Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Seattle Thunderbirds swoop in to add disgruntled vets Sam McKechnie, Jaimen Yakubowski

When a team is in the WHL's loaded U.S. Division, its window of opportunity to win can be narrow, so it makes sense why the resurgent Seattle Thunderbirds jumped on the chance to buy low while rolling the dice simultaneously.

Last week, 19-year-old forwards Sam McKechnie and Jaimen Yakubowski, who removed themselves from a stressful situation with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. On Thursday, the pair who combined to score 58 goals last season headed west in a four-player swap engineered by Seattle GM Russ Farwell.

In case it was not too obvious, it's a sign Seattle is serious about challenging in a difficult division that the Portland Winterhawks have dominated for the past three seasons. There is no knowing how long it will enjoy having its two upper-echelon talents, 16-year-old standout Mathew Barzal and 18-year-old offensive defenceman Shea Theodore, an Anaheim Ducks first-rounder, so why not? It's been a while since Seattle (9-3-0-1, .731 point pct., tied for second-best in the Western Conference) has been able to be a buyer. The Kent, Wash.-based club's seventh-place finish last season was a high-water mark after three consecutive also-ran campaigns.

(Well, at least not publicly.)

It goes to show how having Barzal and 17-year-old attacker Ryan Gropp in the fold has imbued Seattle with more than modest potential.

McKechnie (26 goals, 43 points in his age-18 season) and Yakubowski (32G-18A for 50 points last winter) lost a lot of trade value by leaving Lethbridge. The Hurricanes are a WHL-worst 3-11-0-1 under rather thinly credentialed first-year head coach Drake Berehowsky, so their departure has certainly raised eyebrows.

On the Lethbridge side, what might be said beyond a left-handed compliment that GM Brad Robson got roster players back to patch holes? Lethbridge's return is energetic 19-year-old forward Riley Sheen and 17-year-old rookie left wing Curtis Folk, along with a third-rounder in the 2015 bantam draft. Not great, but Lethbridge was dealing from a position of weakness after the players' joint walkout.

(Lethbridge is also still keeping a light on in hope of adding Belarusian defenceman Kristian Khenkel.)

The upshot is that Seattle has added another layer of intrigue in the U.S. group, which has been a three-horse Portland/Spokane/Tri-City race for years on end.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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