Craig Ramsay has a "let the boys play" mentality, and that's exactly what visitors to the opening day of Thrashers' training camp were treated to: three "periods" of scrimmage hockey in two games worth. It gave the fans in attendance a good look at how the young rookies meshed with the older vets, and while it hasn't given any clues yet who won't be with the team after the first pre-season game, it did give a look into who skated like they belonged with the big boys.
Patrice Cormier did not participate due to his broken foot, so the prospect who many consider the second most likely to make the team, Alexander Burmistrov, was the focus of attention. Burmistrov wasn't as noticeably fast as he was during prospect and rookie camps, but that might have to do with the competition's level of experience. He was on a line with Evander Kane, and while the two were closely matched in speed, Kane had more of an awareness of the puck than Burmistrov, not allowing the sloppy give-aways that the Russian did. Kane looks like he's put on weight from the last time I saw him at the draft party to now.
Burmistrov wasn't the speediest playmaking forward on the ice. Angelo Esposito looks like he is recovering from ACL surgery quite nicely, and set up several plays that were prime goal scoring chances. The forward that might get a second look since Cormier's injury is Swedish forward Fredrik Pettersson. At 5'10", he is not of the big stature that a checking forward should be, but he makes up for that with tenacity and a speed that no third-liner should have. He will work his way up to the second line over time, for sure. He was on a line with Ben Eager and Andre Deveaux, and Eager benefited from the rookie's speed, scoring on goaltender Chris Mason with an assist from Pettersson. One could easily tell how he scored twenty goals with the Frolunda Indians last season, and I wouldn't be flabbergasted to see him get played a lot in these six upcoming pre-season games.
Goaltending was good, though Chris Mason allowed his perfunctory soft goal during the first scrimmage session. The other two goals scored on him came up close with activity in front of the net, and they were both scored by former Blackhawks Eager and Andrew Ladd - no doubt remembering some of Mason's shortcomings from their Central Division battles. Pavelec wasn't tested as much as Mason was as far as shots went, but he looked fine as well.
Defensively we were treated to pairings that could be very much indicative of the lines for this season. Boris Valabik skated with Brent Sopel. Valabik looks fully recovered from his surgery and played well. Ron Hainsey was paired with Dustin Byfuglien, who crashed the net regardless of being on defense. Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian were paired back up together, which was great to see. They were one of the strongest pairings of last season, but were inexplicably broken up by former coach John Anderson. Bogosian has put on ten pounds since the end of last season, tipping the scales at 215 or so (according to Ben Wright in a conversation at camp today). Bogosian also was playing with a bit of a mean streak today, leveling Evander Kane with a check into the boards and taking out camp invitee Enver Lisin with a hard body check. Lisin apparently was today's punching bag, leaving the ice with a wrist injury and not returning.
Ben Wright has summaries of the scrimmages up on the Blueland Blog that are probably more through than mine, seeing as how I got there late this morning. I'll try to get to camp at least for the scrimmages tomorrow to see what more I can add to what's going on for those who can't attend.