Friday was a day of intrasquad scrimmages at Atlanta Thrashers training camp. It was also the last day that the full compliment of players would be together, as a group left this afternoon for two preseason games in London, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec against the Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens. The first cuts from camp will be made on Monday.
Below is a look at how the prospects performed on this critical day.
Colin Stuart may have been the hardest working player on the ice, showing a strong forecheck and making several hits. Having spent too much time on the bench in the past, Stuart came to play. He cleared the puck when he needed to and did all of the little things. Stuart was on a line with Derek MacKenzie and Alex Bourret in the first game, then Serge Aubin and Scott Mellanby in the second.
Jordan LaVallee had some good and bad luck today. His good luck was being put on a line with No. 1 center Marc Savard and winger J.P. Vigier, with Andy Sutton playing solidly behind them. This line combined for all three of Team Blue’s goals. LaVallee’s bad luck was that he was the victim of a retaliatory cheap shot from Francis Lessard, who crosschecked him in the neck along the boards. He was down for a few minutes, but returned to the game. The line of Savard, Vigier and LaVallee might have looked lazy, but they might have been the smartest as well, since they got a lot of their offense by cherry-picking at the blue line. With the red line no longer in play for two-line passes, hanging at the blue line will likely be seen more commonly.
Alex Bourret was fine positionally, but did not stand out playing on a line with Colin Stuart and Derek Mackenzie. All of his shots missed the net. Again today Bourret took part in more drills than everyone else, joining Team Red for skating after playing in two scrimmages. In the skating endurance test of 16 laps, he was in last place most of the way, but sprinted up a bit at the end to come in third to last in front of Brad Schell and Lane Manson.
Jim Slater played well, but showed no offensive flair. Stephen Baby did not stand out, other than a failed hit on a slippery forward. Guillaume Desbiens kept pace in the scrimmage and once stole the puck from Lehman. He played on a line with Peter Bondra and Kevin Doell, and had a passable time in skating endurance.
Karl Stewart played on a line with Patrik Stefan and Scott Barney. Like the Vigier line, he demonstrated the art of cherry picking. Brad Schell made some good passes playing with better players, but missed wide on a one-timer in the slot. He came in next to last in his group in the skating endurance test.
Braydon Coburn was solid in the scrimmage, but stole the show in the skating endurance test. He was part of a lead group with Bobby Holik and Peter Bondra, but in the last lap, pushed ahead for a strong win. His fitness is certainly one of his best assets.
Mark Popovic showed a lot of confidence with the puck in the scrimmage, carrying it and making good outlet passes. He was sufficiently physical and was sound defensively paired with Travis Roche.
Brian Sipotz made a few good defensive plays, batting the puck out of the zone and blocking a Slater shot with his stick. His partner, Scott Lehman struggled in the scrimmage, missing passes, failing to keep the zone, and missing a hip check.
Jimmy Sharrow played solidly, with a steal and a hit, but did much worse than expected at skating endurance. He went out for an early lead, but gradually dropped to the end, and was eventually lapped along with Jeff Dwyer by Nic Havelid and Ronald Petrovicky. In the scrimmage, Dwyer made few mistakes, but few key plays either.
Lane Manson did fine in the scrimmage paired with Dwyer, stealing the puck from Bourret at one point, but he happened to be on the wrong team following the Lessard cheap shot and was challenged to a fight by Ramzi Abid. The minor scuffle ended in a draw. Manson did poorly in the skating endurance test, coming in last in his group, behind Desbiens, Bourret, and Schell.
Adam Berkhoel gave up two goals in the scrimmage, one to Greg de Vries on a shot from the point, and one by Mellanby on a scrum in front. He stopped all four shots he faced in the shootout. Berkhoel is experienced with the shootout, having played in the ECHL last season where it was used, but it has not been his strong suit in the past.
Michael Garnett gave up two goals in the scrimmage, one to Shane Hnidy on a screen, and one to Adam Smyth on a slapshot from the top of the circle. Garnett stopped three shots in the shootout following the second scrimmage, then gave up the winner to Tommi Santala up high. He will go on this weekend’s roadtrip due to Lehtonen’s injury, a common occurrence for Garnett in the past couple of years.
Kari Lehtonen has suffered a groin pull during some goalies-only drills. Groin injuries are fast becoming his Achilles heel, having suffered several in the past couple of years. This one seems to be relatively minor, but it will keep him out of camp for a while.
Coach Bob Hartley is not pleased with the injury. After practice he said, “there was no need for this,” and that there is a direct relationship between groin pulls and being in better shape. He praised his former starter in Colorado, Patrick Roy, for the shape he was in. “I’m not very happy,” he summed up.
Preseason games this weekend
The following players are on the trip for this weekend’s preseason games.
Forwards: Marc Savard, J.P. Vigier, Bobby Holik, Tommi Santala, Brad Larsen, Karl Stewart, Francis Lessard, Ramzi Abid, Derek Mackenzie, Jordan Lavallee, Colin Stuart, Adam Smyth.
Defensemen: Andy Sutton, Garnet Exelby, Mark Popovic, Braydon Coburn, Brian Sipotz, Jimmy Sharrow, Shane Hnidy.
Goaltenders: Mike Dunham, Michael Garnett.
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