Thrashers Farmclub Roadtrip Report — April

By Matt Gunning

Forward Line Combinations:
Gamache, Hartigan, Maltais
Brown, Karlsson, Vigier
Aquino, Blatny, Maloney
Tapper, MacKenzie, Tobler

The game was a good competitive contest. The score was tied three times and the Wolves won it in overtime. The boxscore shows that the shots on goal favored Milwaukee 51 to 29, but these number does not reflect the scoring chances which were fairly even.
The Wolves were a bit shorthanded on the blueline since Joe DiPenta had been called up to the NHL that day. That left Chicago with just five defensemen for the game and no healthy scratches. Coach Anderson used a power play unit composed of five forwards early in the game to conserve his defensemen, then later went with a four forwards and defenseman Luke Sellars.

Goal Descriptions:
1st Wolves goal: Tapper behind net, centered to slot, Tobler one timed the pass in for a goal.
2nd Wolves goal: Hartigan drove to the net and got shot away while being pulled down from behind. The puck may have deflected in off of the goalie.
3rd Wolves goal: Karlsson shot deflected by goalie behind the net, Vigier swings behind the net with speed, curls around to just inside the faceoff dot and fires a shot high to give the Wolves the lead with less than three minutes left.
4th Wolves goal: Tobler made a terrific pass to set Tapper loose on a breakaway.

Three Stars: #1 Maracle, #2 Tapper, #3 Hartigan

This was the fifth Wolves game I’ve scouted this season, but the first time I had observed the team since January 16th. Since then, three Thrasher prospects have been added to the Wolves roster: Evan Nielsen, Anthony Aquino, and Brian Maloney. Comments on each player are listed below.

A third round pick by the Dallas Stars acquired from Dallas at this year’s NHL trade deadline. Aquino looks like a hockey “waterbug”, he is small of stature, but quickly darts across the ice making flashy stickhandling moves to try and fool the opposition. He has the ability to change speeds and uses explosive bursts to create skating lanes. I wasn’t sure about his straightaway speed until late in the third period when I saw him zip up the ice and catch an opposition player ten feet from behind and knock him off the puck. On the negative side, Aquino struggled with his puck control skills in this game. I watched him try and beat a Milwaukee defenseman one-on-one using a shifty side-to-side move with the puck, only to see it slide out of his reach three out of four times. He may have just had a bad game. He is only 20 years old and has ample time to refine his skills over the next year or two in Chicago.

Maloney: He has decent size and loves to hand out the physical punishment to the opposition. His aggressiveness led to him getting whistled for obstruction once. He played on the top line at Michigan State, but his future is that of a third or fourth line guy with some offensive skill. Like Mark Hartigan, he is two years older than most college seniors, so he has a shorter window of opportunity if he is going to make it to the NHL.

Gamache: Simon is more of finisher than a play-maker. In this game he was frequently in the correct spot to finish a play but the puck either didn’t arrive at the right time or didn’t arrive at all, thus was rendered ineffective. At one point in the game Milwaukee’s Cameron Mann hit someone on Chicago’s bench and Gamache responded in kind. Both players received penalties.

Vigier: He made some very nice passes in this game. He hit Karlsson perfectly with a pass and created a breakaway opportunity for the Wolves. At his age, his last opportunity to stick in the NHL was probably this year—and it didn’t happen.

Hartigan: Mark was more impressive offensively in Chicago than he has been in Atlanta. His best play of the game occurred when he took the puck with a full head of steam and simply drove straight to the Milwaukee net. Despite being tripped, Hartigan kept going hard and flipped the puck on net as he was being hauled down for a goal. This power forward type move was impressive to see. His bulldozer style of play drew at least one opposition penalty. Mark looked much more confident and offensively aggressive than he did in Atlanta. Because of his age, the clock is ticking for Hartigan to make it to the NHL as a scoring forward.

Karlsson: As usual, Andy looks really good in the AHL. He played the point on the powerplay, he works to screen the goaltender for linemates and drives through high traffic areas despite hits. His best play may have been a no look pass that set up J.P. Vigier for a great shot opportunity.

MacKenzie: Derek played a solid checking game. I didn’t see anything terrific or terrible. When the Wolves were down by two men twice during the game, MacKenzie was the only forward out there—the ultimate coach’s compliment for a defensive forward.

Blatny: Zdenek’s transition from scoring forward into a two-way checking forward is progressing nicely. His defensive awareness was solid and his play along the boards was strong. He still shows occasional flashes of the offensive skill that caused the Thrashers to draft him in the third round, but it seems unlikely he will make the NHL in a scorer’s role.

Tapper: One of the most hardworking guys on the ice. If Tapper was frustrated about being sent back down, it didn’t show in his play. He skated all out and used his body effectively. His intensity level was very high—it seems like he has learned that he has to play like that if he wants to make it to the next level.

He was clearly the most improved Thrasher prospect in Chicago. A year ago when I watched Luke struggle, I couldn’t help think that this second round pick was turning into a bust. One year later, Sellars’ decision-making and confidence are significantly improved and his future is brighter. Some examples: early in the game, Luke was beaten by a Milwaukee player but hustled back to break up the play from behind. He also displayed much more offensive flair than I have seen from in the past. He frequently carried the puck all the way through the neutral zone and across the offensive blue line. Luke also showed greater game recognition than in the past. At one point he had the puck on his stick and simply waited until the forwards got open to receive a pass rather than force one that wasn’t there.

Weaver: He had a fairly quiet game, but for a defenseman, that often means that you are playing well. In the second half he dished out some of his trademark hits. Weaver was one of the two defensemen on the ice when the Wolves were down by two men.

Ustrnul: He skates well for a guy his size, but he really needs to play with more intensity. If he learns to play with the focus and purpose of a Tapper or Garnet Exelby, he could be an impact NHL defenseman. But he’s not there yet.

Nielsen: He was drafted by the Thrashers, but signed by the Wolves a few weeks ago as his college season ended. The guy is bigger than I remember from Thrashers prospect camp. His game is OK, but his skating could use some work.

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