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NHL Camping

I’ve been to camp twice now and here is what I saw.

First round selection Little looked much better to my eyes in NHL camp than he did at Prospect Camp this summer. I saw some nice passes in top spots, good vision and the ability to handle the puck at top speed. I remain bullish on Riley Holzapfel who looked solid while skating with the mostly prospect "B" Group. Both players have been sent back to their junior clubs.

Alex Bourret returned to the ice this Tuesday--which is a good sign. I expected Bourret to win a wing spot on this team in camp but the concussion has caused him to miss an opportunity to impress and I’m guessing he will start in Chicago.

Braydon Coburn continues to look good in drills but then mess up in game type situations. Coburn has the foundation of a terrific hockey player--big frame, nice stride--but he sure seems to lack hockey sense. In one simulated game situation he over-reacted while covering his man on the boards and got out of position and then when he moved to the net he just flat out failed to cover his man who was able to get a free shot away. Hartley game him some personal attention after that particular drill. It is the same thing that I noticed when he started the season in the NHL last year, he just seems to lack an ability to read the play and know where to be on the ice. By all accounts the kid is book smart and he is in great shape so I’m not sure why he continues to make these mental mistakes. I really hate to say this but it looks to me that the team ought to trade him before everyone in the league realizes he lacks hockey sense.

Hartley was being a stickler for doing the drills right and would blow the play dead if someone screwed up. Krog managed to make two mistakes on one drill, not the sort of attention you want when trying to make the team.

Two Colorado College alums Joey Crabb and Brett Sterling skated with the A group and didn’t look terribly out of place. I watched both players in a game against Alaska Fairbanks last year while out in Denver. I wasn’t sure if Sterling would be quick enough to play at the NHL level but he does not look out of place—at least in practice. He has the potential to be a sniper but I worry that his release is not quite quick enough at this level.

Niko Kapanen has a reputation as a NHL skater with AHL hands, but he certainly looked good today finishing off several nice plays. Then again in the immortal words of Allen Iverson "it’s just practice" so let’s see if he can do in games.

Kovalchuk was moving around with great energy and even busted back to clear a loose puck in his defensive end. A bit more attention to defense by Ilya could save the Thrashers 5-6 goals against this season, not a trivial thing when you consider they missed the playoffs last year by 2 points. The great thing about Kovy is that he EXPECTS to score every time he shoots. At one point in practice he had an open top corner and missed wide, he skated out of the zone shaking his head and grimacing in frustration.

At the very end of practice Kovalchuk did one of his nifty moves in tight and he and Kari Lehtonen went down in a pile. They both sat there for a moment and we all were holding our breath until we saw that they were laughing. Unfortunately, everyone is going to be holding their breath with Kari until he puts in a healthy season and demonstrates that he is past the groin problems that hurt him last year and in the minors.

Scott Lehman skated with the A Group and I assume that the will be in the lineup for the Wednesday night preseason game in Atlanta.

I’m concerned about Rucchin’s age, but I have to say that he seems to fit in very well between Kozlov and Hossa. Then again, he did center Kariya and Selanne at one point in his career so I suppose he knows a thing or two about skating with the stars.

At the very end of practice, Havelid picked up a blonde haired little kid from the stands and skated him out onto the ice and took over to say to the Zamboni driver. We were debating if this was his own child or not and then he gave him a kiss on the forehead, so I figure it was either his child or Havelid is planning to run for office soon in Georgia. (A cute moment but not as endearing as when little Kozlov came on the ice and Kovalchuk was playing hockey with him.)

GM Don Waddell spoke to a group up in the Breakaway Grill. After he was finished he came downstairs and headed toward the team offices, pausing to survey the crowd of mid-day camp watchers he cracked "Doesn’t anyone here have a job?"

I’d love to give you all my views of the preseason game on 9-20 but I am going to miss it because I’m seeing Sujfan Stevens play at the Fox that night.