Introduction: I had the chance to talk with the Thrashers Director of Scouting and Player Development a few weeks ago at the U-18 Championships in Fargo, North Dakota. He began his Atlanta tenure as Head Scout in 1998 and was promoted to to his present position in 2003. Before that he worked as a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Marr was kind enough to answer some questions about some of the Thrashers top prospects who have not yet arrived at the NHL or AHL level. Part 1 (below) covers the CHL prospects and Part II (Thursday) will focus on US college players and a few Europeans.
Bird Watcher's Anonymous: I think one guy that Atlanta fans are very curious about--because he is new to our system--is Eric O'Dell--the player acquired for Erik Christensen. I know that you added him late in the year--did you get a chance to see him play?
Dan Marr: Yes, I went and watched him in the playoffs, his team was taking on Belleville one of the top teams in the conference. Eric has tremendous hockey sense. He's a very smart player, always makes the right decisions and good plays. You will not see him throwing any 50/50 passes across the front of his own net. His skating is fine, he's got a good stride, but right now he's at that age where his frame is just not strong enough. What I find is that as they get stronger they get more confident--so his one-on-one game and his ability to get through traffic will improve. But right now he's got the hands and the hockey sense to be a real good play maker. And I think his shot could get a little better, but he has a decent finishing touch right now. Going forward as he gets stronger he will have more impact.
BWA: Given that he needs to add some strength is he a few years away from the NHL or is it possible he could come to NHL camp and push someone for a roster spot?
DM: That's not it normally works out, but we're going to be getting together with him in a little bit. We're going to bring him in in July to work with Ray Bear and emphasize our [training] philosophies. Hopefully he comes and has a good camp.
[Editorial Note: After I completed my interview with Don Waddell I asked him about the Erik Christensen trade. He expected Anaheim to refuse to part with O'Dell, and was pleased that they were willing to include him in trade talks.]
BWA: The other big scoring prospect you have in juniors is Esposito. He suffered a knee injury. Will he be 100% by fall camp?
DM: No. Going by what our doctors say it typically takes six months to fully recover from that injury--but everyone heals differently and they don't like to put dates on them. Some guys work harder--I know he was ahead in his rehab. Pretty soon he'll have a check up appointment with the surgeon before they let him advance to the next stage of rehab which will be more aggressive. Relying on what the doctors say, he's not going to be able to come and compete for a job at training camp because he just might not be ready yet.
BWA: He had a lot of pressure on him--especially surrounding the World Junior teams in the past. Since the Thrashers acquired him have you been pleased with his play. I read that Don told him "just go play hockey, don't worry about what people say."
DM: When we got him we tried to hit the floor running with him. We brought him down to Chicago. We spent time with him going through what he needed to do. It's not his fault that he was rated so high as a young player, but what happened was that he stayed at 170 lbs for two years and everyone else around him got stronger...he's now up to 185-190 lbs range and he came to NHL Training Camp stronger and more confident.
He had a heck of a camp. He went down and we told him "don't worry about carrying the team on your shoulders" "don't worry about leading the league in scoring" just go play the game and do all the little things right and learn the good habits--and he's received very good coaching in both Quebec and Montreal. He's shown that he listens, he's a good student and that he wants to be a good player.
When he went to Team Canada they looked at him--he's one of the tallest forwards on the team--and they wanted him to be physical. Well that's never been a requirement of his game before--it has always been his skill component. But he wanted to do whatever they needed him to do to make the team and he did that. Go ask ??? or Hedman about Esposito and they'll think he's a dirty player (chuckles). He's discovered that he can play that type of game too. I don't think he knew he could was capable of banging with people in that size class and that's really going to help him down the road.
BWA: Out in the Western Hockey League Paul Postma has put up some record numbers this season playing on a strong team. Is he the next Bobby Orr or should we temper our expectations a bit?
DM: Well, it is important how old he is. He's arguably the best defenseman on arguably the best team in the country. And again the coach there has really worked with him and Paul has bought into doing less to get more accomplished--getting the little details taken care of first--play defense first and the offense will take care of itself. He's always been good at handling the puck, he's always had a good shot, he's always been a strong skater. He has matured his game with experience--so now when he is at the offensive blueline he can really create some offensive opportunities. He's always been about to do that--but now he's learned how to play the game at the other end and he rarely makes a mistake.
BWA: One question in my mind is why was he such a late round pick? Was it because he is tall with a skinny build?
DM: He was with Swift Current and the coach there had other players he chose to play ahead of him, so he didn't play a lot in his draft year. What we saw was a big guy and could really skate and he was good with the puck. They all have to get stronger. The coach at Swift Current eventually traded him, he didn't seem to like him for whatever reason.
Click here for Part 2.