Thrashers Rookie Review 2002-03

By Holly Gunning



Untitled Document

With the Thrashers eliminated from the playoffs so early, there was great opportunity
to get a look at many prospects this year. Fifteen rookies saw time with the
Thrashers (rookies are players with fewer than 25 NHL games going into the
2002-03 season).
Not all rookies were true prospects, some had graduated from prospecthood but are still fighting to make the NHL. 
This review covers both, with ages included so that readers can make the
distinction.  

The table below shows the 15 rookies’ stats, in order by points per game (since it is a bit unfair to compare
the stats of someone who played a handful of games to someone who played 40
games).  Below that is a player-by-player review.  Players are
examined in rough order of how well they did with the big club, first
among guys who played 10 or more games, then among guys who played 4 games and fewer. 
This review purposely does
not take into account information about their AHL seasons, it discusses their
play at the NHL level only.  For information on how they are playing at the
AHL level, please see various roadtrip reports.  

Statistical Summary 2002-03 Rookies

Pos.
bgcolor=”#FFCC99″>

GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
Piros
C
3
3
2
5
1.33
4
17:05
2
8
DiPenta
D
3
1
1
2
.66
3
15:47
0
2
Snyder
C
36
10
4
14
.39
-4
10:53
34
41
Hartigan
C
23
5
2
7
.30
-8
10:51
6
25
Exelby
D
15
0
2
2
.13
0
18:03
41
9
Butsayev
C
16
0
0
0
.13
-5
12:04
8
21
Safronov
D
32
2
2
3
.13
-10
14:49
14
21
Weaver
D
40
0
5
5
.13
-5
18:37
20
21
Lessard
RW
18
0
2
2
.11
1
5:39
61
7
Simon
C
10
0
1
1
.10
0
9:24
9
7
Gamache
LW
2
0
0
0
.00
-1
12:37
2
3
Foster
D
2
0
0
0
.00
-2
11:05
0
1
Blatny
LW
4
0
0
0
.00
-1
10:31
0
2
Vigier
RW
13
0
0
0
.00
-13
14:07
4
21

 

Individual player reviews

For more information on each player, click the link on their
name to see their HF profile.

Ten or more games

Pos.
GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
C
36
10
4
14
.39
-4
10:53
34
41

Dan Snyder (age 24) started the year with the Thrashers, but
got sent down Oct. 30th during a bad losing streak. He was called back up Jan.
20th. He played on the 4th line, mostly at center. Snyder played
with poise and heart, as well if not better than at the end of last year. He
hits, forechecks well, and is particularly good at drawing penalties. He was
allowed to show his offensive talent on the latest call-up, since many scorers
were out of the line-up.  Saw some time on the PP.  His season was
ended a bit early due to a foot/ankle injury. He needs to put on some weight,
especially upper body muscle during the offseason since he gets pushed around a bit in
games. Roster spot almost certain for 2003-04.

Pos.
GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
D
40
0
5
5
.13
-5
18:37
20
21

Mike Weaver (age 24)  was called up Oct. 30th when Thrashers were in a losing
streak
in order to shake up the lineup. Played very well, and not only secured a roster
spot, but for
a long period was on the top performing D pairing with Andy Sutton. Weaver is
an excellent hitter, despite his small size, and moves the puck well. Was sent down shortly after the arrival
of Bob Hartley in a roster crunch on Feb. 11th, likely because he could clear waivers.
Weaver averaged
18:37 per game, seventh among NHL rookies. He may or may not be in the Thrashers future
plans. Likely to remain a depth player for the Thrashers as younger prospects
finally take jobs with the big club.

Pos.
GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
D
15
0
2
2
.13
0
18:03
41
9

Garnet Exelby (age 21) would have been called up sooner if not for a
broken finger. He was called up on March 11 when roster spot opened at trade
deadline (Smehlik). Made his NHL debut that night against New Jersey, and scored
his first NHL point, an assist, at Columbus on March 22. This is only his second
pro season, but he fit right in with the team upon arrival. Excellent hitter
and decent fighter, he also moves the puck out of the zone effectively. He was
occasionally out of position in the defensive zone, especially on a cycle, but
got better over his stay. He
was paired mostly with the veteran Kaberle, which worked well. He played a lot
of key minutes, and was ranked fourteenth among NHL rookies for average time
on ice with 18:03. Almost certain to make the team full time next season.

Pos.
GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
C
10
0
1
1
.10
0
9:24
9
7

Ben Simon (age 24)  was called up briefly in February, then called up
second time on March 26th when Dan Snyder went out with injury. Simon played above
expectations both times. He played wing
on the 4th line, and then center when Snyder was out. He showed good hustle, smart decisions,
physicality and the ability to get open in the slot for scoring chances. He played a little
bit of PP time, and went to the front
of the net very well, something that’s been lacking on the Thrashers PP. Simon
leads the team in hits in almost every game he plays.
Could challenge for a roster spot in 2003-04.

Pos.
GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
D
32
2
2
3
.13
-10
14:49
14
21

Kirill Safronov (age 22) started the year with the Thrashers,
but looked tentative and poor defensively and was sent down for more seasoning Oct. 25th. Was up again briefly due
to injuries in December, but barely played. When he came back up again in
February to stay, he gradually
got better. He is more assertive in his defensive coverage, and gradually less
likely to take the wrong man. Safronov is most effective along the boards.
Played with various partners, largely Tremblay at the end of the season. 
The big
question with Safronov is whether he can play consistently over long stretches. Will
challenge for a roster spot in 2003-04, but don’t be surprised to see him on
the shuttle again next year.

Pos.
GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
C
23
5
2
7
.30
-8
10:51
6
25

Mark Hartigan (age 25) started the year in the minors, called up to
the Thrashers on
Nov. 26th.  Sent back after poor play Dec. 9th. Called up again Feb 25th,
and stayed with the team until near the end of the season.  Hartigan
played everywhere from the second to the fourth line, mostly center but
occasional wing too.  He scored in streaks in March by going to the open
spots, but never really developed good chemistry with any of his linemates. 
Away from the net, his game needs a
lot of work. He’s lacking true NHL speed, so needs to play smart to be
effective. His biggest downfall is that he misses defensive assignments. 
He takes the wrong man, or no man
a lot. He possesses a scoring touch, but his game is not consistent.  He’ll play physical,
but only in spurts.  Could also stand to work on puckhandling. Hartigan
needs to work much harder, and score consistently, if he’s going to make it in
the NHL. 

Savard and Stefan remain the scoring line centers ahead of Hartigan on the
depth chart, so it will be a challenge to carve out a niche for himself.  Hartigan
may have to move to wing, or become much better defensively to find
a place on the team longterm.  Although 25, this was Hartigan’s first full pro season.
He desparately needs to have a good camp in the fall. Will likely
remain
on the shuttle between Chicago and Atlanta.

Pos.
GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
RW
18
0
2
2
.11
1
5:39
61
7

Francis Lessard (age 23) was assigned to Chicago Dec. 9th, and recalled
from Chicago on March 26th. The plan was to convert this tough natural defenseman
to a winger this year, however, injuries to defensemen in Chicago meant that
he had to go back and forth between positions there. Played wing on the 4th
line for the Thrashers, most recently with Simon and Cowan. Had his first career
point against the Islanders Oct. 19th. Averaged only 5:39 in icetime per game.
Lessard is a tough customer, he had one of the highest major penalty to games
played ratio in the NHL. He has a few things to work on though, namely not taking
himself out of position to make a hit, not taking bad penalties, and general
positioning/game awareness. Does possess decent speed. Will likely remain in
the minors until he rounds out his game.

Pos.
GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
Vigier
RW
13
0
0
0
.00
-13
14:07
4
21

JP Vigier (age 26) was called up on Dec. 14th, and sent back to Chicago
Jan. 15th.  Played with various lines. Vigier did not hurt the
team when he was up because he took his defensive responsibilities seriously, but he is a scorer
and did not score a single point in 13 games. This will likely be his last opportunity.
Will finish career in minors.

 

Players with 4 and Fewer Games

Pos.
GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
Piros
C
3
3
2
5
1.33
4
17:05
2
8

Kamil Piros (age 24) would have been called up earlier in the season,
but he was injured for a good part of the season. He was only called up on April 2nd, but made the most of his three games with the
team.  He stunned everyone, even himself, by getting a hat trick in the final game of the
season.  Not only is it unusual to score your first three NHL goals in the
form of a hat trick, but this was particularly surprising in his case since his skills are
more those of a playmaker than a shooter. 

Piros was much better
all around on this last call up than he was last year. He forechecked well,
and was very responsible and effective defensively. He got to a lot of loose pucks with good positioning and a good first step. He went to the front of
the net on the PP.  He mostly centered Kovalchuk and Bartecko, but since Savard was out in the last game and there
were only three centers, he spent a good deal of time with Heatley and Kozlov
as well. The line of Kovalchuk-Piros-Bartecko really clicked and had a number
of chances. Piros seems to have some real chemistry with Kovalchuk (going back
to preseason last year) which can’t hurt his chances on the team. Piros actually
finished with the best +/- on the Thrashers, at +4. With the Thrashers thin
at skilled centers, so Piros is in a good position–a good camp could land him
a spot on the roster.

Pos.
GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
DiPenta
D
3
1
1
2
.66
3
15:47
0
2

Joe DiPenta (age 24) was called up at the end of the season due to injury to Daniel Tjarnqvist.
He looked very solid in his debut stint, did not look not out of place at all. He was remarkably calm with the puck for a debut player.
He made some errors in coverage, especially in the slot, but that’s
normal for a rookie. Not known for his scoring, DiPenta scored his first NHL goal
and first NHL assist in the same game, April 5th against the Rangers. A testament to his good play was that he averaged 15:47
in icetime in his three games. He also finished with the best +/- among defensemen,
at +3. He was paired with veteran Chris Tamer most of the time. Could challenge for a roster spot
in the fall, and certainly will see time in injury situations.

Pos.
GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
Blatny
LW
4
0
0
0
.00
-1
10:31
0
2

Zdenek Blatny (age 22) was brought up Mar. 19th due to Stefan’s
injury, played in only four games and was sent back Mar. 25th. Placed on
the third line with Hrkac and Svartvadet. He played well enough there that he was tried out
on the top line (with Heatley) and given some PP time as well. Blatny
forechecked well, was solid defensively, and showed
some offensive flash. Where his development goes from here is anyone’s guess. Not likely
to challenge for a roster spot in 2003-04, but could be called up again for a
look if there is space to do so.

Pos.
GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
Gamache
LW
2
0
0
0
.00
-1
12:37
2
3

Simon Gamache (age 22) was called up on Mar. 7th when the Thrashers were experiencing
a scoring slump. Played two games and was returned to Chicago Mar.10th. 
Gamache played on the second line with Kovalchuk and Stefan. He was held scoreless in both games,
with 3 shots and was -1. Gamache got outmuscled a
lot, both in front of the net, and along the boards, which wasn’t a surprise
given his small size. He also had problems with positioning, both on breakouts and offensive rushes. 
He did not look ready for the NHL. Gamache needs to round out his game and increase
his footspeed in order to play at this level. This is only his second pro
season–he will
likely get a little longer look sometime next year, but will remain in Chicago
most of the 2003-04 season.

Pos.
GP
G
A
Pts
PPG
+/-
ATOI
PIMs
Shots
Foster
D
2
0
0
0
.00
-2
11:05
0
1

Kurtis Foster (age 21) was called up Mar. 31st due to suspension of Chris Tamer.
Played only two games and was sent back.  He played with Tjarnqvist
in one game, Exelby in the second.  Foster looked shaky and tentative in his debut game and did not play after
the Rangers scored
the tying goal in the third period on his watch.  Known for his powerful
shot from the point, he had no PP time in the Buffalo game and only
one shift in the Ranger game. Hartley is going to make him earn his PP time. Foster took no shots in his first
game, only
one shot in the second. His positioning needs work, which was not a surprise
at all. He did do a good job of
standing guys up at the blue line. This was his first full pro season. He will spend another year in the minors,
getting a better taste of the NHL if the Thrashers do not make the playoffs
again next year, and again have the luxury of giving the youngsters a chance at the
end of the year.

Jeff Farkas was called up due to injury shortly after his trade. He
spent three games with the Thrashers, then was sent to the Chicago Wolves,
where he suffered a broken vertebrae in his neck. This injury has turned out to be
career-ending.  Best of luck to Jeff in his future endeavors.

Yuri Butsayev has gone back to Russia to play, per the terms of his
contract. Although the
Thrashers still own his rights, it is unlikely that he will return to North
America.

Comments and questions are welcomed on the HF
Thrashers Board
.