DULUTH — A few players from the Atlanta Thrashers’ prospect development camp this week have a shot at making the big time and Jeff Pyle has a front-row seat for the early part of their campaigns.
Pyle, the Gwinnett Gladiators’ head coach, is running the on-ice workouts, along with AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves’ assistant Ron Wilson.
The Atlanta Thrashers are holding their annual prospect development camp this week with on-ice sessions through Tuesday at the IceForum in Duluth. The public is welcome to attend free of charge.
Today, Sunday and Tuesday: 9-11 a.m., 3-4:40 p.m. (with 4-on-4 play starting at 4 p.m.)
“You’ve got a lot of young talented prospects, kids that are going to be playing in (AHL) Chicago and Atlanta someday.
“So it’s fun. I’ve got probably the best seat in the house.”
After just one 45-minute late afternoon skate Thursday at the IceForum in Duluth, Pyle saw plenty of potential.
“The first day, you’re probably not seeing them at their top level,” Pyle said. “After the testing, I know they’re tired. But you still saw some good passes, some good plays being made. You see the guys are working hard.
“Plus they’re getting thrown a bunch of new drills. But then once they get going, the talent comes out.”
At least one guy was familiar with the drills. Michael Forney, who was selected by the Thrashers in the third round of the 2006 draft, played his rookie season for Pyle in Gwinnett last year.
So he had a leg up.
“I’d like to think so, but it didn’t feel so out there,” Forney said with a chuckle. “But it’s good seeing Jeff again. He does a great job. I was lucky to have a coach like him.”
Forney is the only player on the 29-man roster that has played for the Gladiators. Only Forney, Akim Aliu and Paul Postma were in the North American pro ranks last season. The bulk of players are coming from junior or collegiate hockey.
“A lot of good guys are here, a lot of skill guys,” Forney said. “Everyone’s at a different stage in their career, but you just try to come in here, have fun and work hard.
“This is my third year here and every year it seems to get better. Bigger, stronger, faster.”
Only two players on the roster are under 6 feet, and 18 are listed at 6-2 or taller.
Pyle joked that he was doing a lot of looking up when talking to the players.
“They just keep getting bigger, they keep getting stronger, faster,” he said. “I think everybody’s out there kind of looking to see who’s going to be the guy that comes out of here impressing people and maybe now they start talking about making the big camp.”
Among those candidates are Aliu, acquired in a big trade with Stanley Cup champion Chicago last month, Carl Klingberg and Paul Postma.
Klingberg, a forward, played in his native Sweden last year and Thrashers general manager Rick Dudley spoke highly of his game.
“We wouldn’t be surprised if he challenged for a spot on our team,” Dudley said. “He’s a big guy that skates well and forechecks like a son of a gun. All the things we’re looking for.
“He goes to the net hard and he’s a smart player. He’s always around the net.”
Postma is the lone player with AHL experience at camp, having played all season for AHL Chicago last season, and it shows.
“It’s just good you get to see some of the guys,” said Pyle, who has been involved with the Thrashers’ development of young players for the last seven seasons. “You can kind of see, from year to year, how they’re coming along.
“I’ll give you a perfect example from a couple years ago, Arturs Kulda. We saw him in Traverse City, he was this young, frail deer in headlights. The next year he comes back and he’s a world beater. That’s what a year can mean.”