The Western Hockey League has been churning out high end defensive talent for some time now. Players like Shea Weber to last year’s second overall pick Ryan Murray all hit the scene playing in the ‘Dub. This season is no exception and Seattle Thunderbirds blue-liner Shea Theodore is one of the great next ones to come along.
Theodore combines high end skating ability with excellent on ice vision and this year he has added a deadly shot. He mans the point for Seattle’s power play and has picked up nine power play goals so far this season. Watching Theodore play it doesn’t take long to figure out why he is being ranked by many as a potential first round pick in this June’s NHL Entry Draft. He has a habit of making other players trying to stop him look foolish as he skates right by them.
Hailing from Aldergrove, B.C. the quick to smile defenseman was a third round Bantam pick for Seattle in 2010 and has soared to become one of their most valuable players, along with a top NHL prospect. The corner seats at the Thunderbirds home rink, the ShoWare Center, are crawling with scouts these days, all trying to get a look at another top defensive WHL prospect.
Theodore seems like a natural skater, one who glides up and down the ice and can turn on a dime, often leaving defenders behind him. With that kind of skating one has to wonder if he ever thought of playing forward.
“I was always usually a defenseman,” Theodore says about his early days. “But by Bantam second year I played on and off forward and defense, if we needed some goals in our Tier II league there. So they put me on forward a bit and I guess that’s where I get a little bit of my offensive game from.”
As a rookie last year Theodore found himself thrust into Seattle’s line up as injuries and lack of depth on the back end required him to play a lot of minutes at 16-years-old. That experience paid off and Theodore has grown as a player.
“I feel like I’m a little bit bigger and stronger,” he says. “I’m able to battle more in front of the net, and that’s what I wanted coming into this year.”
Playing heavy minutes at 16 in a league with high end offensive talent like the WHL can be tough and Theodore definitely took his lumps during his rookie season as the team as a whole struggled on defense. That experience did not shake his confidence and ultimately may have made him a better player.
“I think it was the best for my game,” Theodore says about his rookie year. “I mean it was a sink or swim situation as Steve (Konowalchuk) put it. I only took the positives from last year and brought them into this year.”
Despite the steep learning curve he had the Thunderbirds got a look at the upside Theodore brings to the ice. He led the team in assists with 31 in 69 games, the first time Seattle has had a rookie defenseman do so since former first round pick Thomas Hickey did it in 2005-2006. This season Theodore is still picking up assists thanks to his excellent vision but now has added goal scoring to his arsenal. He has gone from scoring only five goals in his rookie season to potting 19 through 69 games so far. What contributed to that improvement?
“I worked pretty hard over the summer,” he says of his slap shot. “Just shooting pucks everyday in my garage, so that really helped and I’m getting pretty lucky I guess. I’m getting them through in a way I wasn’t last year.”
Being a young player who sees his name on draft boards every where has to be exciting, but it can also be a distraction. Often players might worry too much about which scouts are there and what they might be thinking. Theodore says that the distraction is there but you have to play through it.
“It’s probably one of the biggest distractions I’ve had,” Theodore says. “I mean the guys are on to me here and there and I try to just not worry about it all. I see all these lists coming out and I try not to read them, just stay focused on my game and not really worry about anything.”
Theodore is on all the lists and pretty much every scout and draftnik is in agreement that his skating and vision are his strongest assets. What does he think are his strengths?
“Probably my skating,” he says. “Probably my decision making on the power play.”
Theodore, like most young defenseman, can improve his play in his own end. He has grown stronger as the year has progressed but his plus/minus is at minus-25 through 69 games. That number may be a little unfair to hang on him as Seattle has had ups and downs on defense as a team this year but it is still something Theodore wants to improve.
“Definitely my defensive game,” he says about where he wants to improve. “My plus/minus is not where it needs to be so there’s definitely some stuff I’ve got to work on there.”
Mike Green is the NHL player that many scouts have compared Theodore to and it makes sense. Both can skate, both have excellent vision, both will man your power play and put up points from the blue line. Despite that Theodore did not grow up watching Green- he stayed closer to home when it comes to his rooting interests.
“Growing up, when I was little it was Markus Naslund,” Theodore said. “I was a home town Canucks fan, I mean he was the captain, he is the guy I looked up to. Definitely pretty different game styles for me.”
It goes without saying that playing for your home town team would be a dream but Theodore is happy to play for any NHL team that drafts him. He will admit that it would be pretty special to play for the hometown Canucks though. Theodore already has some experience playing for the home team as he represented Canada this past summer in the U-18 2012 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament in Europe.
“It was pretty good,” Theodore said. “I mean you’re playing with the top players across Canada, and across the world. You get a good look at the competition coming into the draft and everybody’s draft season.”
He also was selected to play for Team Orr in the CHL Top Prospects game.
“It was actually pretty fun,” he says of the experience. “To play with some buddies like (Nic) Petan, (Curtis) Lazar, I mean you’re always battling pretty hard but it’s good to see those guys and be on the same team. They’re some pretty special players.
While Bobby Orr was not there Theodore did get a brief encounter with perhaps the biggest hockey curmudgeon in Don Cherry.
“He was pretty cool,” Theodore said. “It was just a nice little second hand shake but he’s a pretty important guy in the world of hockey. His suit was outrageous, just outrageous with flowers and stuff.”
With the skill that Theodore has, a rare skill amongst defenseman, it seems only a matter of time before guys like Don Cherry are breaking down his play in the NHL. Look for Theodore’s name to get called in the first round in June and watch for him to make mad dashes up the ice in a rink near you soon.
Andrew writes about the WHL and NHL Draft Prospects. He also covers the Seattle Thunderbirds for 710 ESPN Seattle and spent two years with Sportsnet. Follow him on Twitter @andyeide.