The Atlanta Thrashers began their 2003-04 preseason schedule against the Tampa Bay Lightning at home. The line-up featured the “young veterans” of the team, Dany Heatley, Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Stefan, etc, with less space being given to prospects than in previous such match-ups. With the top two lines set, the prospects and young players who did play in this game are largely competing for spots on the third line.
Veterans Heatley and Daniel Tjarnqvist scored for Atlanta. The only goal scored for Tampa was by Jean-Francois Soucy, the same Tampa prospect who scored a hat trick against the Thrashers in preseason in 2002-03.
Making an impression
Defenseman Garnet Exelby’s play was good, very simple. One of the best features of his game is hitting, but his timing was off in the game, he often hit the boards himself rather than the opposition. But, he wasn’t the only one with this problem in the opening game of preseason. Exelby played most of the game alongside offensive defenseman Yannick Tremblay.
Finn Tommi Santala centered grinders Bill Lindsay and Francis Lessard for the majority of the game, but did see time with just about every other line as well. He played better than in the camp scrimmages, but did not do anything to stand out. Coach Hartley drew him a picture showing positioning on his white board on at least one occasion. Known as a faceoff specialist, Santala was thrown out of the circle at least three times tonight. Santala took a penalty for hooking in the third period.
Czech forward Kamil Piros started out on a line with Brian Swanson and JP Vigier, but played most of the game with Marc Savard and Heatley. Overall Piros played a physical game and was both defensively responsible and had offensive chances. The Tjarnqvist goal came about due to Piros going hard around the net on a wraparound. He got the puck to the front of the net where Swanson shot it in past John Grahame. It is a good lesson to Piros to score a hard-working goal; the fancy play isn’t always the best one. The most notable item about Piros is that he lined up at wing in this game. If he makes the roster, it’s likely to be at the wing position due to the abundance of centers under contract.
Defenseman Kurtis Foster had a few problem areas, namely getting pushed around a bit due to his light frame, and finding the right outlet pass to get out of the zone, but overall played better defensively than he’s done in the past. Foster was paired mostly with Daniel Tjarnqvist, and saw time on the second power play unit with Andy Sutton.
JP Vigier played a very responsible, hard-working game. He’ll remain in the mix for a job on the third line as long as no one steps up and performs better than him.
Brad Tapper played mostly with Patrik Stefan and Ilya Kovalchuk, but failed to use the skill of these players to his advantage. He tried to force the play himself rather than wait for something to develop. He had several scoring chances, but every time sent the puck into the chest of John Grahame. Tapper also spent some time on a line with Brian Swanson and Eric Healey.
The teams reunite again Friday in Tampa in another match-up.
Wednesday brought the first trimming of the training camp roster. All junior players were sent back to their teams except for 2003 first round pick Braydon Coburn. The junior players sent back included Jimmy Sharrow to Halifax, Guillaume Desbiens to Rouyn Noranda, Brad Schell to Spokane and Lane Manson to Moose Jaw. Coburn did not play in Thursday’s preseason game, but will likely play in one or more of the two games this weekend.
The two players invited to camp under AHL contract, Evan Nielsen and Greg Hawgood, were assigned back to Chicago of the AHL. Only three players under Thrashers contracts were cut, goaltender Michael Garnett, defenseman Paul Flache, and forward Anthony Aquino. Garnett and Flache both played in the ECHL last season. Aquino turned pro in March 2003 after being acquired from Dallas.
Free agent invitees Kevin Doell, Danny Bois, and Brandon Dietrich were also released. The only free agent invitee remaining is center Jason Bonsignore, former Oilers first round pick. Bonsignore has shown flashes of good skill in camp.
The Thrashers roster now stands at 43. The next round of cuts will come following the weekend’s series of games, three in three nights.