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Tuesday, January 29, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Seattle Thunderbirds -- Brent Bilodeau -- Thunderbird Defenseman Hurting Everywhere But In The Nhl Draft

As a 16-year-old defenseman with the Seattle Thunderbirds, Brent Bilodeau's future was secure last season.

National Hockey League scouts were crazy about the 6-foot-4, 221-pound kid who wore No. 5. They liked his size, his talent and his potential.

They had him pegged as a sure first-rounder in the June 22 NHL draft, perhaps as high as the No. 2 pick.

This season, however, Bilodeau's star has seemingly dimmed. He missed 15 games because of assorted injuries and has just 16 points (five goals, 11 assists).

But don't be fooled by the numbers. Or even the injuries.

Scouts still are high on him. Bilodeau still is projected as a top-five pick in June's draft.

``He's proven what he can do, and injuries are just part of the game,'' said Steve Brklacich, a scout for the Hartford Whalers who has spent 26 years assessing young hockey talent.

``He's got the potential, and he's got the ability,'' Brklacich added. ``He knows how to play the game.''

Brklacich points to a couple of examples from previous drafts to support his assertion that injuries really don't mean much.

Last year, Ontario League star Drake Berehowsky played only nine games because of injuries. Toronto still made him its No. 1 pick.

Doug Risebrough, now Calgary coach, got hurt early in January during his final junior season before the draft of 1974, and missed the rest of the season. Montreal still made him its top pick.

The Hockey News, the bible of the sport, is on Bilodeau's side. Despite his recent injuries, the publication still ranks Bilodeau as the No. 2 prospect in the Western Hockey League behind Kamloops' Scott Niedermayer.

But the scouts say Bilodeau is the class of the WHL. Forget Niedermayer, Brklacich said, Bilodeau is the prospect in the WHL.

``Everybody I've talked to really likes the kid,'' Brklacich said. ``He's got what most teams like - and that's size. Good size. Big defensemen are hard to come by.''

Center Eric Lindros, who plays for Oshawa in the Ontario League, is considered a lock to go No. 1 in the draft. Both Lindros and Bilodeau were at the Canadian team tryouts for the World Junior Tournament last summer.

Bilodeau came away impressed with Lindros and said he would make a logical No. 1 choice. ``He's a great player and a good guy,'' Bilodeau said. ``He is big, strong and skates well.''

``You've got to like Lindros,'' a scout for a Canadian team said. ``But what always gets us drooling is a big, mobile defenseman who can play the body. Bilodeau has suffered as much from a lower-profile (Seattle) team this year as . . . any of his own problems. We tend to remember him with more talented players and compare that to the way he would fit in to an NHL team.''

Bilodeau knows all about the NHL draft. His father, Yvon, was drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1970 and played pro hockey while Brent was growing up.

``He told me not to let NHL teams use you, not to let them bury you in the minors like they did to him,'' Bilodeau said.

Bilodeau learned how to skate at age 2 and how to play hockey at 5. He knew he wanted to play in the NHL at 6.

``When you grow up just outside of Edmonton, you know you want to play in the NHL,'' Bilodeau said. ``In Canada, everybody plays hockey. And everybody wants to play in the NHL.''

Bilodeau knows he probably will sign a pro contract, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee ice time in the NHL. He only has to look at his father's experience.

Or look north, where former Seattle star Petr Nedved, picked by Vancouver as the second player in the 1990 draft, has been in only half the Canucks' games this season.

Seattle Coach Peter Anholt realizes that Bilodeau is one of 1991's top prospects. He also knows that Bilodeau still needs some work.

``He still has to work on his mobility and his quickness,'' Anholt said. ``He's already made big strides this year. He works hard in practice to get better.''

Improvement has been Bilodeau's ethic. Growing up on a farm in Clyde, Alberta, he shot pucks into a makeshift net on the wall of the hayloft in the barn.

Still, he doesn't consider himself much of an offensive threat. But with his size, he really doesn't need to be.

``I know that with my size I have to be physical,'' he said. ``But if there's an opening, I'll go with the puck.''

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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