The Atlanta Thrashers hosted their annual Prospect Camp in Duluth Georgia July 10-19th. The camp was provided an opportunity for the players to work on basic skills and provided fans a chance to see most of the Thrashers North American draftees, including the team’s three most recent first round NHL draft picks (Kari Lehtonen 2002, Jim Slater 2002, and Braydon Coburn 2003). The camp encouraged players to work on developing themselves through off-ice training, power skating sessions with Robbie Glantz, puck-handling, passing and shooting drills.
Kari Lehtonen looked tremendous. His lateral movement in the crease was quick and controlled. His combination of size and ability is quite remarkable. When Lehtonen drops into the butterfly his long leg pads completely cover the lower third of the net and with his height, his upper body effectively covers most of the upper part of the net as well. Shooters find little to net to target with Lehtonen’s technique. Finally, Lehtonen looked extremely poised and confident. His body language was that of someone who is very confident in his own abilities. The only struggles he had were up high. Lehtonen also started breaking in new pads and catching glove.
Michael Garnett played well at camp, but Lehtonen is clearly an elite prospect and the other goalies suffered by comparison.
Braydon Coburn had a very good camp. Coburn is not a flashy player, however, he does many important things very well. His 6’5” frame allows him to cover a lot of ice in the defensive zone. Forwards find it difficult to get around him because of his tremendous reach. Coburn will obviously be able to add another 20+ pounds of muscle to his lean frame as his body matures. In fact, he looks much like the skinny Dany Heatley that Thrasher fans saw two years ago. In addition to being big, Coburn can also skate very well for a man of size, which effectively extends the amount of ice he can cover. In shooting situations Coburn was able to get his shot away fairly quickly and accurately. For Thrasher fans who are hungry for a big, skilled defensive stud, help is on the way soon.
Jeff Dwyer was very impressive at this camp. Clearly his strongest attribute is his passing ability. Time after time Dwyer would make a tape-to-tape pass to a teammate. Often he would place the puck in a spot that would allow the other player to accept the pass without having to adjust or break stride. His shot was decent but not outstanding. The real obstacle for Dwyer is his modest stature. He is listed at 6’1” but doesn’t look that big on the ice. Given his combination of great puck skills and modest size, he might need to switch to forward to make it into the NHL.
Jimmy Sharrow is a young player with considerable potential. He has great skating speed and good offensive abilities. He also has a big frame that will allow him to add pounds. His junior hockey stats from last season understate his offensive abilities because he received very little powerplay time on a veteran laden team.
Evan Nielson looked better as the week went by. He looks bigger than his official 6’2” size and has good skating. He showed an ability to jump up into the play and help create some offense. Nielson averaged a point every other game in the competitive CCHA league last season.
Paul Flache is a solid player, but he lacks any outstanding attributes. Flache was showed some scoring touch by beating the goalies with good accurate shots in drills and three-on-three scrimmages. It seems like he plays smaller than his 6’5” size.
Tyler Boldt is decent WHL defenseman, but he is somewhat small and seems to lack any outstanding quality that will carry him to the NHL.
Brian Sipotz has great size, but not much else. His skating has improved from last year, but needs to get better. He has zero offensive upside considering that he has scored two points total in three seasons at Miami of Ohio. He may be a great hitter, but mind-boggling hits are seldom dished out a skill development camp.
Lane Manson’s skating and shooting at last summer’s prospect camp was so bad that it seemed that maybe the Thrashers entered the wrong name into the computer at the NHL draft. Of course, 6’8” defensemen don’t grow on trees and the club probably drafted him hoping he would develop into something useful. The good news is that he has improved significantly. The bad news is that must improve even more to go from project to real prospect. He still frequently struggles with his skating and his balance. His shot looked much smoother then last summer’s awkward flailing attempts to strike the puck, but he still is wildly inaccurate at times.
Jim Slater looked very promising at this year’s camp. Slater’s skating provides a solid foundation. He has good speed and skates leaning forward in position to either make a hit or play the puck at a moment’s notice. But the most outstanding attribute of Slater is drive. He simply hustles and works all the time when he is on the ice. That drive alone would probably make Slater a solid checking center for the Atlanta Thrashers, but Slater has also shown a nice scoring touch playing an elite college hockey school in Michigan State University. In his rookie year (at age 19) he scored 32 points in 37 games (.86 PPG) and he improved to 44 points in 37 games (1.19 PPG).
Colin Stuart is not a flashy forward but he is solid in almost every department. Stuart has above average speed with great balance and agility. He works very hard and plays on both the power play as well as penalty killing situations. Over the last two seasons Stuart has average slightly more than half a point per game played so he has decent offensive skills but not outstanding.
Karl Stewart’s game is all about speed. He is not a big man and uses his quickness to create gaps in defensive coverage. Stewart looked very impressive at the NHL preseason camp last fall. This summer he didn’t stand out quite as much, perhaps, he doesn’t feel that prospect camp is where he has to prove his potential since he will likely be back at the NHL camp again this fall. Thrasher scouts liked Stewart and the team signed him when no team claimed him in the NHL draft. He played on one of the top lines in the OHL last season and scored a 85 points in 68 games.
Pat Dwyer’s finishing abilities are his strongest asset. He has a hard shot that is very accurate. Dwyer had the most success at beating elite goalie prospect Kari Lehtonen at camp. One day of camp the players participated in a breakaway shootout contest where you had to score a goal to keep playing. Dwyer won the shootout contest both times. Dwyer has averaged around half a point per game in his two seasons at Western Michigan University.
Colton Fretter is another solid forward with good speed and scoring abilities. His shot is probably his best attribute. In camp he demonstrated that he can get off a hard accurate shot from a wide variety of angles and body positions. Fretter was a teammate of Slater and Maloney at Michigan State last year. As a 20-year-old freshman he scored 22 points in 32 games.
Brad Schell is a very solid all around player. He has a good skating and balance, solid shot and demonstrates good on ice vision. Unfortunately, none of these his skills are outstanding, but the total package might be good enough to land him a job as a NHL third line in a few years.
Brain Maloney was the oldest prospect at camp at 24 years old. The first few days he demonstrated some real feistiness by handing out some hits along the boards and chirping at other players. Everyone seemed to tone the physical play down as the week went along so that side of his game wasn’t as evident later. At Michigan State Maloney was a two-way player who put up nearly a point per game in his last three years. However, in camp it was obvious that Maloney lacks the speed needed to be a scorer in the NHL and thus he will likely be competing for a third or fourth line job as a skilled checking character player.
Guillaume Desbiens looked good the first day of camp showing some decent offensive skills. Things went downhill from there. It seemed that he was either battling an injury or was not in proper condition. At times he really labored moving around the ice. On the positive side, he did show that he has decent set of hands and he could eventually develop into a tough checking player who could play with other skilled players.