DULUTH - If you want to catch a glimpse of the Atlanta Thrashers' future potential - and perhaps the Gwinnett Gladiators' as well - go to the IceForum in Duluth any day for the next week.
The Thrashers are holding their annual prospect development camp and it features the up-and-coming players in their system. The camp runs today through Thursday with on-ice sessions open to the public.
In attendance are at least two players that caught the organizations' attention through their play with affiliates in ECHL Gwinnett and AHL Chicago.
Gladiators defenseman Jon Awe and center Jared Ross, who was signed by Gwinnett head coach Jeff Pyle out of the University of Alabama-Huntsville last season only to be called up to Chicago for the entire season, were both invited to this year's camp. Awe, an ECHL all-rookie team selection last season, Ross and Bowling Green's Bryan Dobek are the only players on the 27-man roster not already property of the Thrashers.
Awe, an imposing 6-foot-4 blueliner with a wicked outside shot, joked that he got invited because the Thrashers were short a defenseman and he was in town.
"No, to be honest Coach Pyle got me into it," Awe said in seriousness. "He talked to (Thrashers director of amateur scouting and player development) Dan Marr, who saw a few of our games, and told him I was around."
The Memphis, Tenn., native made quite a splash in his first season of pro hockey out of Northeastern University, helping the Gladiators to the ECHL finals. In fact, Awe is probably one of the last guys at the prospect camp to have played a game. Gwinnett's season ended just over a month ago, long after most other hockey teams were done, but Awe knows the week of power skating and off-ice conditioning still will be an endurance test.
"It's a very good opportunity," Awe said. "Even if nothing comes of it other than a good week of training, that's a great thing. It's great just to have a chance to play with these guys."
The rest of the attendees have been drafted by Atlanta over the last five seasons, including most recent first-round pick Bryan Little. The Thrashers' top selections from 2004 (defenseman Boris Valabik) and 2006 (right wing Alex Bourret) also will be on hand for the week-long event that focuses on improving off-ice conditioning and advanced on-ice training.
Marr will oversee the camp while strength and conditioning coach Ray Bear will conduct all off-ice training. On-ice sessions will be run by members of the team's scouting staff, including Marcel Comeau and Mark Dobson.
"It's going to be pretty rigorous," Awe said. "They really want to show us what it's going to take to get to the NHL level. It's going to be a lot of hard work, but that's what I pride myself on. I'm looking forward to it."