The Chicago Wolves played the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks in Cincy on Saturday,
January 18th. Thrashers editor Matt Gunning and I went on the road and bring
you our report on how our guys are doing. This summary will cover all the players
who are property of the Thrashers, whether they are true prospects or not. Players
are listed by position, in rough order of how they performed.
This was the fourth Wolves game we saw this year. Overall, not much changed
as far as my opinion of players goes. To find out more about particular players,
please see their individual profiles.
Dan Snyder, 24: He was the best player on the ice for the Wolves. They
say the puck finds good players. This was true for Snyder, he seemed to always
have the puck. If there was a loose puck, he was in the right place to scoop
it up immediately. Snyder had the game tying goal and an assist on the night.
Made some really great passes. Had three takeaways and not a single giveaway.
Last time I watched him with the Wolves, I said he needed to work on his faceoffs-he
won 41% on Saturday. He seems to be the heart of the Wolves team, at least on
the ice. He talked to the refs more than anyone. His speed is a notch above
most of the guys playing in the AHL. Overall it doesn’t look like he really
belongs in the AHL. In a scoring role and not as physical at this level, had
no hits in the game. This is particularly noteworthy given the more physical
nature of the league. There seems to be a real disconnect between the role Snyder
plays in Chicago and the role he plays in Atlanta. He was called up yesterday
due to injuries and will play his 8th game of the year for the Thrashers tonight.
Mark Hartigan, 25: He struggled with the transition from college to
the pros early this season. He was called up to Atlanta earlier this year and
did not play terribly well, but that recall seemed to get his season going anyway.
He more than doubled his point production per game with the Wolves after being
returned to Chicago (6 points in 13 games before, and 21 points in 20 games
after). He was much more effective on Saturday than I’d ever seen him before.
He was very involved with the play. Won 50% of his faceoffs, the highest percentage
on the team for the evening. He took a lot of shots, officially five. Hartigan
was also very responsible covering back on defense. Played much more physical
than he did in his time with Atlanta.
Derek MacKenzie, 21: He played better this time than when I’ve seen
him before. MacKenzie showed very good puck control, it was hard to strip him
of it. Won 47% of his faceoffs. His 9 goals and 17 points from the third line
is impressive production. His +8 rating is also among the team best.
JP Vigier, 26: This was the second game back with the Wolves after an
unsuccessful 13 game stint in Atlanta. He looked very quick here compared to
Atlanta. Had several good takeaways. He was not as polished in this game as
I’ve seen him for the Wolves. He did have a goal, but also made a bad pass that
led to a 3 on 2 and second goal against.
Simon Gamache, 22: Gamache was someone I wanted to watch closely since
he has really turned on the scoring lately. He has posted 11 points in his last
nine games and leads all Thrashers AHL prospects in points with 32. He did not
score in this game, however. He went to the net and created havoc on just about
every shift, he is definately willing to pay the price to get a sniff at the
net. Other than that I don’t think he did very much that was productive. In
contrast to Snyder, Gamache almost never seemed to have the puck. Once when
he did get it, it was taken from him along the boards. He played mostly wing
on the top line but some center as well. Took seven faceoffs and won two (29%).
I look for NHL potential every time I watch him, but I’m still not seeing it.
I caught him reaching for the puck a few times–his footspeed is one thing holding
Ben Simon, 24: He played wing on MacKenzie’s line, the third line. He
was OK, made a few mistakes. Lost all three of his faceoffs. Had 5 hits. Didn’t
look as effective in this game as when I saw him last.
Chris Herperger, 28: This was Herperger’s 4th game back for the Wolves
after spending most of the season in Chicago. He was fairly invisible. He was
defensively responsible, but not offensively creative at all. He didn’t look
any different at this level than he did in the NHL. Since this game he has been
traded with Nielsen to Vancouver for Jeff Farkas.
Francis Lessard, 24: He is getting very little icetime per game, which
will make it hard for him to improve. He did not get into any skirmishes. He
was on the fourth line with Tobler and whichever center was double-shifting.
Made a few good passes.
Joe DiPenta, 23: He was probably the best defensemen on the ice for
the Wolves for this game. He played in every situation and by my estimate, he
led defensemen in icetime. He was solid in all aspects of the game. Had 5 hits.
Last time I saw him play I wrote that “One area for improvement is for him to
take a moment in the defensive zone to look for a pass instead of merely ringing
the puck out of the zone around the boards. This too often leads to possession
by the other team.” I thought he did a much better job in this area this time,
and made some surprisingly nice breakout passes. He is +11 on the year, tied
for the lead on the team (with Exelby and Gamache).
Kurtis Foster, 21: Foster looked OK, similar to earlier this season.
He was again unlucky in that his mistakes led to goals, while others’ mistakes
did not. He didn’t have a whole lot of icetime, partially because he was in
the penalty box for a good bit. He was called for delay of game for shooting
the puck into the crowd out of the defensive zone, and got four minutes for
roughing and two for unsportsmanlike for what looked like a clean hit. Last
time I saw him play I said “Foster should also use his size a bit more. For
a big guy he doesn’t put a body on the opposition near enough.” While still
true, after getting called for roughing, the hesitation to use his size is more
understandable. Foster takes his fair share of unnecessary penalties, he is
2nd on the team in penalty minutes with 102, behind only Exelby with 107. This
is a bit troubling for a player who is not very physical. He needs to figure
out how to stay out of the penalty box.
Luke Sellars, 21: He had been struggling to get icetime, but the injuries
to both Exelby and Eakins meant that both Sellars and Ustrnul were in the lineup.
Sellars played a fine game and got a lot of shifts, mostly paired with DiPenta.
Sellars made some nice passes. He chose his spots wisely and did not get caught
pinching into offensive zone. Last time I saw him I said “he needs practice
on coverage in his own end, especially when other teams cycle the puck.” He
got running around a bit in the defensive zone once on Saturday, but that was
it. Otherwise he did well positionally. This was the first game Sellars played
for the Wolves in a month (16 games). He missed four while playing for Canada
in the Spengler Cup, but the rest were scratches. If Sellars continues to play
as well as he did in Cincinnati, he should be able to stay in the lineup.
Libor Ustrnul, 20: He did not play in November when we last scouted
the Wolves, so this was the first opportunity we had to see him play in the
AHL. His skating and defensive positioning were fine, but he appeared to panic
with the puck. He would try to clear the puck blindly out of the zone when a
safer play or a pass was available. Given how little icetime he has been getting
though, it’s not surprising that his game decision-making is a little off. He
has played only 20 of the Wolves 46 games, mostly a healthy scratch. Ustrnul
struggled mightily at the blue lines in this game, failing to both clear and
keep when he should. He and his partner got stuck in the defensive zone at times
and simply could not get out. He had 6 hits in the game, which led the team
by my count. The only time his supposed mean streak was evident was when he
clipped someone early in the game in the neutral zone. He was paired with Safronov
the first half of the game, and Nardella the second half.
Kirill Safronov, 21: Was the worst of the defensemen. Safronov got beat
at least four times. He made a couple nice passes, but just as many bad passes
as well. He could have been called for hooking and roughing. It is very disappointing
to see him struggle as badly in the AHL as he did with Atlanta this year. Last
time I saw him play I noticed that he failed to clear the zone a lot. I didn’t
notice that as a problem this time, but he has enough other problems that perhaps
I overlooked it. No hits. He was paired with Ustrnul the first half of the game,
and rotated the rest of the time.
Exelby did not play due to a broken finger. Piros, Blatny and Nielsen were
healthy scratches. Nielsen has since been traded to Vancouver.
Lines: (not very rigid)
Lessard and Tobler
Comments and questions are welcomed on the Thrashers HFBoards.