After the Thunderbirds thrilling shootout win over the Tri-City Americans on Tuesday night, I asked head coach Matt O’ Dette if he had a few words about rookie defensemen Jake Lee. Lee has been tasked with playing more minutes due to the injury to Reece Harsch and he has done a remarkable job. No doubt he is facing better competition playing on the second defensive pairing, his ability to elevate his game has been impressive to say the least. Lee was on the ice for a pivotal penalty kill during overtime in the Tri-City game which helped force a shootout. It speaks volumes that coach Matt O’ Dette was willing to put the rookie on the ice in such a clutch situation.
O’ Dette was very complimentary of his young defensemen:
“He’s been a bright spot for sure, you can see his development from game to game. He’s got confidence and I think that’s growing, he’s playing in key situations, for example that PK in overtime, for a 16 year old to be out there in those key situations that’s huge. Some plays and some nights he’s gonna have off nights and that’s to be expected for a young kid, he’s come on strong you know, he’s been a difference maker for us”
I would argue that those “off nights” O’ Dette spoke of are becoming fewer and fewer. Lee is beginning to look every bit the part of a two way defensemen who will be very successful at this level. On at least a few occasions, Lee attempted to split the Tri City defense and get to the net, he didn’t score or even get a shot off but the willingness and the confidence to attempt it is very exciting for fans in Seattle. The last 16 year old defenseman to come through Seattle with this kind of buzz was a kid named Bear (we all know how this story ended). Ethan Bear had 19 points as a rookie, it seems unlikely Lee (he has 8 points) would catch Bear with just twenty games left in the regular season, but let’s not rule it out.
Lee hasn’t put up big gaudy numbers this year but he hasn’t been asked to either. The most impressive number for Lee is that he is +8 at the moment which is tied for sixth in the WHL among all rookies. If he can be steady in his own end that’s all the team could ask for.
The emergence of Lee is great news for the future of the blue line in Seattle. Two key veterans on defense won’t be back next season in Turner Ottenbreit and Austin Strand — Lee will again be asked to step up and play more important minutes, no doubt he will be ready.
The Thunderbirds take the ice again tonight as they travel to Vancouver for a 7:30 pm match-up against the Giants. They are currently 27-18-5-2 and 7-2-1-0 over their last 10.