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Flyers prospect Wylie hungry for Seattle hockey

Everett, WA native believes local fans will 'eat up' NHL expansion team

by Mike. G. Morreale @MikeMorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

EVERETT, Washington -- Wyatte Wylie, chosen in the fifth round of the 2018 NHL Draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, hopes someday to become the second player born in Everett to play in the NHL.

Achieving that goal would be an exciting accomplishment. But what really gives the 19-year-old defenseman of the Everett Silvertips in the Western Hockey League goosebumps is the possibility of making his NHL debut during the inaugural season of the yet-to-be-named Seattle franchise that begins play in 2021-22. 

"Fans in Seattle are going to eat up the NHL team," said Wylie. "We'll have a rivalry with Vancouver and it'll be an awesome atmosphere."

 

[RELATED: Seattle NHL expansion team will grow with hockey community]

 

Raised in nearby Lake Stevens, Wylie played his youth hockey in Everett starting at age 7 and spent his entire amateur career there aside from one season with the Dallas Stars Under-16 team in 2015-16. Wylie brings hope to those young players born in the Pacific Northwest with dreams of getting drafted by an NHL team.

"Since my youth hockey days in Everett, I've been watching the kids skating out here, and there is some talent and it's growing in the right direction," Wylie said. "With the NHL now coming, it's just going to boost the area and bring in more kids.

The 6-foot-1, 186-pound defenseman is the first player from Everett youth hockey to be drafted (2014, No. 128) and play for the hometown Silvertips. The only player born in Everett to play in the NHL is T.J. Oshie of the Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. There have been 14 players born in Washington to play at least one NHL game, including one from Seattle (Tom Bissett, Detroit Red Wings).

Wylie has his mind set on a nickname for the Seattle club.

"I think it'd be cool for Seattle to adopt the Metropolitans," Wylie said.

The Seattle Metropolitans, who played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1915-24, won the Stanley Cup in 1917, defeating the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in a best-of-5 series. Seattle was the first U.S.-based team to win the Cup.

Everett celebrated NHL Seattle during their annual Teddy Bear toss match on Saturday against its rival Seattle Thunderbirds here at Angel of the Winds Arena -- a 6-1 win for the home team. NHL Seattle senior advisor Dave Tippett dropped the ceremonial faceoff in front of an appreciative fan base which is looking forward to the new franchise becoming a major NHL player.

Tweet from @mikemorrealeNHL: The Everett Silvertips scores and the Teddy bears fly onto the ice on Teddy Bear toss night in Everett pic.twitter.com/rEy5YhNYYL

"There's a passion for the game in the area and the footprint has been put in place by these junior teams," Tippett said. "I've been very surprised. I didn't know what to expect, but you see how both these junior teams are run with top-notch facilities. The NHL coming here is going to be a phenomenal hit for hockey. It'll really be a boost for hockey in the region."

The NHL Seattle team will play at Seattle Center Arena, the former KeyArena, and Tippett anticipates being a part of the franchise "for a while."

"I didn't come here with the mindset to coach, but to help build it, so we'll see how that goes," he said. "Our first step in hockey operations is hiring a general manager, but we'll have to decide whether we're going to do it two years out or one year out, as Vegas did."

The Vegas Golden Knights hired GM George McPhee on July 13, 2016 and began play in 2017-18.

Tippett said it wouldn't surprise him if Seattle had a competitive team out of the gate.

"Vegas did a heck of a job and caught some teams off guard, but had a great run," Tippett said. "I'm not saying we are or aren't going to do that, but we'll be competitive because the rules allow us, so we'll put good people in place. I think we'll have a real motivated team. Players coming into this situation will say, 'Hey, this is a team built for the long haul and they want to win because of the commitment from ownership.' "

Mike Benton, now in his fourth season as director of broadcasting, public relations for the Silvertips, remembers the moment he was hooked on hockey after moving to Los Angeles around the same time Wayne Gretzky was traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Kings in August 1988.

"I began going to Kings games and saw Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Marty McSorley, Rob Blake and Kelly Hrudey and it was absolutely intoxicating as a sports fan," Benton said. "To be here in Washington four years after taking the job with Everett and see the NHL take a residency up here makes me unbelievably pumped to see what's going to happen to hockey in this entire region. 

"It's going to be good for this game, and good for the Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds. I think you're going to see a similarity to what's become a bit of a hockey boon in California."

Greg Benton, Mike's father who was born and raised in Seattle, said the NHL to the region is verification that Seattle is, indeed, a major league city.

"Seattle has been through two expansion franchises (Mariners and Seahawks) that the fans have worked with and stuck with and it's paid off," he said. "Seattle will do that with this NHL team. It's verification Seattle is a major league player on the world market not just in sports, but as a city to be reckoned with."

Zoran Rajcic, Everett president and chief operating officer, said building from the grassroots level will be paramount.

"Most of the youth players in the region come from an 80-mile radius, so we're not like the metros of Detroit or Boston where you have 200 teams in a 40-to-50-mile radius," Rajcic said. "Here the kids really have to go a long way and we noticed seven years ago that kids were going to California and Dallas to play in order to improve their game."

The good news is over the past 10 seasons, player participation in the Seattle metropolitan area has increased by 46 percent, according to USA Hockey.

"We've had hockey (in Everett) for 16 seasons and it's been neat to try and grow it, but to get the National Hockey League and the attention that it'll bring and deserves will be awesome," Rajcic said.

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