By Nick Patterson Herald Writer
LYNNWOOD — Josh Birkholz has only been skating with the Everett Silvertips for two days, but already he’s feeling reassured about his change in paths.
Birkholz left the University of Minnesota in July to join the Tips, a decision he wrestled with for months. But after just two days of training camp Birkholz is already feeling more comfortable, both with his new setting and his decision.
“It’s everything I expected and more,” Birkholz said following Friday’s veterans practice at Lynnwood Ice Center. “The guys have all been really good at making me feel a part of the team and helping me get into the swing of things right away. Being far away from home, it makes it easier.”
Birkholz, a 19-year-old right wing, is Everett’s latest recruit. The 6-foot-1, 182-pound native of Maple Grove, Minn., was a third-round pick in the NHL draft by the Florida Panthers, and he’s expected to have an immediate impact with the Tips.
But his route to Everett was circituitous.
Birkholz’s first encounter with Everett came roughly a year-and-a-half ago when Tips director of player development Scott Scoville spotted Birkholz playing in the USHL for the Fargo Force. Scoville was impressed with Birkholz’s abilities, and the Tips added him to their 50-player protected list.
And that’s where Birkholz remained. He and the Tips had little contact after that as Birkholz realized the childhood dream of every hockey player growing up in Minnesota, receiving a scholarship to play for the Golden Gophers.
However, the dream didn’t exactly play out the way Birkholz pictured it in his head. As a freshman, he found himself buried on Minnesota’s depth chart, receiving just a handful of shifts each game and finishing with just five goals and one assist in 36 games.
That experience had Birkholz considering his options, even while Minnesota season was still going.
“(Everett) was something that was always in the back of my mind during the season,” Birkholz said. “You try not to think about it, but you see Everett’s having a lot of success and we were kind of struggling, and (the Tips) have a good track record of putting guys into the next level.”
Therefore, Birkholz and his parents decided to visit Everett over the summer to see what the Tips were all about.
“I came out for the weekend, took a tour of the rink, saw the town, talked to the coaches about how they saw me fitting in this year,” Birkholz recalled. “I went home and thought about it for a couple days, had some long talks with my parents and my agent, and we just figured that for my development and where I saw myself the next couple years, Everett was the place for me.”
Birkholz also was facing a suspension at Minnesota for a violation of team rules. That led to speculation that the suspension was the reason for Birkholz leaving Minnesota for Everett. But Birkholz denies those claims.
“It kind of got blown a little out of proportion,” Birkholz said. “I made a mistake I’m not proud of and that I regret. But that’s in the past. All I can do is control what I do from here on out and not let that happen again.
“That was kind of the rumor that I was leaving because of the suspension, but I was thinking about coming to Everett long before any of that happened.”
Birkholz arrived in Everett to the fanfare of a third-round NHL draft pick. However, the Tips weren’t certain exactly what they were getting in Birkholz, as neither Soetaert nor coach Craig Hartsburg had ever seen him play.
So far, Birkholz has been everything advertised, showing excellent speed and a strong shot to go along with his solid frame.
“I’d talked to NHL scouts about his ability to play the game and his strong suits,” Soetaert said. “Obviously every one of the scouts nailed it. He’s an extremely powerful skater, his first three strides are extremely explosive, and he’s got an NHL shot. He’s got those qualities and now he just has to develop his all-around game and become a more-physical player, which is what he wants to do.”
Birkholz has one other small Everett tie. For a short time as a young child growing up in Maple Grove, he was neighbors with former Everett star Peter Mueller. … There was one shuffling of players between the veterans practice and rookies scrimmages Friday. Sixteen-year-old forward Jordyn Boyd, who skated with the rookies on Thursday, joined the vets in practice in the morning. Fellow 16-year-old forward Jari Erricson, who was with the vets Thursday, skated in the scrimmages Friday. Both players already are signed to WHL education contracts. … Forward Brett Boehm is one of the most improved players from last year’s rookie camp to this year’s. Boehm, an undrafted 16-year-old who was listed by the Tips last season, grew about eight inches in the past year.
Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog: http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog