BWA recently spoke to Dan Marr about the development of certain prospects in the the organization's system. Part 1 looked at goalies, high 2009 picks and players acquired via trades. In part 2 we look at collegiate players and the WHL and which player took the biggest step forward.
BWA: At the college level Daultan Leveille stepped up his scoring rate and saw a big improvement in his plus/minus were you played with his season at Michigan State?
DM: I've heard from some corners that people think he didn't take a big enough step, but even so sometimes you take a step back to take two steps forward. He has developed the way we thought he would at Michigan State, we know the program quite well. His year to shine is next year as a junior. He has put in his time as a freshman and sophomore and he has gotten a lot stronger--that leads to more confidence. I was really impressed with his stronger drive to the net and he kept himself in the play more and battled through more and that's what the added strength will do for a player. He was the youngest player in the CCHA one year ago and he is still a young guy in that league. When we drafted him that was what we anticipated, and we expect him to have a BIG year, next year. He knows that and he knows that Michigan State expects that same as well. I think next year you'll see what Daulton Leveille is made of.
BWA: Would it be fair to say that a prospect like Leveille that even if the scoring doesn't translated at a higher level, the raw speed will make that player useful at higher levels of hockey?
DM: Daultan's speed creates opportunities for him. He could end up being a scorer or a checker down the road. The speed is the genuine thing with him. We still view him as a potential top six forward.
BWA: Obviously the situation with Vinny Saponari is less than ideal. What are his options, transfer to another college program or turn pro? What is your expectation for him going forward?
DM: Well since he's not signed--and he's not going to signed at this time (that I'm aware of), his options are limited in the situation that he's in. He can sit out a year and transfer to another NCAA program. A logical approach would be for him to go play in the USHL where he should be a dominant player and get some good development time. His rights were picked up by Dubuque which is run by Jim Montgomery who is a good young coach. The other option would be the Quebec (QMJHL) league, but he can only play one year there, whereas he if he went to the USHL he could play two years. The Thrashers don't have to sign him until his senior class graduates. We don't have to sign him for another two years.
BWA: If he played one year in the USHL could he then jump back into the NCAA after sitting out a season?
DM: Yes. There are a number of teams in college that indicated they would sign him to a scholarship right now. The family is going to make that decision and we will support him in what he does. He understands his options and the position that he is now.
BWA: There are two defenseman that we have been able to watch at the Development camps that have impressed. Both might be undersized for the NHL both Zach Redmond and Will O'Neill have good puck skills and O'Neill saw a jump in his points this last year. Do they have a shot at the NHL?
DM: I think they both have a chance. They are both late round picks but they have both blossomed in the situations where they play. This is an example of how college can be the best route for some guys because it gives them extra time. Will really took off and put up some numbers, he still needs to refine his defensive game, he's certainly not a liability. He has the speed and quickness but when he does make mistakes he can get back and recover.
Zach has a real good mind for the game. We're trying to get to incorporate more of a pro mentality into his game, so the transition will be seamless if he does turn pro. Sometimes these guys are not pushed to go as hard as they need to at times because it is easy for them. Zach is one of those guys where it is effortless for him to play the game at that level.
DM: Bubnick got traded from Kamloops to Calgary Hitmen--which is one of the premier teams in the league and he got to take the ride to the Memorial Cup with them. They moved him to center and fit in well there. Jimmy's issues are strength and skating related--but the nice thing to see in him is that he keep himself in the play a lot more. He battles to get to the puck first and then battles to get to the net and when he has the puck on his stick he can do things with it. He's a scorer, right now he's in a position where he is passing first instead of shooting first but his hockey sense he makes good decisions. He's found a way to contribute but he still needs to get stronger so he can have an impact in all areas of the game.
Levko is just a smart responsible player. He is not the biggest guy out there, but again at this age he has to get stronger so he can maximize his abilities and compensate when he plays against bigger guys. But he's one of those responsible types who kills penalties and the coach can use in any situation. He's out there in the last minute of the period. We have a lot of respect for Levko. He showed that when he is given the opportunity he can score. We're hoping that he can put another solid season together next year.
BWA: Now that we've gone over some of the players in the system, I'd like to ask if there was anyone in particular who really took a step forward this year and made a positive impression?
DM: Will O'Neil made the most significant jump. I don't know if it showed at Development Camp, but Will is one of those guys who just loves to be at the rink, he just loves to be on the ice and he wears his emotions on his sleeve. He's always smiling and happy to be playing the game. But also on the ice, it translates into him not becoming stressed or panicked--it looks like he just reacts to the play. He goes up and down the ice, he's not afraid to lead the rush and he's not afraid to pinch in and he's not afraid to go to the net. He's responsible to get back he had a good year at Maine. Next year everyone is going to wonder if success has gone to his head or not, even if it has, it will still be a learning experience for him. He's a guy who was a pleasant surprise to have the impact that he did.
BWA: With a Rick Dudley coming into the organization right before the draft last spring and now being promoted to GM, has there been any organization tweaking of the team's approach?
DM: Well, there is a new sheriff in town and Rick has his own ways of doing things. Don was a pretty active GM in terms of getting out and seeing games, but Rick is ALWAYS on the road. As a GM he is really into the scouting, so he is more involved. And we welcome that input because we can all be on the same page. At the scouting meetings things can progress more quickly because the GM knows a lot of the players. Don always knew who we were taking with our top pick but Rick's travels so much you can go deeper into the draft with him.
So we've always tried to identify the trait that we're looking for and Rick has come and made it clear what he looks for. Every one likes good hockey players--that doesn't change--and the [team draft] list is about taking the best player available. We have a pretty experienced staff and Rick isn't making any changes to the amateur staff, there has been a transition to what he is looking for from the staff. We have put our list together--there were no drastic changes--but Rick's fingerprints are all over our list.
BWA: Thanks again for taking the time to get us the Thrashers perspective on many of the prospects in the system.