power-forward who has a high offensive IQ and is willing to play in the dirty areas of the ice. Conner was on offensive force this past season in the AMBHL with the Calgary Bisons Bantam AAA where he scored a league leading 75 points (36 G, 39 A) in 33 games played.
Seattle made one selection in each of the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively. In the fifth, Seattle selected defenseman, Cole Tanchuk. Cole is an all three zones d-man, who has shown an aptitude for adaptation on the fly. An offensive defenseman first, Tanchuk produced 34 points (9 G, 25 A) in 30 games played this season with the Prince Albert Pirates Bantam AAA of the SBAAHL. He will need to work on his defensive awareness next season if he wants to have success at the Major Junior level.
The sixth-round saw Seattle select Nico Myatovic who is an offensive minded forward and a skilled, fast skater. Nico has a knack for seeing the ice and being able to make difficult passes at high speeds, which makes him very hard to contain. The Prince George native was one of the best players selected out of non-academy teams in B.C.
The Thunderbirds made two selection in the seventh round. First, Seattle picked up forward, Kyle Grysiuk. The Manitoba native is viewed as an honest, hardworking, true power-winger, who does not shy away from net front battles to earn his scoring opportunities. He played this season with Rink Hockey Academy Bantam Prep behind a handful of higher ranked top prospects from this draft class, but produced a meaningful 24 points (13 G, 11 A) in 29 games. Next, Seattle selected forward, Mateo Mrsic. Mateo came into the season expected to be a force for Delta Green, but that reality never panned out. Mrsic took a step back in his development which sounds absurd because he still produced 29 points 11 G, 18 A) in 30 games, which certainly speaks to his overall potential as a scoring forward.
Seattle would make three selection in the eighth round. The first was forward Cruz Lucius. The Minnesota native played last season with the Gentry Academy 15U where he compiled an outstanding 40 points (9 G, 32 A) in only 13 games. His older brother was selected in the fourth round of the 2018 Bantam Draft by I-5 rival, Portland Winterhawks. Unfortunately, both are currently committed to the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, and while nothing is set in stone, they both seem firm in their commitments. Next, Seattle picked up d-man, Tyler Dodgson. An efficient defender with strong skating and gap control, Dodgson is as steady a defender as the draft had to offer. He also has a nose for the net, as he scored 17 goals and contributed 14 assists for 31 points over 34 games this season. A puck rusher by nature, he can make great passes to teammates who have more time and space. While not flashy, Dodgson plays to his strengths and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. The final section of the eighth round was forward, Jacob LIze of San Jose’, California. Lize is a north and south player who does not shy away from the physical side of the game. Over 30 games this past season, Jacob scored 21 times and added 10 assists.
Just before the start of the ninth round, Seattle GM, Bil La Forge made his second trade of day. After moving goaltender, Cole Schwebius to Kelowna, Seattle needed to restock that position. Seattle acquired Blake Lyda from the Everett Silvertips for a 2021 third round draft pick (this pick was originally Everett’s and was part of the Zack Andrusiak deadline deal). The final selection of the day came in the ninth round where Seattle would select Brodrick Williams, from Huntington Beach, California. Williams played last season with Shattuck-St. Mary’s Sabres 14U. Through 50 games, Williams chipped in 25 points (11 G, 14 A) while on the team’s top defensive pairing. A big bruising d-man, Williams plays a hard style that would endear himself to Seattle fans immediately.
Overall, Seattle enjoyed a very positive draft day. 13 selections of some very talented hockey players, who will get the opportunity to see the Thunderbirds program and learn more about the WHL development route. Although some fan favorites were moved, it appears for the betterment of the franchise and what is being built with the 2003 and now 2004 born players. La Forge and Thunderbirds got commitments from eight of nine drafted players last year, which provides a great deal of confidence that as many, or hopefully more will be excited about the path this team is on.