It's time for the wave of 1997-born players to impress.
While Connor McDavid was in Sochi leading Canada to its first IIHF U-18 Championship since 2008, Mathew Barzal was presumably watching from home. The Burnaby, BC native and 1st overall choice of the 2012 Western Hockey League Bantam Draft signed with the Seattle Thunderbirds Wednesday afternoon.
The Seattle Thunderbirds are pleased to announce center Mathew Barzal, the first overall pick in the 2012 Bantam Draft, has signed a WHL Standard Player Agreement with the team. The announcement of Barzal’s signing was made by Western Hockey League Commissioner Ron Robison at the WHL Awards Luncheon today at the Deerfoot Inn in Calgary, Alberta.
“We are extremely excited to have Mathew signed and committed to play with our team,” said T-Birds general manager Russ Farwell from the Awards Luncheon in Calgary. “Mathew has proven to be the most elite player in his age group in Western Canada and he has both the personal drive to be a pro and the ability to make everyone he plays with better. Having Mathew on our team will be exciting for our fans, team and everyone involved with our organization.”
“I am really excited to join the T-Birds,” said Barzal from the Awards Luncheon in Calgary. “I am looking forward to the season next year. I was down in Seattle this past season to practice with the team and I was able to attend a playoff game. I had a chance to meet a lot of the guys on the team when I was in Seattle. They made me feel welcome and they were all great guys. I am looking forward to playing with them next season and I hope to contribute to a winning season."
Unlike McDavid, Barzal is not yet known to a national audience. He had just one appearance on TV, the 2012 All-State All-Canadian Mentorship Cup, where him and McDavid went head-to-head on opposing teams and were named our first and second stars of the event (future OHL No. 1 pick Travis Konecny was our third star). McDavid's star has grown playing in the Ontario Hockey League under exceptional status. Barzal spent the year with the Vancouver Northeast Chiefs of the BC Major Midget League.
He led the league in scoring with 103 points in just 34 games, on a team that had six players selected in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft (goaltender Nick McBride was selected first pick in the second round by Prince Albert). Barzal is considered to be one of the top players of the 1997 age group that is sure to be headlined by McDavid two years from now.
The talent is there, as are the numbers against players a year or two older in midget this past season. The next step is carving out a name down south in Seattle, a town that is overshadowed in the American Division by the behemoth Portland Winterhawks on the heels of their third straight WHL Finals appearance and the allure of their own young stars Nic Petan, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Seth Jones.
But for the Thunderbirds this is one of the puzzle pieces. The next name to land is Ryan Gropp, the Penticton Vees' Rookie of the Year this past season who was selected 6th overall in 2011. The Kamloops, BC-native is so far uncommitted to the WHL and his future in junior hockey appears to be up in the air at this point.