The Seattle Thunderbirds received some disappointing news earlier this week when highly-touted defensive prospect Dante Fabbro elected to retain his college eligibility, at least for the time being, by committing to the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League.
While Fabbro's decision is by no means permanent - Ryan Gropp left the Vees early last season to join Seattle - the Thunderbirds now have to move forward, at least for this season, with the expectation that he won't be a part of the roster.
Fabbro, selected eighth overall in last year's WHL Bantam Draft, is an elite offensive defenseman, made evident by the fact that he led all British Columbia Major Midget League blueliners in scoring last season, when he had 61 points in 38 games, including 22 goals. When he was drafted, it appeared that Fabbro was the heir apparent to Shea Theodore as the team's top powerplay quarterback.
Prior to last season, Fabbro attended training camp with the T-Birds. At just 15 years old, his skating was already comparable to players much older than him and he never seemed uncomfortable despite playing with players who already had years of WHL experience.
With Fabbro out of the picture, the T-Birds' defensive corps will surely look different than expected. Theodore, Jerret Smith, Jared Hauf, Ethan Bear, and Kevin Wolf will all be 19 years old or younger and remain on the roster. Fabbro, HockeyNow's 2013 Minor Hockey Player of the Year, was expected to jump in as a 16-year-old and, with his impressive skill set, face only a short adjustment period.
There are a number of ways the team could move forward. They could start by keeping either Adam Henry or Evan Wardley, both of whom will be playing their final WHL season. Henry, who had 38 points in 64 games last season, is more offensively gifted than Wardley, but Wardley is a bigger physical presence.
It's also possible that Fabbro could be replaced by someone else in the T-Birds' system - perhaps 17-year-old Luke Osterman or 16-year-old Sahvan Khaira, who were both impressive in training camp last season. Or it could end up being a combination of both of the above options, should the team decide that Wolf isn't ready for a full-time role, or if they decide to trade one of their veteran defensemen for some scoring punch up front.
The ripple effect could also influence the team up front as well. Not only will they be losing the offensive contribution they were sure to get from Fabbro on the back end, but if the team does decide to keep either Henry or Wardley, it will lock up one of the 20-year-old spots that could have been used on a veteran forward. For a team that's sure to lose at least three of its top four scoring forwards, the potential absence of that veteran spot looms large.
Fortunately for the Thunderbirds, they have a deep defensive group that returns experience and likely wouldn't have counted on Fabbro to play a huge role this season anyway. They spent their first-round draft choice earlier this month on Jarret Tyszka, a 6-feet-1 defenseman from Langley, B.C. who projects as a two-way defender and will have a chance to make the roster next season.
Seattle general manager Russ Farwell is sure to continue pursuing Fabbro with the hope of convincing him to change his mind in the same way Gropp did early year. Mathew Barzal, who played with Fabbro growing up and remains a close friend, is also sure to continue recruiting him.
Fabbro has the talent to eventually be a first-round NHL draft choice and would undoubtedly be a great addition to the Thunderbirds roster, but his absence, at least this season, won't doom them in the future. The 2014-15 T-Birds should still feature multiple 2013 draft selections, including fellow first-rounder Kaden Elder and second-rounder Nolan Volcan, who both have bright futures of their own.
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