Seattle Thunderbirds General Manager Bil La Forge and his scouting group were busy Wednesday as they set to draft players during the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft. They sat in a good spot, for what is widely believed to be a deep draft, at seventh overall.
With a big trade during the all-remote draft, La Forge added a second-round pick, a fourth-round pick in the 2022 draft, and a conditional second-rounder in the 2024 draft.
To get those picks though, Seattle had to trade away an eighth-round pick in this draft and 2000-born goalie Roddy Ross.
Ross, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in last June’s NHL Draft, played in 49 games in 2019-20, posting a 20-21-4-3 record with a 3.17 GAA and 0.908 save percentage. He was originally listed by Seattle and signed midway through the 2018-19 campaign.
Of all the goalies in the WHL, only Swift Current’s Isaac Poulter and Prince George’s Taylor Gauthier faced more shots then Ross.
“It’s never an easy decision to trade a goalie like Roddy Ross. He’s done really good things for us over the years. We just feel that with the young depth and potential we have in net, we wanted to move forward with Thomas and Blake and it’s time now to give them the net,” La Forge relayed about the tough decision.
Losing Ross off the roster not only leaves Seattle with three 2020-21 overage players that played for them last season in forward Keltie Jeri-Leon and defensemen Owen Williams and Hunter Donohoe (only played nine games for Seattle before going to the BCHL), it leaves 2002-born Blake Lyda and 2003-born Thomas Milic as their only signed goalies.
In the draft, Seattle used their first-round pick on center Sam Oremba from the Regina Monarchs. The 5-foot-10, 155-pound Oremba compiled 133 points in just 31 games in the SBAAL and even notched three points in five games playing up a level in the SMAAAL.
“We were ecstatic to get him there. He’s a guy that we had identified – especially in the last three weeks to a month. We were honing in on our list. He’s a guy that we thought we would be lucky if he was there and we felt really fortunate that we were able to acquire him at number seven,” La Forge said.
DUBNetwork Scouting Director Zach Moffatt had this to say about Oremba
“A top-level thinker on the ice, Oremba drives the play and makes his teammates better. A competent two-way player who produced at an exceptionally high level this season. While some may argue his output was in AA, his showing in Midget proved he was just as capable of producing against older players. Just another of the many reasons this draft is so highly touted.”
Next up the Thunderbirds used the 29th overall pick on Roblin, Manitoba native Brayden Dube. Like Oremba, Dube piled up points in his league – the B1AAA. He had 130 points in just 36 games for the Parkland Rangers.
“Much like Sam, he’s an offensive powerhouse. He plays the game hard and pays the right way. He really can state and has a nose for the net. With those top two picks, we got guys that broke scoring records in their respective provinces and that is something that we really want to add to our team – a little bit of offensive finish and flash and I think we did that with those two picks,” La Forge relayed.
Moffatt had glowing praise for Dube as well.
“An offensive threat that blends creative playmaking, elite goal-scoring ability, and top-end speed. Dube’s points-per-game of 3.61 in the WPBAA are the highest since Nolan Patrick’s 3.95 in 2012/13 and are better than other former WHL stars Stelio Mattheos and Cody Glass. Dube is very difficult for defenders to contain given the many ways he can beat them.”
With the second-round pick they got from Regina as part of the Ross trade, they fittingly took a netminder – Scott Ratzlaff of the Lloydminster Bobcats. Ratzlaff had a 2.41 GAA and 0.899 save percentage and a 9-5 record in 17 games in the BAAA. He was the first goalie taken in the draft.
“We had him ranked as our first goalie and when the pick came up we decided that we wanted to go in that direction,” La Forge said.
For their first defenseman taken, the T-Birds used the 63rd pick went to the Yale Hockey Academy, and grabbed Sawyer Mynio. The Kamloops native had 23 points in 23 games with Yale.
“He’s a good all-around defenseman. He makes a good first pass. He’s confident with the puck and we think he’s going to be able to get the puck up to our skilled forwards in the future. Another guy that we had really high,” said La Forge.
In the fourth round, 69th overall Seattle took right-wing Karson Blanchette of the West Central Wheat Kings. Blanchette posted 48 points in 26 games in the BAA. La Forge was happy to draft Blanchette.
“He’s a good skating forward. He has a lot of size and put up some good numbers in that league. He isn’t an easy guy to play against. He has some offensive potential and we like the way he moves and he plays the game the right way.”
An interesting note in Seattle’s draft is how often they went to the Spruce Grove Saints of the HSL. They selected forward Coster Dunn, 139th, forward Cade Meiklejohn 183rd, forward Ethan Kronewitt 205th and right-shot defenseman Daymiene Peel 227th.
“It’s a program we are really familiar with. We felt comfortable getting guys from there. With our skills coordinator Steven Goertzen living out there, it’s an opportunity for him to work with them on a consistent basis. We really feel that the HSL was a league that is undervalued and we were able to acquire players that probably would have been selected earlier with those picks.”
Seattle also took d-man Ethan Mittelsteadt in the fifth round, 95th overall, forward Reeve Sukut 99th and goalie Luke Roberts 249th.
“We look for guys with speed, skill, and strength, but we also look for guys that play the game the way we want to see it played. I think we did a good job of acquiring players that are going to be able to wear our jersey in the future.”
With eight players signed from the 2003 age group and four already signed from the 2004 group, Seattle added 13, 2005-born players who will be hoping to be signed as well.
There is a whole lot to like from this this group according to scouts, just like the two drafts before. The future looks bright for the Thunderbirds.