Thrashers Development Camp: Day 1

By Holly Gunning

Today was the first day of on-ice training at the 2002 Thrashers Development Camp in Duluth, GA. Over 100 fans were in attendance. There were two sessions, a morning and an afternoon. There were twice as many skaters in the morning session as in the afternoon, which seemed a bit odd since they seemed to be doing basically the same stuff. There was a lot of stretching and basic skating drills. A fair number of passing drills and only a little bit of 2-on-1 or 3-on-1 play.

The guys were dressed in blue or white jerseys, forwards in blue and defensemen in white. Dan Snyder did not skate today but is expected on Tuesday. Brian Sipotz, Brad Schell, and Matt Suderman also did not skate today, all of which may be injury-related.

Below are my impressions of each player today. Keep in mind that this was only the first day of camp and there are five more days to go. Today may have just been shaking the rust off. I’ll go through them by position, in approximate order of how they did today.


Mark Hartigan is just returning to the ice after his hamstring tear, so I expected him to take it a bit easy but he didn’t. He looked great out there, good skating and he scored on some pretty plays. The only thing he couldn’t do was squat stretches. He wasn’t head and shoulders above the rest, but he did look the most NHL ready of the group.

Jim Slater looked quick and solid on all the drills. He never caught my eye in particular. I’ll try to watch him more closely next time.

Matt McRae displayed good offensive talent. He had a least three nice shots that beat the goalie. Skating was good, not exceptional.

Derek MacKenzie was one of the veterans of the developmental camp and led the stretches. That’s all he led in though, he really just blended into the crowd. I expected more out of him given that he’s already had a year in the AHL.

Left Wings

Simon Gamache had a great day, he scored a whole series of pretty goals. If only games were like practice and you always had that much room, and size and physical strength didn’t matter. He’s very entertaining to watch, and today was no exception.

Kamil Piros didn’t look as good skill-wise today as he did last year in camp, but he did look more comfortable. He showed a harder and sneakier wrist shot than I remember, if only he’d actually shoot in games. He didn’t have the best puck-control today, but that’s not like him, so I’m chalking it up to rust.

Colin Stuart caught my eye a number of times. He showed good agility, good offensive instincts and just solid all around. I think he could step into the AHL with no problem.

Zdenik Blatny didn’t really stand out one way or the other. He had a couple of nice shots. He was working on his slapshot after the session ended.

Karl Stewart had some good shots, but other than that, he blended in. I’ll try to watch him more closely next time.

David Kaczowka looked bad today. He missed passes and fell down. Too bad there were no fighting drills, where he could really shine.

Right Wings

Brad Tapper looked good, as he should after two pro seasons. He was definitely one of the better players on the ice. Whether that means anything or not will be determined at training camp.

Stephen Baby had a few nice shots and I was favorably impressed by him.


Joe DiPenta looked great offensively, everything he shot was going in. He’s not even an offensive defenseman, so this was particularly impressive. His skating was alright, but he just might not have been trying very hard in the skating drills. He is the closest of the defensemen at camp to the NHL.

Jeff Dwyer showed good skating ability, and a good all-around skill level. Looks like a solid prospect.

Paul Flache had some problems with the somewhat-complicated weaving drill, but showed some good defensive ability on the 3-on-1’s. I was favorably impressed with him. He seemed to have skills around the same level as guys who played in the AHL last year.

Garnet Exelby didn’t do anything to stand out. I expected him to look better than the others after a year pro. His skating could still use some improvement.

Mark McRae had some puckhandling issues, but scored on a few nice shots. His defensive play wasn’t as good as his offensive play.

Tyler Boldt was the most invisible of all the players in that he was very average. He didn’t do anything spectacular, but didn’t make many mistakes either.

Pauli Levokari was one of the biggest surprises of the day. I had very low expectations for this 8th round pick, but he proved them wrong. He is a smooth skater for a large man. His passing skills could use some work. He didn’t look like he was trying very hard in the skating drills, but was one of the last off the ice at the end, working on shooting. The newspaper projected him to play in the ECHL to start the year, but I think he’d fit in fine in the AHL.

Evan Nielsen was terrible on stickhandling and passing. He did have decent defensive instincts though.

Kurtis Foster had a bad day. He whiffed on pucks, and couldn’t stickhandle to save his life. He had some really good shots and some really bad ones too. I’ve seen him better in games, so I’m not terribly concerned here.

Luke Sellars was hell on wheels. His skating was terrible and he fell at least three times during drills. In particular, he could not do the sharp turning drill, he either fell or made the turns too wide. I knew his skating wasn’t great to begin with, but I’m having serious doubts about it now. In addition to the skating problem, he also displayed poor stickhandling and passing. The only thing that looked OK was his shot. He may stay in the ECHL again this year.

Lane Manson was the player who made everyone else look good, even Sellars, and that was hard to do. The guy cannot skate, cannot handle the puck, and cannot shoot. He is lanky and awkward and fell at least once. He is tall, that is his only good quality. He looks like a complete waste of a draft pick to me.


Michael Garnett played in both the morning and afternoon sessions. He worked hard in the drills, not just skating through them to conserve energy. He made some nice stops. I noticed he popped a lot of pucks up and behind him.

David Carruso of Ohio State was the other goalie. He lives in the area and was invited to the camp to help out. He didn’t look too bad.

Here are the rough categories I’d put today’s performances into:

Standouts: Hartigan, DiPenta, Gamache

Good: Piros, Stuart, Tapper, Slater, Dwyer, Flache, Baby, Blatny

OK: Matt McRae, Exelby, Mark McRae, Boldt, Levokari, MacKenzie, Stewart, Nielsen, Foster

Bad: Sellars, Kaczowka, Manson

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