I didn't get much of a chance to talk about my experiences at training camp this weekend, so I figured I'd take the opportunity to discuss camp and preview tomorrow's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. I'll try to break these into mini-sections below so that you can skim and catch the parts that you care about.
Briefly: Cormier looks ready to go, except he broke his foot. Burmistrov didn't look as good, but I hear he picked it up today. Paquette continued to look good with the big boys, scoring three goals in the two scrimmages I saw him play. I wouldn't sign McLaren or Lisin. Nigel Dawes looked decent, but I'd much rather have Fredrik Pettersson on the Thrashers. None of the guys we've stashed in Chicago as depth look all that hot, though Anthony Stewart impressed me on a few occasions.
Cormier: Ready for the NHL
Let's all be very clear about Patrice Cormier: he's a third-line center with grit, character, and great work-ethic. He's the next Marty Reasoner. He's going to work hard and be the kind of teammate who will make other guys work hard. He's not going to be a great goal scorer. If he regularly puts up 10 or 15 goals, he'd be a huge success. However, he's got the size and speed to play now. There are no major holes in his game that require time in Chicago to fix.
Except he broke his foot.
If not for the broken foot, Cormier was practically a lock to make the Thrashers. Late in a prospect camp scrimmage, he went down to block a Paul Postma shot. The game didn't matter. The shot didn't matter. His team was losing anyway. There were about two minutes left in the game. Still, he was giving it 100%. That character is going to cost him a 6-8 weeks (an estimate) and his NHL job: he'll have to start with the Wolves and work his way up.
Don't be surprised if he works his way up this season.
Burmistrov: Talented, but...
Alex Burmistrov has been much harder to pin down than Patrice Cormier. He plays a very different game, one which requires a lot more from him. He's put on some weight and plays fearlessly, I don't doubt that he could play in the NHL this season. The question: should he? Based on some comments from Coach Ramsay, he's looking for a third line that can score and check a little. Burmistrov would fit that mold much better than he would a third line designed mostly for checking. With the injury to Patrice Cormier, we will need a third line center...
I could envision Burmistrov playing on a line with Fredrik Pettersson and Fredrik Modin (which is what we've currently got in our line combinations box in the right column of our page here). The line would have a reasonable combination of grit and checking ability.
Is this a good idea? Well, that's two questions: is it good for Alex? and is it good for the Thrashers? I'm not sure if there's a guy I'd rather have playing in this spot.
Angelo Esposito: Showing Some Talent
His injury certainly hurt his development, but Esposito was looking pretty good at camp. He's got his speed back, more or less, and showed some great vision and passing. He hasn't skated for a couple days due to a hip injury: if it's anything serious, it could hurt his already slim odds of making the team. He's a notch below Burmistrov, but solid play in preseason games could realistically earn Angelo a spot on opening night.
Akim Aliu: Better Than We Thought
When I wrote about Aliu before, I said (basically) that it's not about talent, it's about consistency and putting the pieces together. Based on his play in main camp, I'd actually say it's going to be more about consistency: he seems to have the pieces together. He scored a couple goals and looked every bit like somebody who belonged at camp. He's got the size, speed, and hands to play in the NHL. I'm feeling much better about him than before. While I think his top-end potential is still as a borderline top-6 player, he looks like he could shape up and be a solid third liner for the Thrashers.
Sebastian Owuya: Continuing the Streak
Since 2003, every time they've drafted a defenseman in the 6th (or later) round, they've gotten a solid prospect out of the selection. In 2003, it was Tobias Enstrom. The Thrashers didn't select a D-man after the 3rd of 2004, but in 2005 they picked up Andrey Zubarev in the 6th. (Zubarev looks pretty solid, he'll challenge for a spot in the next year or two with the Thrashers.) In 2006, it was Arturs Kulda in the 7th. Kulda is NHL-ready, he just doesn't have any room to make the squad. In 2007, the Thrashers took Paul Postma in the 7th round. Last year, Postma had the 3rd-most goals among defensemen in the AHL. In 2008, the Thrashers selected Zach Redmond in the 7th; Redmond impressed at prospect camp last year and is developing nicely at Ferris State. There was no late-round D picked in 2009. In 2010, it could be Sebastian Owuya to continue the streak.
Owuya is a decent-sized stay-at-home defenseman drafted out of Sweden. There's nothing flashy about Owuya, he just plays solid positional defense. He was so impressive at this year's prospect camp that he stuck around for the main training camp, the only draftee from this class apart from Alex Burmistrov to do so. Owuya's past performance is somewhat hard for us to evaluate as he's been playing in Sweden, but next season he'll be playing with Medicine Hat of the WHL. It will be very interesting to see how his stats look playing a North American game against players (roughly) his own age.
While he's not on the roster for tomorrow night, I'd love to see Owuya get a shot at a pre-season game. With only six games before opening night, he may not get the chance...
Danick Paquette: Rumors of His Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
You remember when it was really easy to write off Danick Paquette as being nothing more than a fighter? Yeah, those days are gone. After a few years of being unimpressive, Paquette showed up this summer skating faster and shooting harder than before. In fact, not only was he scoring at prospect camp, he put up three goals in two scrimmages during the main training camp. You know, playing with the big boys. I joked to some folks, "Danick Paquette: sniper." What I was really thinking was, "Wow, this kid is probably going to make it up here at some point."
Now, I'm not saying Paquette will make the Thrashers this year, but it will be very interesting to see what he can do in tomorrow's pre-season game playing on a line with Holzapfel and Aliu.
Fredrik Pettersson: Pretty Fly for a Short Guy
If you've read anything I've written about camp this summer, you probably noticed that I have a bit of a man-crush on Fredrik Pettersson. In my defense, I think most folks at camp developed one as well. If you've yet to see him on the ice, you really owe it to yourself to show up to tomorrow's pre-season game. Pettersson will be playing on a line with Nigel Dawes and Bryan Little. It won't be a big line - in fact, it might be the smallest in the NHL - but they'll certainly have speed and tenacity.
Pettersson creates advantages through his speed and work ethic. He's out there on the ice skating faster and fighting harder than everyone else. He's a treat to watch, but unlike hard-workers of Thrashers squads in the past (Pascal Dupuis comes to mind), Pettersson has the hands to go along with the rest of the package.
I fully expect him to make this team, likely playing on a line with Fredrik Modin and perhaps Alex Burmistrov, and score 20 goals this season for the Thrashers. (More if he gets significant power play time, perhaps less if he doesn't get any. Let's say my prediction comes with 2:00 PP TOI/game.)
Tomorrow's Forward Lines: An Interesting Mix
If you look at the lines for tomorrow, you'll notice that the top-6 includes three guys who are NHL players (Kane, Little, Pettersson), two guys who are 'tweeners (Dawes, Stewart), and Alex Burmistrov. Columbus is likely to play a lot of their prospects as well, so I wouldn't be surprised to see a few goals from this group.
The third line is far more interesting to me: Paquette - Holzapfel - Aliu. I've been awfully down on Riley Holzapfel lately and didn't see much to change my mind in this camp. Paquette and Aliu are both strong prospects. This line will certainly make its presence known on the ice: there's a whole lot of tough between these guys. I'd expect a goal from this line as well.
The fourth line of Eager - Rissmiller - Machacek is a pretty vanilla checking line.
Tomorrow's Defense Pairings: How's Life on the Border?
Other than Ron Hainsey, the five defensemen suiting up for the Thrashers tomorrow are all fighting for the coveted Press Box Seat as the Thrashers' 7th man. Favorites are Arturs Kulda and Boris Valabik. Andrey Zubarev deserves a shot as well, but he's more likely to be sent to Chicago where he can get ice time and adjust to the North American game.
Remember that the Thrashers' strength this season is going to be defense but we're fielding a particularly weak defense for this game. While we have quite a few forwards who have played in the NHL, there's very little experience in our blueline (aside from Ron Hainsey.) I would expect to see a bit of a shooting gallery in our defensive zone.
If you want a scouting report on anybody from camp, let me know. I'd love to write about all the guys, but I just don't have the time. I don't mind chiming in a few thoughts about certain guys if you're interested.