Thrashers Development Camp: Day 5

By Holly Gunning

It was 95 degrees in Atlanta today, but give the Duluth IceForum credit, you could have hung meat in the Thrashers practice rink. The ice was excellent, nice and crunchy, making for a day of no-excuses skating drills. Atlanta may not be a historic hockey area, but we sure know our air conditioning. At least 40 brave souls ventured into the cold to catch today’s action.

The format today was very different than Day 1. The morning session was broken up into all forwards for one hour, then all defensemen for the second hour. Both concentrated on skating drills. In fact, the defensemen didn’t use the pucks at all. In the afternoon, everyone was out together and the drills were mostly passing and shooting oriented.

Because of the long concentration on skating drills, I was able to analyze each guy’s skating. This attribute is mentioned in each individual report and at the bottom I put the guys into categories according to strength of skating.

There was a great 5-man breakout drill leading to a 3 on 2 that was excellent for seeing passing ability and defensive positioning. At the end, there was a 3 on 3 half court mini-scrimmage in which 6 guys were sent in after a puck and they played til one side scored. It got physical at times. The blue team (the forwards) almost always won. I’ll refer to this drill many times below, since this was the most game-like of any of the drills and showed a lot of attributes that the other drills could not.

Forwards (listed in approximate order of performance)

Colin Stuart was impressive again today. He was quick and agile on the skating drills, one of the best skaters on the ice. He showed a great work ethic, one that some of the pro players should emulate. He came out early, left last, and had some of the best hustle on the ice. He followed up all of his shots very well. Sign this kid up! The only part of his game that could use some work is his puckhandling.

Simon Gamache was the first one out on the ice for both sessions, with the crate of pucks of course. He had a puck on his stick at every moment unless doing a drill in which he wasn’t supposed to have a puck. He had the best energy on the ice. His shooting was as usual, very accurate. Besides his size, his weakness is in passing and stickhandling. It’s adequate, but will need to improve to move up. He got crunched pretty good by Kurtis Foster in the 3 on 3 play, but he scored in the same drill.

Mark Hartigan looked good, but not as good as the first day of camp. He showed good hustle. He’s very well-rounded, so it’s hard to point to particular stengths and weaknesses.

Brad Tapper looked good for the few minutes he was out there. He left early after an apparent ankle problem and did not return.

Jim Slater looked OK today. He was agile in traffic on the 3 on 3 play, but his shooting was very hit or miss. He had a couple good one-timers, but also a whiff and a couple shots go wide. He fell once pushing the envelope on a stop. He was out early and the last off the ice.

Derek MacKenzie was pretty invisible again today. He had a hard time with a couple of the agility drills, and it seemed to bother him. He was alone on a “breakaway” once in the 3 on 3 and couldn’t beat the goalie.

Dan Snyder was next to invisible. He didn’t look very energetic, which is very unlike him. In fact, he looked like he may be hurt. He didn’t play in the contact drill, which seems to confirm this theory.

Matt McRae didn’t stand out. He made some good and some bad passes. His shooting was only adequate. His skating is probably his best feature.

Karl Stewart again did not stand out. His skating is mediocre.

Stephen Baby is not a good skater, nor a passer. His best feature is probably his shooting, although it’s nothing to write home about. I’m not sure what I saw in him on Sunday.

Zdenik Blatny put forth no effort during most of the drills, but worked hard during the shooting and the 3 on 3 play. Besides his lack of effort, Blatny’s skating is his worst feature. He is neither quick nor agile. His stride is not quite right. His passing and shooting are his best features.

Kamil Piros might as well not come to camp if he’s not going to put forth any effort. He lollygagged through the drills, and then tried only fancy stuff during the 3 on 3 play, none of which worked. He couldn’t even score on the goalie alone in tight. He looks completely uninterested in this camp.

David Kaczowka again showed why he is a fighter, not a skill player. Skating and passing are not his forte. I think he actually looks OK in games though, it must be that his positioning makes up for other weaknesses.

Defensemen (listed in approximate order of performance)

Joe DiPenta again looked very good. He smoked Garnett on one shot in particular, and had several other good ones. Hard ones too. His skating is not quick, but it is agile. I continue to think that he is the most NHL-ready of the defensemen at camp.

Garnet Exelby looked pretty good today. I tried to watch him closely on the skating drills since his skating bothers me. I’ve decided that he’s pretty quick and actually quite agile, but he’s just got really bad form. He gets around fine in games which is probably all that matters. He looked adequate on passing and shooting. He jostled with Kazcowka a bit in the 3 on 3 play.

Jeff Dwyer looked OK today. He’s a very smooth skater and was good on the passing drills. He deked and scored a nice goal on the 3 on 3 play. He did get rubbed out by Mark Hartigan during that same drill though, and Hartigan isn’t a defenseman.

Kurtis Foster seemed to work hard today, not to say he didn’t the first day, but it was definately noticeable today. He seems like he really wants to improve himself through this camp, which is great to see. He excelled in the drills that most resembled game play. He stood forwards up at the blue line twice in a row on the 3 on 2s (Hartigan and MacKenzie) and stole the puck away from them. He played hard and physical in the 3 on 3 play. His skating is probably his worst feature, typically for such a tall guy. He’s faster than he is agile. He stayed out to work on one skating drill with the coach.

Luke Sellars did much better today than on Sunday, especially in the skating. Still not in the “good” category, but passable. His problem today was more in catching passes. He did OK on defensive positioning, but he seems to get beat easily when he tried to lay his stick down on the ice, but he doesn’t get it down all the way. He has the right idea there, but poor execution.

Tyler Boldt was hit and miss. His skating looked poor–he tripped a couple times, and had a difficult time with one of the drills. But he looked good in the 3 on 3 play, playing tough and beating the other team to the puck. He was practicing one-timers with Paul Flache for a long time after the morning drills, and was exceptionally accurate while moving, but less so when stationary. Seems tough to explain, maybe the passes weren’t the best. Showed good effort for the day. He looked like he may be hurt a bit, I saw him grimacing in pain a couple times.

Mark McRae didn’t stand out. He was alright on skating and defensive positioning.

Pauli Levokari did not look as good as the first day. He looked slow, but his agility is not bad for someone his size. He makes up for his lack of speed defensively with a quick stick, taking away the passing lanes and being a general nuisance. He tripped Blatny down low, which was actually not a bad play at the time. Stayed out to work on skating with the coach and Foster. Maybe they were right originally when projecting him for the ECHL. After today I think that would be best, at least to start.

Paul Flache looked average as far as skating goes, but poor in the passing department. He practiced one-timers with Boldt for a long time, and looked great when stationary (made 7 of 8 tries, and the 8th was a post), but often shot wide when on the move.

Evan Nielsen looked bad in the skating drills but really turned it on in the 3 on 3 play. He’s slow, with poor puckhandling, but looked very good defensively. He broke up one play, and in another, hit Stuart and took the puck away.

Matt Suderman did not skate the first day of camp so this was the first time I got to see him. I hope that he’s injured, otherwise he’s just not very good. His skating is terrible, slow and not at all agile. He fell once and almost fell twice more. His was definately the worst skater in camp today, comparable to Manson in this area, though Manson did not skate today. Suderman’s stickhandling and shooting were lacking as well.

Categorization of Skating Skill of participants in camp (combination of speed and agility):

Very good: Tapper, Stuart, Gamache, Dwyer, Slater, Snyder
Good: Hartigan, DiPenta, Piros, Exelby
Average: MacKenzie, Flache, McRaes, Stewart
Poor: Sellars, Blatny, Foster, Boldt, Baby
Bad: Manson, Suderman, Levokari, Nielsen, Kaczowka

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