In their inaugural season, the AHL Springfield Thunderbirds finished 6th in their division and missed the playoffs. This year, the Panthers affiliate seeks its first playoff berth.
The 2016-2017 season was a struggle for the Springfield Thunderbirds. They accumulated 75 points in the 76 game AHL season. Since then, the young prospects have had the off-season to improve, while the front office of the Florida Panthers has used the time to acquire more young talent. Only time will tell if these factors will be enough to propel the T-birds to the postseason.
An important key to this season for Springfield will be the production they get from potentially NHL-ready prospects. A few Thunderbirds players like Jayce Hawryluk, Dryden Hunt, and Mackenzie Weegar, are already generating a buzz in Sunrise. While they will hopefully contribute to the Panthers at some point, these young players will be vital to Springfield’s success as well.
Also on the Thunderbirds’ roster is Jared McCann, who Florida acquired in the Erik Gudbranson trade. McCann has some NHL experience with Vancouver and Florida, which should prove valuable to Springfield. As promising as these players are, we haven’t even mentioned Chase Balisy, who led the T-birds in points last year. With a load of talented pieces, the Springfield Thunderbirds will be a fun team to watch this season.
The Thunderbirds will need to take a huge step forward in order to make the playoffs this year. In the AHL, the top four teams in each division make the playoffs. Last year, Springfield finished sixth of the seven teams in the Atlantic division, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Providence got the Atlantic’s last playoff spot with 96 points, and Bridgeport finished in 5th place with 92 points. So the playoffs were a distant dream for the Thunderbirds with their 75 point finish. The division will be even more competitive this year, as the Charlotte Checkers have joined the Atlantic.
Last year was the first season of Thunderbirds hockey. Usually for sports teams the first season isn’t the best, and Springfield would like to improve from theirs. I believe that the T-birds will enjoy a great improvement as their young prospects gain experience.
However, they will be set back by some of their important pieces being called up to the Panthers. In the end, 2017-2018 will be a step forward for Springfield, but they are still a year or two away from the post season. I predict that the Thunderbirds will finish 5th out of the 8 teams in the Atlantic division and will accumulate 88 points.