Lewis leaves good impression on way back to Dartmouth

By Holly Gunning

In practice, Grant Lewis can be found doing one of three things –- performing a skating drill with silky-smooth precision, eating up rushing forwards, or waiting for his next turn with his stick high on his shoulder, looking a bit like a hobo with a knapsack.

The Ivy Leaguer is certainly nothing of the kind, however. In fact, he’s one of the best defensive prospects in the Atlanta Thrashers stable.

Drafted in the second round, 40th overall, in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, the 21-year-old is a two-way defenseman with good size at 6’3. Lewis was second in defensive scoring for Dartmouth College last year with 15 points in 29 games. His scoring pace is down from his sophomore year, but don’t be fooled into thinking he’s not developing. He was named to the 2005-06 All-Ivy League team at the end of the regular season. Now he’s in Thrashers Prospects Development camp giving a very impressive performance.

About a year ago, the Thrashers said that they would like to see Lewis turn pro early, mostly due to the lack of games that Ivy League teams play. But the organization can only absorb so many rookie defensemen per year and already has Boris Valabik, Nathan Oystrick, and Scott Lehman coming in this fall. Defense is a well-stocked position going into 2006-07.

Lewis said this week that he was willing to go pro if that’s what the Thrashers thought was best, noting sometimes you have to make sacrifices in life. But he remains very enthusiastic, looking forward to when that time comes.

“Whatever they think is best for my hockey career and best for their organization, I’m pretty much willing to do,” he said.

Lewis doesn’t think he really has anything left to prove at the college level as far as hockey goes, but said that he would be able to get his degree and as a senior in college, would probably have the best year of his life. Lewis is majoring in psychology and has enough credits to graduate on time with his class.

Avoiding picking up bad habits because the game is so much easier for him will be key this year as he prepares for a professional career.

Big Green ups and downs

Last season was a good one for Lewis personally, and his team. After a slow start to the 2005-06 season, the Dartmouth Big Green picked it up late, becoming ECACHL Co-Champions for the regular season.

“Yeah, last year I think we started out 0-4,” he recalled. “I think a lot of it was because we played some out of Ivy League games and [our opponents] had a few more games under their belts and they were in a little better shape coming in. But we ended up only losing I think three more games in our season and coming in first place in our league. Unfortunately Harvard got the best of us in the semi-finals.”

Lewis suffered a shoulder injury in February that sidelined him most of the month.

“I was making a backhand pass and I was just vulnerable for that half second. I got hit and separated my shoulder,” he explained. “They said it was a Grade 1 or first-degree separation, so it wasn’t too bad. It did, however, put me out for four games. Thankfully we had off the following weekend, so I was back for the Yale series and first round of the playoffs. It didn’t put me out too long but I still missed a few games.”

First prospects camp

Though he’s been property of the Thrashers for two years, Lewis is experiencing his first Thrashers prospects camp. He chose not to attend in 2004, and none was held in 2005 due to the NHL lockout.

“I was just a freshman, still young, hadn’t really developed yet fully,” he said of passing on the 2004 invitation. “I’m still not sure I’m fully developed. But I was real young and immature.”

Lewis is rooming with the University of Minnesota’s Mike Vannelli this week. Both are college defensemen entering their senior season. Vannelli, a camp veteran, said that Lewis had a lot of questions for him before they hit the ice. Vannelli clearly prepared him well, as Lewis has been pretty easily the best defenseman in camp.

“I feel like it’s going pretty well,” Lewis said of camp. “It’s been a lot of skating and skill stuff. We’re all just getting back on the ice. It’s been a lot of fun so far -– I think they’ve done a great job. Ken (McCudden) the skating instructor has been great and really helped us out.”

It is Lewis’ first trip to Atlanta as well as to the camp, but he hasn’t been able to experience it with as busy as the campers have been.

“We’re tied down quite a bit. Haven’t gotten out to see the city at all,” he said. “I was kind of looking forward to doing that. Maybe Thursday night after our last practice.”

Right after camp, the Pittsburgh native is heading out to Los Angeles to train for six weeks, his usual summer routine. Humble about his game, he’s also realistic in pointing to strength as a key area to focus on.

“I don’t think I’m excellent at any part of my game. I think I do everything pretty well, and it gets me by,” he said. “I think my biggest asset is my mental aspect of the game. I obviously need to get stronger and put some weight on if I want to play at the NHL level. I’m willing to do that. It comes with time and hard work, and I’m willing to put in the time and hard work. It will come.”

Having played last season just a bit over 200 pounds, Lewis weighs about 195 right now. He did some skating before he showed up for camp, which caused him to lose some water weight.

“I’ve got some bigger pads, that helps me out with the scouts,” he joked.

Beyond training in LA, his goal for next season is simple, though difficult to achieve.

“Our team, we make the playoffs every year, do pretty well, but we never seem to make the NCAA tournament. We’re always the last team out or whatever. I’d really like to go back and make them strive, with the organization and myself, and hopefully make the NCAA tournament and go from there.”

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