The Falconer at Birdwatchers Anonymous got a chance to speak with Thrashers General Manager Rick Dudley after prospect camp on Tuesday. His question was very similar to what many of us who attended was wondering after seeing the strong performances of the prospects -- what happens if one of them challenges for a roster position? Dudley's answer was an unequivocal "the kids will play." If some of the prospects demonstrate NHL ready skills during training camp and preseason play, then the Thrashers are more than ready to move contracts to make room for them.
Which players, though, do the Thrashers move and who gets the chance to make the league? Let's look at the three prospects with the strongest chances to make the team in September.
Alex Burmistrov, this year's eighth overall pick, was very impressive at camp. As I noted on my prospect camp wrap-up on Thrashing the Blues:
He was this year's focal point for the fans in the stands, though quite a few people associated Russian with "Kovalchuk's replacement," which is absolutely as far from the truth as you can get. As I mentioned in my NHL Hot Stove write up on Burmistrov, he is not a player in the Kovy/Ovie model. He's a playmaker, and he's patient, and he works with his teammates. He creates chances and plays himself, but he looks to the others to contribute. He has super quick reflexes and can change direction on a dime. He was actually setting up plays faster than the other prospects could figure out, which is a good sign. He does need to put on some weight, though, before training camp. He got knocked off the puck a few times fairly easily. He set up Ben Chiarot's goal in Saturday's game for one of the fastest plays that I've probably ever seen.
I would more than consider him a top contender to crack the lineup, especially if we haven't filled the 20-goal scorer slot that Dudley considers important. No, he won't be a 20-goal scorer, but he is an outstanding setup guy who could help one of his linemates hit that plateau.
Carl Klingberg was also one to watch at camp. The young Swede wants to make the team this year, but if not, he is planning on playing in America next season. He will be beginning the year in Sweden playing for his Frolunda Indians to better work on the technical aspects of his game, but would like to return to the NHL or AHL to finish the year and get acquainted with the North American style of the game. Again, from my analysis:
Many fans are hoping to see him on the team next year, though I am assuming that to be a year off, not just because of development but also thanks to the fact that our roster's full barring a trade. He's quick and has good stickwork. He's got clear vision - he can complete a tape-to-tape pass in a flash, and he's got a blistering wrist shot. He's one of the prospects that scored regularly during drills - he's got a good aim.
Finally, Patrice Cormier is going to be given every chance to make the team. Dudley and Don Waddell both have been saying that he would be given every chance to make the squad since acquiring him in the Kovalchuk trade in February. Cormier has given them reasons to say that. Ben Wright of the Blueland Blog mentioned that Cormier "looked just like a NHL player in a room full of prospects." That size is translating into some locker room clout: Patrice Cormier instantly stepped into a leadership role when he arrived. It comes naturally to him. As I was interviewing him in the locker room someone cranked up the radio. One quick glare from Patrice and the player turned it back down. Not many players could pull that off."
This guy is built like a tank, and from all accounts is a ready made leader on the ice and in the room. Or else other guys are just scared they'll get bowled over. One or the other. Watching him you can tell why Dudley's so high on the kid. He plows to the net to get into position, and he can break up the rush very well. He's a great checker, and easily knocked the other players off of the puck. I don't see him getting batted around the league too much.
So, there you have the three players who I feel will challenge for a spot come September. Who to move, though? Klingberg is a left wing. Cormier is a center, as is Burmistrov. The roster seems to be a bit packed. The forward lines could very well look like this at the start of next season, as the roster stands: