Thrashers: Preseason update and additional cuts

By Holly Gunning

The Atlanta Thrashers played their fourth preseason game as a matinee in front of thousands of school-aged children. The opponent was again the Carolina Hurricanes, the second in a three-game preseason series. The two squads were evenly matched, and the game was tense until the Thrashers put it away 3-1 in the third period.

Lines

Piros – Robitaille – Heatley
Stewart – Stefan – Vigier
Healey – Santala – Baby
Lindsay – Swanson – Lessard

Kaberle – Safronov
Tremblay – Tamer
Tjarnqvist – Heins

Winger Karl Stewart played well on the second line with Patrik Stefan and JP Vigier, creating turnovers and scoring chances. He spent 3:13 on the penalty kill, including time as the lone forward on a 4-on-3. Stewart keeps the puck in the zone when he should, and gets it out when he should. Fresh out of the OHL, nothing in his play is stopping him from making the final cut.

Center Tommi Santala played on a line with Eric Healey and Stephen Baby and did not stand out. He had a few chances to finish a play, in which he sent the puck wide, but was not a play creator. Santala went down awkwardly in the corner early in the game, limped to the bench, but returned after a short time. His slashing penalty was taken after a hit later in the game. He had 19:31 in total icetime, second only to Dany Heatley, as he was tried in every situation. Santala continued to be tossed from the faceoff circle, a trend from previous games. On the 14 that he did take, he won 50 percent. This is Santala’s first year in North America.

Right wing Stephen Baby was nearly invisible in the game, which is difficult given his 6’5″ stature. The recent Cornell graduate played mostly with Healey and Baby.

Defenseman Kirill Safronov played 14:43, and almost all of it was at even strength. He was normally paired with Frantisek Kaberle. His play was adequate, but not outstanding. Safronov saw 32 games with the team last year, but will be squeezed by the improvement and health of the defensive corps.

Forward Kamil Piros maintained his good play on a line with Randy Robitaille and Dany Heatley. This line scored two of the three goals in the game. Piros had numerous scoring opportunities and scored a goal off a give and go with Robitaille, helping him earn the third star of the game. Piros has three points in three preseason games. It would be next to impossible to cut a player who is consistently producing, and not hurting the team defensively.

Right wing JP Vigier continued his good play and was rewarded with a goal off a redirection and the first star of the game. He played mostly with Patrik Stefan and Karl Stewart. Vigier took the second-highest number of shots for the day next to Heatley, with three. He was the lone forward on a 4-on-3 situation, a test of his penalty-killing abilities. He spent a total of 3:44 on the PK. If his defense is up to snuff, and it appears that it is, he should make the roster to start the season.

For Carolina, 2003 first round draft pick Eric Staal played a terrific game. He helped create scoring opportunities almost every time he touched the puck. On one play in particular, he beat a player along the boards, took the puck through the neutral zone, chipped it past Frantisek Kaberle, one of Atlanta’s best defenders, and made a nice pass across the slot. If only a teammate had been there to finish the play, it would have been an assist to remember. Staal can not only play for Carolina this season, but he can be a good player immediately. Carolina 2003 second round pick Danny Richmond played Dany Heatley very well on a 1-on-1, but otherwise looked a bit shaky on the backline. He was given a good long look though, playing 21:52, in all situations.

Another round of cuts

A third round of cuts was made following today’s preseason action. Forwards Stephen Baby, Eric Healey, defenseman Shawn Heins, and goaltender Frederic Cassivi were all assigned to Chicago of the AHL. The Thrashers roster now stands at 29, six above the regular season maximum of 23. Notable prospects remaining are Garnet Exelby, Karl Stewart, Tommi Santala, Braydon Coburn, and Kari Lehtonen.

Notes: Atlanta’s 2003 first round draft pick Braydon Coburn has still not seen any preseason action, recovering from a rib injury suffered in camp. He took part in practice after today’s game, as did Kari Lehtonen. Both will be available to play in this weekend’s preseason games, Friday against Carolina and Saturday against Nashville.