By Tim Pigulski
It's amazing what a hot start can lead to. In a very surprising move, Ryan Gropp has de-committed from the University of North Dakota and will indeed be joining the Seattle Thunderbirds, who currently hold the WHL lead in points with 16 in eight games played.
After the signing of big-named Mathew Barzal this summer, it was thought that Gropp, a good friend of Barzal's, might be more inclined to join the team that drafted him sixth overall in 2011. That didn't appear to be the case, as Gropp announced his commitment to North Dakota in July, just a couple short months after news broke of Barzal's signing.
Gropp has the tools to be an impact player right away in the WHL. Standing 6 feet 2, he's got impressive size and speed for a recently-turned 17-year-old and was one of only three non-CHL players invited to Team Canada's U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament tryout camp. Gropp eventually did not make the team, which came as a surprise to many. To date, the Kamloops, British Columbia native has eight points in 10 games for the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League, playing with and against some players who are three years older than he is.
Fortunes appear to be changing in a big way for the T-Birds, as their current five-game winning streak is their longest since February of 2008 and two of the biggest sticking points for the team over the past few years, the delayed commitments of Gropp and Barzal, have now been resolved.
In what is a good problem to have, the T-Birds will soon be forced to juggle a group of lines that have been having a great deal of success. Seattle is tied for the highest number of goals in the Western Conference with 42, averaging an impressive 4.2 per game. Gropp will likely begin with the team on a lower line, but after a short adjustment period will be counted on more heavily to provide an offensive boost to a team that isn't necessarily in need of one.
Head coach Steve Konowalchuk has expressed his excitement with the amount of young talent the Thunderbirds currently field, and this will certainly add to that. On a team stacked with 19-year-olds, adding another 17-year-old will prepare Seattle for a longer period of sustained success. Gropp, Barzal, Keegan Kolesar, Scott Eansor, Ethan Bear, Michal Holub, and a host of other young players will make this an exciting team to watch for the next few seasons and beyond.
In spite of all of the factors that seemed to be working in the favor of the T-Birds, it always seemed like a stretch that Gropp, whose father played in the NCAA, would take the leap to the WHL. Therefore, Tuesday's announcement still came as a big surprise, but one that the T-Birds surely will welcome with open arms.
Check back later today for more coverage of this breaking story.
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