Defenseman Kevin Korchinski is one of several key players who could help the Seattle Thunderbirds to another Western Hockey League playoff run. COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Brian Liesse, Seattle Thunderbirds

Defenseman Kevin Korchinski is one of several key players who could help the Seattle Thunderbirds to another Western Hockey League playoff run. COURTESY FILE PHOTO, Brian Liesse, Seattle Thunderbirds

High expectations for Seattle Thunderbirds in Western Hockey League

Kent-based team features three players taken in the 2022 NHL Draft; two picked in first round

The expectations are high this Western Hockey League (WHL) season for the Kent-based Seattle Thunderbirds.

The T-Birds, who open the season Friday night, Sept. 23 against the Vancouver Giants in Langley, British Columbia, won the WHL Western Conference title in 2022 and received the No. 3 preseason ranking in the 60-team Canadian Hockey League (CHL).

The T-Birds play the second game of the season in their home opener at 6:05 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1 against Vancouver at the accesso ShoWare Center. Tickets are $50 for glass, $48 for club, $35 for center ice, $30 for north end or south end and $2o for north zone. Get tickets at tickets.seattlethunderbirds.com.

“We feel like we return a good group of players, lots of depth and talent up front and our goaltending’s obviously very solid,” said Seattle Coach Matt O’Dette in a YouTube interview. “Those two areas will be strengths of ours. Our defense is a little bit on the younger side but we feel there is an abundance of talent and lot of upside there led by Kevin Korchinski.”

Korchinski, 18, is one of three Seattle players selected in the 2022 NHL Draft. The defenseman had 61 assists and 65 points in the 2021-2022 WHL regular season and was the first WHL player chosen in the draft when the Chicago Blackhawks took him in the first round, seventh overall.

Forward Reid Schaefer, 19, was taken in the first round, 32nd overall, by the Edmonton Oilers. He had 32 goals, 26 assists and 58 points last season.

Forward Jared Davidson, 20, went in the fifth round of the draft to the Montreal Canadiens. He led the T-Birds with 89 points on 42 goals and 47 assists.

Seattle strengthened its offense earlier this month when it traded for forward Kyle Crnkovic, 20, of the Saskatoon Blades in exchange for Dallas Stars prospect Conner Roulette. Crnkovic finished fifth in scoring last season in the WHL with 94 points.

“The Seattle Thunderbirds enjoyed a remarkable run to the WHL Championship series in 2022, overcoming a pair of series deficits to win their third Western Conference title in the past six years,” according to whl.ca in its preseason report. “This year, the expectation is to build upon last season’s success, and despite some high-profile departures over the summer the Thunderbirds are poised to be a difficult opponent in the Western Conference once again this season.

“The Puget Sound is enveloped in the midst of a hockey renaissance; the Thunderbirds are eager to spread their wings and retain their place right in the thick of the action.”

The No. 1 Winnipeg ICE and No. 2 Quebec Remparts were the only junior hockey teams ranked above the T-Birds in the Sept. 20 Kia CHL Top 10 Rankings preseason edition for the 2022-2023 season.

Other players to watch for the T-Birds include the formidable tandem of Thomas Milic and Scott Ratzlaff in goal, according to whl.ca. Ratzlaff, 17, of Irma, Alberta. went 17-2-1-0 as a 16-year-old with the T-Birds a season ago and is a recent gold medalist with Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, where he played the lion’s share of the minutes in goal, according to whl.ca. He is a 2023 NHL Draft prospect.

Another draft prospect is forward Gracyn Sawchyn, 17. He led Seattle in scoring during the pre-season after joining the T-Birds from the U.S. National Team Development Program in the United States Hockey League.

Key players who are not back this season include Roulette (66 points), Henrik Rybinski (65 points) and Lukas Svejkovsky (76 points).


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