Thrashers rookie camp starts on September 13th. Invitees will be participating in a variety of events - including 4-on-4 scrimmages - hoping to impress coaches and win a spot at the Thrashers' main training camp later this month. The folks here at BWA thought it'd be fun to highlight each of these players and give you a chance to pick (via a poll) who you think should make the main camp. This week we'll be going through all the players to whom the Thrashers retain rights and giving you a bit of a preview. After you check them out, make sure to vote in the poll.
Today's skaters are all forwards: Akim Aliu, Jimmy Bubnick, Alexander Burmistrov, and Patrice Cormier.
Akim Aliu joined the Thrashers in the first trade Rick Dudley made with Chicago. Not a whole lot of attention was paid to Aliu after the trade - he was just a small extra piece in the deal that brought Dustin Byfuglien to Atlanta along with Brent Sopel and Ben Eager. Still, Aliu wasn't exactly a "toss in" or an afterthought: he has all the signs of being a solid "Dudley" guy. He's big. He's a fast skater. He hits. He has the potential to be a decent scorer.
With Aliu, the word you'll hear over and over again is "potential." See, Aliu didn't even start playing hockey until he was 12 years old, significantly later than most. This puts him at a distinct disadvantage, but becoming a 2nd-round draft pick was quite an accomplishment. Especially given some... other incidents.
If you've not already read about the Steve Downie incident, it's worth your time to Google it. I won't rehash it here. Suffice it to say that Aliu's had some clashes with teammates and management. Most folks who know him believe a change of scenery will do him well, and that includes Thrashers GM Rick Dudley.
If Aliu reaches his potential, he'll be a dominant power forward. That's a long-shot, but we'll hopefully get a better idea of whether he's likely to make it or not this year. Aliu will almost certainly spend the season with the Chicago Wolves, though I would not be surprised if he gets an invite to the Thrashers' camp.
Bubnick was drafted by the Thrashers in 2009 from the defensively-minded WHL. His numbers, prior to being drafted, were solid (but unspectacular) with the Kamloops Blazers. He came into Thrashers prospect camp and impressed; Bubnick scored a hat-trick during a scrimmage game. He also had a whole section of the crowd cheering for him, I think family from Canada.
This past year in the WHL, Bubnick was traded from the Blazers to the Calgary Hitmen where his production dropped significantly. In 44 games with the Blazers, he had 17 goals and 23 assists. In 21 regular-season games with the Hitmen, he notched just 5 goals and 8 assists, about half his production with Kamloops. In 23 playoff games, he picked up 2 goals and 12 assists. These numbers wouldn't suggest that Bubnick would make the NHL.
However, Jimmy performed exceptionally well in the Memorial Cup, scoring 3 goals and 5 assists in 4 games and was named to the Memorial Cup All-Star team (along with 2010 draftees Taylor Hall and Cam Fowler.) If he has another solid year in juniors, Bubnick could earn an opportunity with the Chicago Wolves next season.
Nobody can dispute the talent-level possessed by Burmistrov. He's got the skating, puck-handling, and vision to be a solid top-6 centerman for the Thrashers (or any other team in the NHL.) There's only one thing Burmistrov needs to do in order to make the Thrashers this year: put on some weight. His draft weight - and current official weight, according to the Thrashers' website - is 157lb. That's not an NHL player. The good news is that he's been diligently working to gain weight and is up to 180lb or so right now.
Of course, the same Rick Dudley who said that Burmistrov would make the Thrashers if he hit 180 or 185lbs has gone out and signed Fredrik Modin, leaving one less spot available for the rookie. While Modin and Burmistrov play different positions (so they are not technically competing for the same spot), many Thrashers can switch between center and wing, so there's a lot of opportunity for line-juggling. Adding Modin means there's one less roster opening for Burmistrov, plain and simple.
There are quite a few issues that need to be resolved in order for us to determine if Alex will be on the opening night roster: will Dustin Byfuglien play forward or defense?, will Niclas Bergfors sign a contract?, is Fredrik Pettersson ready to play in the NHL? At this point, I think it's a toss-up, but we should have a much clearer idea over the next couple weeks. Burmistrov will get an invite to the main camp regardless of what happens between now and September 18th.
Another member of the Black Cloud Club, Cormier was involved in a rather troubling on-ice incident that left him suspended from January through the end of the season. If he's really going to put the incident behind him, Patrice is going to have to learn how to play at the edge without going over it. Many question whether this is possible, but I'd like to give him a shot.
Cormier has all the makings of a strong leader. (He was the captain of the Canadian world junior team.) I saw this myself at prospect camp: Cormier was skating around with new pick Ivan Telegin. Telegin doesn't speak much English at all - in fact, at the draft, reporters gave up during his Q&A session - but Cormier was already joking around with him. When it came time to do on-ice stretches, Cormier skated up and pushed Telegin to the center of the circle. This natural instinct to bond with other players, in this case a Russian who speaks very little English, is one sign of a great leader.
Don't expect Cormier to be an offensive super-power. He projects to be a bigger, tougher version of Marty Reasoner. That's a high complement; guys like Marty are the glue that holds a team together. Cormier's already got the size necessary to earn a spot in the NHL, it's just a matter of putting on a good show during camp. He's been away from competitive play for awhile (minus a few games played with the Chicago Wolves after his junior team finished their season), but he was able to skate and practice during that time, so he should be able to get back up to full speed without too much trouble.
That's it for now! We'll have more posts for the rest of the invitees throughout the week. Be sure to leave thoughts in the comments and vote on the poll.