Lundmark takes flight with Thunderbirds
When Rangers prospect Jamie Lundmark was returned to the WHL earlier this fall after failing to make the parent squad on Broadway, the highly touted center refused to return to his former Moose Jaw Warriors, instead demanding to be traded to a more competitive team. While rumors had him moving to the Calgary Hitmen to center fellow Ranger prospect Pavel Brendl, or to the Kootenay Ice to play with friend and former teammate Mike Comrie, his ultimate destination turned out to be the Seattle Thunderbirds, former stomping grounds of Peter Nedved, Chris Osgood, and Turner Stevenson. After 15 games with the T-Birds it seems pertinent to ask whether this is really the type of team Lundmark was asking to be traded to, and to assess his emerging role in his new environs.One has to approach the first issue with a hint of skepticism. The T-Birds are a respected team with a collection of good players, but have been known to the region as traditional under-achievers. Witness last year’s local pre-season hype of a team destined to make a run at the league championship, but that was eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by Prince George. Note also, at the time of the trade, Moose Jaw’s slightly better record (6-3-1-1) than that of the T-Birds (5-4-1-1). Furthermore, the Seattle squad that Lundmark was traded to was quite different from last year’s team, and is still adjusting to changes that have occurred since Lundmark’s acquisition one month ago. In particular, the T-Birds have been known for their offensive potential, a reputation that was garnered last season with substantial contribution from Oleg Saprykin, Brett DeCecco, Scott Kelman, and David Morisset. However, only the latter is still a T-Bird. Saprykin has moved on to the Calgary Flames, Kelman to Moose Jaw in the trade that brought Lundmark here, and shortly thereafter DeCecco was traded to Kootenay for a pair of 20-year olds: forward Brad Tutschek and defenseman Dion Lassu. Seattle must compensate for their recent losses at the forward positions in order to be as good offensively this year as they were last.To date, DeCecco and Kelman have produced a combined 12 goals and 16 assists and, at last year’s scoring pace, Saprykin could have been expected to add about 18 more of each were he still in Juniors. The acquisition of Tutschek and Lassu went a long way to increase Seattle’s experience and physical presence, but were moves were meant to shore up the defense and do not compensate for the lost fire-power. Rookies Jake Riddle and Dustin Johner, each with 6 goals, have stepped in to plug the holes left by the loss of DeCecco and Kelman, but Saprykin’s skates are harder to fill. At the outset of the season the man voted most likely to do so was Barrett Heisten, a 6’1″ winger who played the last two seasons in the ECAC at the University of Maine and was drafted in the first round of the 1999 NHL entry draft by the Buffalo Sabres. Yet, while a valuable offensive force and presently the T-Birds leading scorer, Heisten has proven ideally suited to the role of set-up man, not goal-scorer. With 26 assists in 22 games he is presently ranked at #7 in the WHL, but has only scored 5 goals over the same period.
Enter Lundmark.Clearly, he will be looked to for his scoring touch, and has proven himself up the task. He has stepped in to tally 11 goals and 11 assists in 15 games, including 8 multiple-point games and a scoring streak that comprised his first 11 games as a T-Bird. He has produced these numbers while spending much of his time rotating through lines, combined with different players from week-to-week or night-to-night. His role is still evolving, but recent events show that he is quickly ascending to premier status. Upon arriving in Seattle, head-coach Dean Chynoweth tried combining Lundmark with a number of 2nd and 3rd line wings, keeping him off the line with top scorers Heisten and Morisset (16 goals and 14 assists in 24 games). Presumably the intent was to create a balanced offense at even-strength, but the three top players found ice-time together on the power play. The combination proved so productive that Lundmark was eventually moved between Heisten and Morisset, and the unit continues to impress. Over Thanksgiving weekend’s 3-game tilt, the combination generated 3 goals at even-strength, one short-handed, and one powerplay tally. But the combination has also proven somewhat problematic. By combining the team’s best offensive threats into a single unit, scoring drops considerably when they aren’t on the ice. Chynoweth tried splitting the line up for this Saturday’s match against Regina, but the result was a blank Seattle scoresheet. Sunday saw Chynoweth respond by reuniting Lundmark with the top guns – and by playing him at seemingly every other opportunity, as well. In addition to first line duties, Jamie centered a line with two rookies, played both forward and point on consecutive powerplay units, and had a hand in killing penalties. In all, he skated 26 of the team’s 57 even-strength shifts, and half of the special-teams assignments.While the team proceeded to lose its third straight game, the implications for Lundmark’s development are nothing but positive. Jamie’s placement to the top line alongside the team’s leading goal-scorer and leading assist-man allows him to play a multifaceted game. Unlike some earlier scouting reports, Lundmark should not be characterized as a unidimensional, grinding power forward. He has good defensive skills, backchecks admirably, shows no fear going to the boards or standing up for his fellow players, and possesses a quick and accurate wrist shot. But he is also a fast, smooth skater with a seemingly effortless stride, the footspeed and agility to maneuver in tight places and change directions quickly, looks to pass before he looks to shoot, and is always moving and cycling when low in the offensive zone. His reputation as a goal-scorer who drives the net may have developed through necessity, perhaps by being the best player and go-to-guy on his recent teams. He rarely attempts to force the play or stickhandle into heavy traffic in the slot, except late in games when his team is trailing and his teammates aren’t scoring. His passing skills are exemplary, and he shows the ability to be a great playmaker when combined with players who can finish the job. Being combined with another goal scorer should remove some pressure to score, as well as easing some defensive attention, opening up the ice and allowing him to do what he does best: be creative and develop each play as a series of options. Being used in so many other roles will allow him to simultaneously develop other talents, both defensively, and in a leadership capacity on- and off-ice. In his 15 games with Seattle, Lundmark has gone from being the new kid to wearing an “A” on his shoulder. Will that be upgraded to a “C” by year’s end? Can Jamie lead the T-Birds to be the team that has been expected of them in recent years? Time will tell.