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Thrashers Prospect Camp: Day 2

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I attended all of the sessions from Saturday's Thrashers Prospect Camp. Before I get to the observations I should note that on the first day I have a tendency to focus on a handful of players that I am most interested in watching. Just because I don't mention a particular player does not mean they had a bad day--it just means they were not at the top of my list. I expect to have more extensive comments about all of the players later in the week.

#58 Arturs Kulda - Age 18, Defenseman 200th pick 2006 Draft
Kulda was hands down the most pleasant surprise of Prospect Camp today. The guy competes very hard and displayed a physical edge to his game. He has a solid shot with perhaps subpar passing skills. The main thing that impressed me was his positioning in the 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 drills. I would not describe Kulda as fast but he put himself directly between the puck carrier and the net and dared them to go through him. If you came too close he knocked you down. He probably made few friends at camp today but that's the sort of guy who could turn into a late round success story. This guy is worth watching in the future.

#41 Bryan Little - Age 19, Forward 12th pick 2006 Draft
Once again Bryan Little was a bit of a disappointment to me. In the 1-on-1 drills he was matched up against Scott Lehman three or four times. Keep in mind that Lehman was scorched by ECHL players to the tune of -22 plus/minus at one point last year. The fact is that Little could not get around Lehman or even get a quality shot away against him in the 1-on-1 drills. I was unimpressed to say the least. However, during the 2-on-2 drills I did see some flashes as he spun away from defenders and made several hard and accurate passes to teammates, but I didn't see anything that made me think this guy will make the NHL this fall.

#50 red Grant Lewis - Age 22, Defenseman 40th pick 2004 Draft
The recently signed Grant Lewis simply dominated the opposition today. He has good size, great balance on his skates and good hockey sense. He uses a long stick which coupled with his lanky frame allows him to poke the puck off attackers or intercept passes in his vicinity. He makes his poke checks without leaning or committing himself too much. In the afternoon there was a long section of 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 drills. Some drills started up high at the red or blue line while others were started out down low. In all of those drills I only saw him surrender a goal once and that was because the netminder lost sight of a rebound. Many times when Lewis was out there the opposition could not even get a shot away. Of all the defensemen in camp he looked the most ready to challenge for a NHL job to me. Lewis is rarely mentioned by Thrashers brass as a top prospect and I have no idea why he is omitted because everything about him says NHL player to me.

#46 Miikka Tuomainen - Age 21, Forward 204th pick 2004 Draft
Holy cow, I think I've seen battleships turn faster than this guy. He has a hard shot but he looked two steps behind everyone else. He also looked out of breath. Now perhaps he hasn't skated in a while or is suffering from jet lag. But at the moment this guy looks like the second coming of Pauli Levokari.

#53 Brett Sterling - Age 23, Forward 145th pick 2003 Draft
Sterling doesn't have dazzling speed but he is willing to bulldoze his way through the high traffic areas and has a very soft set of hands. The key thing about him is that everything is smooth. He makes great passes which are tape-to-tape. If he can make passes like that to Ilya Kovalchuk this season there should be a lot more one-time goals for Kovalchuk this coming year. I also noticed how good Sterling is with his backhand. He made a tape-to-tape backhand pass to a linemate at one point and then later scored a fantastic backhand top-shelf goal in the 2-on-2 session.

#57 Tobias Enstrom - Age 23, Defenseman 239th pick 2004 Draft
And now for the most disappointing player in camp today. I've been really excited about seeing him play for some time now and he simply didn't live up to the hype of being the "best defensemen in the Swedish Elite League." In fact, his coverage looked more like that of an AHL guy than a NHL guy. In the drills he was very non-physical and settled for playing the pass to often. He frequently started out strong but then took himself out of the lane allowing his opponent to get free shots on goal. Other prospects were able to move the puck around the zone against him with ease. He seemed to be much more focused on where the puck was than in covering his man, which led to his man getting open. It is just one day, but based on what I saw it looks to me that the competition for the rookie defenseman slot is WIDE open because there are several players who might rank ahead of Enstrom this fall at NHL camp.

#56 Spencer Machacek - Age 18,Forward 2007 Draft
Our highest pick in the most recent draft was as advertised. He worked extremely hard and never gave up on a play. He was not afraid of contact and has a decent looking shot and perhaps above average skating skills. Was able to consistently get hard shots upstairs on goalies and scored a fair number of goals today. This guy has a nice combination of skills and shows promise.

#50 blue Chad Denny - Age 20, Defenseman 49th 2005 Draft
I tried to make a point of watching Denny. His slap shot certainly gets mentioned a lot--and it is hard--but he didn't score all that often with it. What stood out to me was his defensive positioning and technique which were very solid. In the 1-on-1 drills he fended off most attackers with ease pushing them to the outside and seperating them from the puck. He doesn't have great speed but his poise and balance were good.