Thrashers NCAA prospects update

By Holly Gunning

With sniper Brett Sterling having turned pro this year, there are no Atlanta Thrashers NCAA prospects tearing it up, but there are two very good defensemen and some solid defensive forwards.

In total, the organization has six forwards and two defensemen in the NCAA, comprised of four seniors, two juniors, one sophomore and one freshman. 

In this update, we also hear from some former teammates who have moved on to the pros.

Grant Lewis, D – Dartmouth College, Senior
2nd round, 40th overall in 2004

This was supposed to be a great year for Lewis, capping off his college career.  But Lewis was knocked out of Dartmouth’s first game on Oct. 27 with a right ankle injury that kept him out until Dec. 16.  In  the 14 games he’s played since his return, the 6’3 193-pound two-way defenseman has posted eight assists.

Despite having a talented team, Dartmouth has been struggling this year.  And while it’s bad news for Dartmouth, it does mean that Lewis may be available earlier this spring to join one of the Thrashers’ minor-league teams.  That extra playing time would do the 22-year-old a lot of good since he had a shortened season.

Michael Vannelli, D – University of Minnesota, Senior
4th round, 136th overall, 2003

Vannelli has been filling the net this year along with the rest of the Golden Gophers.  He has seven goals and 19 assists for 26 points, ranking him fifth on the high-scoring squad.  The 6’2 186-pound defenseman ranks ninth nationally amongst defensemen for points per game with .84 and is on pace to more than double his previous scoring totals. Vannelli’s seven goals include a hat trick last month against Boston University.

P.J. Atherton, a former Minnesota defenseman who turned pro this year and is playing for the ECHL Johnstown Chiefs, talked about Vannelli recently.

“He’s a great player, a great guy, works very hard.  He’s having a great season this year for Minnesota.  Tremendous composure with the puck, good shot.  I wish him all the best, he’s a great friend.”

Vannelli was named captain in this, his senior year.  The selection was a bit surprising perhaps because he’s not a very loud or talkative guy.

“He’s a leader by example,” Atherton explained.  “He goes out and plays hard.  He’s shy in certain situations, but if you get to know him, he throws his opinion in there pretty good.”

Minnesota has the second best offense in the league this year, scoring an average of 3.90 goals per game.  They also have the second best winning percentage, at .790 behind Notre Dame. 
Atherton is naturally not surprised by Minnesota’s current success.

“They had a great recruiting class, just like every year,” he said.  “Don (Lucia)’s a great coach and they’re making the most of what they have up there.  They’ve got a lot of talent and they’re utilizing it.”

The 23-year-old Vannelli will turn pro this summer, after what is likely to be a long playoff run by the Gophers.

Mitch Carefoot, C – Cornell University, Senior
8th round, 237th overall, 2004

Carefoot has taken a big step forward in production this year for Cornell, more than doubling his points per game. He sits fourth on his defensive-minded team in scoring with eight goals and seven assists in 22 games.

Carefoot is not gifted with the puck, but is scoring more lately by going to the net.  He’s a north-south player whose effort can’t be questioned. 

Former Cornell netminder Dave McKee (ANA), who turned pro this summer and is now playing for the ECHL Augusta Lynx, described the 6’1 209-pound Carefoot as a power forward. 

“Great teammate,” McKee said.  “He works 100 percent on both ends of the ice.  A great defensive player and gives it all the entire time.  He was in my class, one of my best friends.  We’ve spent a lot of time together.  He came to my house this summer [in Texas] for an entire month to train for Thrashers [prospects] camp.  He’s a great guy and I think he’ll be very successful after college.” 

A senior this year, the 22-year-old Carefoot could join either the Chicago Wolves or Gwinnett Gladiators after his season is over.  Cornell is tied for fourth with Cornell in the ECAC. 

Mike Hamilton, F – University of Maine, Senior
6th round, 175th overall, 2003

Hamilton has bounced back from a nightmare 2005-06 season in which he suffered a major knee injury and was suspended from his team for an off-ice incident in which he instigated a fight. 

His improvement on the score sheet has not been huge, with just two more points in two fewer games, though he’s gone from one goal to six. In all, Hamilton has 13 points in 27 games, but tied for eighth on the team in points is not a great accomplishment for a senior, especially on a team that is ranked in the top 10 in goals scored per game.
Hamilton has been playing the more defensively-focused center position, and his coach has been happy with him, playing him in all situations.

Hamilton will be 24 in May, so all of this it all might be too little, too late.

Matt Siddall, RW – Northern Michigan University, Junior
9th round, 270th overall, 2004

Siddall has been playing on a line with Mike Santorelli (NAS) and Pat Bateman for much of the season.  Linemate Santorelli is second in the nation in goals scored per game, so this has been a good place for Siddall to put up his best point production at NMU to date.  The 22-year-old is fourth on the Wildcats with 16 points (3 goals, 13 assists), one of his goals a game winner.  He also sees some power play time.

Siddall also has 93 penalty minutes, which leads the team.  This number is made up of 29 minors, one major, and three misconducts.  The 6’1 205-pounder plays a very rough style for college hockey, where fighting is not allowed.  Siddall missed two weeks in January with what was reportedly a concussion suffered against Ferris State.

Northern Michigan has struggled this year, now with a record of 12-18-2, so it will likely be a short season for Siddall and the Wildcats.

Rylan Kaip, C – University of North Dakota, Junior
9th round, 269th overall, 2003

The Fighting Sioux alternate captain centers a checking line of Erik Fabian and Kyle Radke/Andrew Kozek and is a staple on the penalty kill.  He has just one goal and four assists in 23 games compared to seven total points in 41 games last year.

Kaip was ejected from UND’s Jan. 12 game for fighting Alaska Anchorage defenseman Chad Anderson.  Kaip was given a game disqualification, served on Jan. 19.

Defensively very responsible and with a good deal of hockey sense, Kaip has a career in hockey, but not likely the NHL level.  He turns 23 in March.

Andrew Kozek, W – University of North Dakota, Sophomore
2nd round, 53rd overall, 2005

Typically prospects show a jump in production in their sophomore year, but it hasn’t materialized for Kozek.  The 20-year-old has just four goals and four assists in 26 games. This scoring rate of .31 points per game is up only slightly from .29 points per game as a freshman.  Two of his four goals this year came on Oct. 28 at Minnesota State.

Kozek was scratched on Jan. 20 because of a shoulder injury suffered the night before.  He returned the following weekend.  Lately the 5’11, 185-pounder has been playing on a checking line with Kaip and Fabian, which is not his strength, but his play has not demonstrated that he should be given the more coveted scoring line minutes. He’s generally ineffective on the ice.

Talent doesn’t help you much if you can’t put it into production, and that seems to be a problem for Kozek.  Of the three second rounders the Thrashers had in 2005, including Ondrej Pavelec and Chad Denny, Kozek is the furthest behind in development.

Michael Forney, LW – University of North Dakota, Freshman
3rd round, 80th overall, 2006

Highly-touted for his offensive skill, many expected Forney to make a big splash this year as a Fighting Sioux recruit.  But Forney did not follow in T.J. Oshie’s (STL) footsteps, coming from high school hockey and dominating. Instead, the undrafted Chay Genoway and Darcy Zajac have outperformed Forney as freshmen. 

Forney, a frequent healthy scratch, has just two points in 14 games played and is still looking for first collegiate goal.  Forney also missed four games in October due to a shoulder injury.

A true freshman out of Thief River Falls H.S., Forney won’t turn 19 until May. The 6’2, 185 pounder has shown to be much more raw than Oshie, though he of course still has some potential. 

Any way you slice it, Forney has been a disappointment for UND, who expected more from this coveted recruit. North Dakota’s seven-game winning streak won’t do anything to help him get into the lineup.

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