Old, young stand out at camp
Thrashers hold annual prospect camp in Gwinnett

DULUTH - Mike Looby stepped up to cut off a charging forward at the blue line during a drill during the Atlanta Thrashers' prospect development camp Tuesday at the Duluth IceForum.

It was a little more contact that usual for a mid-summer camp, but nothing out of the ordinary for hockey players.

Looby was looking to strike a balance as an older player and one of just a few invitees whose rights aren't held by the Thrashers.

"I don't feel like I'm doing anything different than what I normally do," said Looby, who played half of last season for Atlanta's ECHL affiliate in Gwinnett. "I am, if anything, playing a little more lenient, just because I know these guys are draft picks.

"You don't want to make anybody frown upstairs," the fourth-year pro said with a chuckle. "I'm kind of staying away from the rough stuff. This is just a development camp to see where guys are. So it's good for us and it's good for the younger guys that are out there."

At the same time, Looby knows what some of these 18- and 19-year-olds will be facing once they do reach the pro level.

"There's going to be physical play and in the next level they're going to have to deal with playing against men," he said.

At a whopping 24, Looby is the oldest of the 33 players at this year's prospect camp. A couple others have pro experience already - most notably Riley Holzapfel and Spencer Machacek who played all of last season with AHL Chicago. But the majority can't legally drink in this country and many will end up going back to the junior or college ranks this fall.

But having so many top draft picks makes for a quality camp and a good first step as the offseason training period kicks into another gear.

"It's great just to see what the top guys are doing to get in shape and what it takes to get to the next level," Looby said.

Looby and another defenseman, Drew Paris, were invited on the suggestion of Gladiators head coach Jeff Pyle. Looby, a Toronto native, was nearby when the opportunity came up. He was in Florida for the PHPA meetings at the end of June.

"Yeah, they were a little short on D-men," said Looby, who has already re-signed with Gwinnett for next season. "I was anxious to get out and help them out here. I never experienced it before just due to injuries and whatnot so it's a great experience for me and I'm just taking everything in."

It's also the first camp of this kind for Paris, who came to the Gladiators very late last season after finishing his junior career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Paris, 21, signed with the Florida Everblades at the end of March and played four games, including two against Gwinnett. He was released by the Everblades but went on to play four games in the AHL and then came to the Gladiators for their playoff series against Florida.

Pyle recommended Paris to the Thrashers and he is trying to take advantage of the opportunity.

"Obviously the first day you don't have 100 percent on the timing and the hands maybe," Paris said. "It just depends what you've been doing in the summer. But right now we all seem to be playing very well.

"Obviously we're all a little sore, but we're happy to be here and just want to work hard. "

Paris hasn't signed a contract for 2009-10, but the imposing 6-foot-4 blueliner is hoping his efforts this last week won't go unnoticed.

"After this, I'll keep talking to the people here see what they think and move on from there," Paris said.

The development camp concludes today with on-ice sessions from 9 a.m. to noon and 3 to 5 p.m. at the IceForum. Both are free and open to the public.