Thunderbirds continue to produce NHL-caliber prospects
The band isn’t exactly getting back together, but several members might have similar tour schedules some day.
Forwards Mikey Eyssimont and Dylan Gambrell joined their former Colorado Thunderbirds linemate Dominic Turgeon as NHL draft picks when they heard their names called by teams on June 25.
The Los Angeles Kings selected Eyssimont, who is heading into his sophomore season at St. Cloud State, in the fifth round (142nd overall). Their Pacific Division neighbors to the north, the San Jose Sharks, picked Gambrell, a sophomore-to-be at Denver, in the second round (60th overall).
Turgeon, who centered Eyssimont and Gambrell on the Thunderbirds’ 2011-12 16U AAA team, was a third-round pick (63rd overall) of the Detroit Red Wings in 2014.
That 2011-12 team also included future NHL picks in defenseman Brandon Carlo (2015 second round by Boston), goaltender Hayden Hawkey (2014 sixth round by Montreal) and forward Fredrik Olofsson (fourth round in 2014 by Chicago).
“Playing for the T-Birds was one of the best years of my life,” Gambrell said. “Being able to play with Mikey and Dom was awesome, and now that all three of us are drafted, it’s a testament to the organization.”
“(Eyssimont and Gambrell) have always shown great promise and they never got discouraged when their names weren’t called in previous drafts,” said Thunderbirds director of hockey operations Angelo Ricci. “They just kept on doing what they always do, and this is listen, put in the work and try to become better each and every day.
“I am proud of Dylan and Mikey’s accomplishments, but more importantly what kind of human beings they have grown into. Their respective NHL clubs are fortunate to have each of them in their system. They will continue to get better and better.”
Eyssimont and Gambrell made strong first impressions for their respective NCHC schools, helping them reach the NCAA tournament.
“He put pressure on himself, but he came back and from that point on he was one of our better players,” said St. Cloud assistant coach Mike Gibbons. “He knows where the front of the net is and how to put it in the back of the net. He has great instincts and like a lot of natural goal scorers, he’s streaky.”
The 6-foot, 192-pound Eyssimont, a Littleton native, scored 29 points in 23 games after the holiday break for the second-highest scoring team in NCAA Division I. He scored three goals in two games as St. Cloud won the NCHC Frozen Faceoff then popped two more in an NCAA tournament game.
“He drives the net well and is a score-first player, but he has great vision, so you have to play the pass, too, or he’ll hurt you that way,” Gambrell said of Eyssimont. “And he’s a 200-foot guy, so you have to be aware of where he is at all times.”
The 5-11, 180-pound Gambrell had a solid start for DU, picking up 12 points before the break. Gambrell then scored 35 points from New Year’s Day on, including a 13-game point streak.
He finished with 17 goals and 47 points, the third most by a freshman in Division I and the second most on DU.
“After he got passed over twice (in the draft), I’m really happy for him,” Eyssimont said. “Some people might think playing on that Pacific Rim Line (with Danton Heinen and Trevor Moore) inflated his stats, but he has always made players around him better.
“He’s great to play with, but he’s hard to like when you’re playing against him because he’s so competitive.”
Eyssimont also became the third member of his line from the 2012-13 T-Birds 16U team to be drafted, joining Olofsson and DU’s Troy Terry (fifth round in 2015 by Anaheim).
Gambrell photo/DU Athletics
– Chris Bayee