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10 posts categorized "Atlanta Thrashers"

August 18, 2011

Hockey | Playing catch-up, part I

Posted by: Feldman

Amazing what can pile up when you're on vacation for a bit (Phersy should know what this feels like, since he's always on a vacation).

Here are a few notes to toss out there for now, and I'll have a post on the Lourdes boys hockey team's summer practices a little later tonight. I went over and talked to coach Josh Spaniol during their final week of summer workouts in late July. I didn't get around to posting anything, as I was waiting to hear how a couple of their players did in Junior tryout camps (not that any of them anticipated leaving high school, but I was waiting to see how they fared at those camps).

So, for some notes:

• Former Rochester Century standout d-man Connor Faupel will play for Neepawa of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League this coming season. It's a nice move for Faupel, who passed up his senior season at Century to play for the Russell Stover midget program in Kansas City. I'll put in a call to Faupel tonight and hopefully find out more about his decision.

From what I'm told, he had the chance to go to three or four other places, including another team in the MJHL (which is a Tier II league in Canada), and to Helena, which won the USA Hockey Junior A, Tier III, national championship here in Rochester back in April. Faupel leaves for Neepawa on Tuesday. Neepawa is about 45 miles northeast of Brandon, Manitoba, or about 130 miles west of Winnipeg.

• Former Rochester Mayo forward Charlie Thauwald has become the most recent Rochester native to commit to a Division I hockey program. Thauwald made it official with Minnesota State, Mankato, last week. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Thauwald could make an immediate physical impact for the Mavericks. He'll be the biggest player on the team (along with LaCrescent's Eriah Hayes, who goes 6-4, 210) and the second member of his family to play D-I hockey (his brother, Scott, played at Colorado College and now plays professionally in Australia).

Charlie left Mayo before his senior season to play with Chicago of the USHL. After suffering an injury there, he played part of the 2009-10 season with Owatonna of the NAHL. Last season, he was a key member of the Fairbanks Ice Dogs' run to the NAHL (Robertson Cup) championship, along with Lourdes grads Tyler Voigt and Pete Spratte.

• The University of Maine has posted its men's hockey roster, and former Mayo defenseman Bill Norman will wear No. 12 for the Black Bears. Norman is listed at 5-feet-9, 160 pounds, so he'll have to use his speed and hockey sense — like he did at Mayo last season — to have an impact in Hockey East this year. The closest Maine comes to Minnesota this season is a two-game series at North Dakota, Oct. 14 and 15.

• Another former Century standout, goalie Alex Kangas, is officially a free agent. He wasn't signed by the team that drafted him — Winnipeg (actually drafted by Atlanta, of course, in 2006) — by Monday, so he's free to sign with another NHL team, or go overseas, if he chooses.

• Rochester native Colin Stuart re-signed with the Buffalo Sabres organization last month. Stuart reportedly signed a one-year, two-way deal, which will pay him $525,000 if he sticks in the NHL, or less if he plays with Buffalo's AHL affiliate in Portland, Maine. Stuart had 16 goals and 28 assists in 72 regular season games with Portland last season. He added three goals and four assists in 12 playoff games. He also played in three games for the Sabres, with no points and two penalty minutes.

• As Phersy noted in a previous post, the Rochester Ice Hawks are holding their final tryout camp this weekend, beginning tomorrow (Friday) and running through Sunday. They jump right into training camp on Monday.

June 23, 2011

Hockey | NHL Draft notes, Aikens settling in Omaha (UPDATED — up to 19)

FELDY: Any of our Faceoff Faithful headed up to The X for the NHL Draft this weekend? If so, you're probably as excited as me. This will be my first NHL Draft to attend and/or cover for the paper, so I'm looking forward to seeing all of that NHL brainpower in one facility.

I'll have a bunch of NHL Draft preview stuff in Friday's Post-Bulletin, so check that out (please, please, please), and I'll be up in St. Paul Friday and Saturday to cover the draft, so check out Saturday and Monday's print editions, too, for that coverage.

I'll also be posting here on the blog throughout the weekend, hopefully live from The X both days. I don't know exactly what the setup is going to be like for media or where I'll be stationed, but I'll do my best to get on here and/or Twitter (@PBFeldy).

The draft begins at 6 p.m. Friday (on Versus), for Round 1, and 10:30 a.m. Saturday (NHL Network), for Rounds 2-7.

As I was doing some research for my draft preview stuff, I found some facts that I thought Rochester hockey fans might be interested in.

(Update: I had forgotten that Scott Schneider was drafted, as well as goalie Jeff Kruesel, so my total of 14 goes up to 16. Much thanks to former JM star/coach Scott Lecy for reminding me that Schneider was drafted, as well as to Jeff Kruesel's parents for notifying me he was not on the list.)

(Update #2: So, of course, an hour after our print edition goes to press today (Friday, June 24), I get a complete list of all the Minnesotans who have ever been drafted. Turns out, there are 19 from Rochester, so I missed three in today's print edition. My apologies to those guys -- Ethan Philpott, Ross Johnson of Mayo and Doug Wieck of Mayo; I'll try to run their short bios, like I did for the other 16, in Saturday's paper).

I attempted to compile a list of every Rochester player ever drafted by an NHL team. I came up with 19(including Johnny Pohl, who, I know, is iffy at best, but he was born in Roch, so we'll add him in).

Of the 19 Rochester players who have been drafted, seven were drafted by franchises that no longer exist (two by the Atlanta Thrashers, two by the first incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets, and one each by the Hartford Whalers, Colorado Rockies and Minnesota North Stars). 

Two -- Doug Zmolek and Mark Stuart -- were drafted in Round 1. None of the remaining 12 was drafted earlier than Round 4.

Two others -- Colin Stuart and Alex Kangas -- were drafted in the exact same draft position (Round 5, No. 135 overall) by the same team (Atlanta). And, yet, two more -- Guy Gosselin and Scott Schneider -- were drafted by the old Winnipeg Jets franchise.

Finally, five of the 19 wouldn't have been drafted if, in their draft years, the draft was formatted like it is now. Currently, the draft is just seven rounds. Eric Strobel, Shjon Podein and Gosselin were all drafted in Round 8, Pohl went in Round 9 and John Johannson in Round 10.

Here's my list, please tell me if I'm missing anyone:

Guy Gosselin
Jim Johannson
John Johannson
Ross Johnson

Alex Kangas
Jeff Kruesel
Bryce Lampman
Ethan Philpott

Shjon Podein
Johnny Pohl
Scott Schneider
Eric Strobel

Colin Stuart
* Mark Stuart
Mike Stuart
Jake Taylor
Jeff Teal
Doug Wieck

* Doug Zmolek

* -- first round pick

I'll have more information about each of those 15 guys in Friday's paper, as well as a look at some of the players the Wild are likely targeting with the 10th overall pick. I'll also have a look at some of the top Minnesotans available in this draft, and a story on New Prague native and former Section 1A standout Seth Ambroz.

He left the Trojans after his freshman year, when he piled up 69 points and led them to the Section 1A semifinals, where they lost to Lourdes in OT. He has played for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL the past three seasons. He is expected to be a low first-round or high second-round pick this weekend. 

For the story on Ambroz, I talked to 1989 Rochester John Marshall graduate Mike Aikens, who was an assistant with the Lancers this year. He had lots of good things to say about Ambroz, particularly his work ethic, which was questioned by some hockey bloggers throughout the season.

The 6-feet-3, 203-pound Ambroz -- who is headed to the U of M this fall -- has been criticized by some for not having a more productive season (he had 46 points in 2010-11, after a 49-point season in 2009-10). 

But, Aikens said, Ambroz was productive in areas other than the scoresheet early in the season. He said Ambroz's physical play was a huge boost for the Lancers early on, when he wasn't scoring. Aikens said Ambroz would often have as many as 15 hits in a game (approaching Cal Clutterbuck territory) and that he didn't receive enough credit for the dirty work he did.

"He was phenomenal on the forecheck and willing to take a beating," Aikens said.

Aikens added that Ambroz does have some things to work on, that he's not NHL-ready right now. The biggest thing Ambroz needs to work on, Aikens said, is his skating. But, it's something Ambroz is aware of and "has worked really, really hard to get better at."

As for Aikens, he thoroughly enjoyed his first season back in Omaha (he spent three seasons there at the start of his coaching career) and is ready to settle there. He and his wife bought a house there and are moving their daughters (ages 5 and 7) down in about two weeks. They kept their house here in Rochester during this past season and waited to move until the school year was finished.

Aikens said he enjoys working for the Lancers organization and head coach Bliss Littler, a successful long-time junior hockey coach. Aikens moved to Omaha after coaching in the Russell Stover Midget Major program near Kansas City. He worked with fellow Rochester native Pat Ferschweiler there. Ferschweiler left prior to last season to become an assistant coach at his alma mater, Western Michigan University.

"We have two young daughters," said Aikens, whose brother, Bruce, played on the 1977 JM state championship team, "so we were looking for a place to settle down. When Omaha called, it was a no-brainer.

"The organization in Omaha is so good, from the owners on down. They treat everyone so well. We like to call it the Yankees of junior hockey, because everyone is treated so well. I feel like I can really be choosy and pick my next move. If I'm here for 10 years, or more, that would be great."

June 01, 2011

Pro Hockey | Stuart bros. speak on Thrashers' move; Colin a free agent again

Posted by: Feldman

The announcement on Tuesday that the Atlanta Thrashers have been sold and are relocating to Winnipeg, was just another twist in an odd three months for Rochester native Mark Stuart.

On Feb. 18, he was traded from the Boston Bruins, the team that drafted him in the first round in 2003, and for whom he played 283 games over six season. He was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers and 10 days later, he signed a three-year, $5.1 million contract extension. He became an instant hit with the Thrashers players and fans, even wearing the "A" as the team's alternate captain for a handful of games late in the season.

Last month, Stuart, a former Lourdes player, wore another letter -- this time the "C" -- as captain of the U.S. team at the 2011 IIHF World Championships in Slovakia, where the U.S. was eliminated in the quarterfinals.

Since coming back to his offseason home in Minneapolis, he has seen his former team, the Bruins, advance to the Stanley Cup Finals (they play Game 1 tonight at Vancouver) and has current team, Atlanta, get sold to a group that will move it to Winnipeg.

Stuart couldn't be reached Tuesday, when the announcement was made. I put in a call to Rob Tillotson with the Thrashers media relations department, and Rob called me back this morning. He said some players are hesitant to comment on the move right now because they don't want their emotions to speak for them. So, I may hear from Mark today, or may not. It's understandable if he doesn't want to speak emotionally right now; he obviously really enjoyed his short time in Atlanta.

I did reach Mark's brother, Colin Stuart, who was a 5th round draft pick of the Thrashers in 2001, and played 51 games for them from 2007-09. He also helped the Thrashers' AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, win the Calder Cup in 2008.

Colin said he had talked briefly with Mark on Tuesday when the announcement was made in Winnipeg by True North Sports and Entertainment, the group that purchased the Thrashers and will move them to the MTS Centre in Winnipeg.

"I think Mark's disappointed they couldn't make it work in Atlanta; he liked it there," Colin said. "It's confusing anytime something like this happens. But he's excited to play in Canada, in front of some of the most die-hard hockey fanatics."

Mark Stuart did speak to the Globe and Mail, one of Canada's two or three biggest newspapers, yesterday. Here's some of what he had to say:

“I saw it coming. After Phoenix went through and they were going to stay, we became the topic of conversation. So I expected it, but there was kind of just a waiting period until it became official. It doesn’t really come as that big of a surprise.”

“I’m excited to go (to Winnipeg), I’m excited for the fans there. Everyone can see how excited they are to have an NHL team back and they’re very deserving of that.”

“(Bruins defenceman) Shane Hnidy texted me today saying I’ll really enjoy it there. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’ve heard stories about Winnipeg from guys that had a chance to play there and really enjoyed it. About the support and the fans. That’s very exciting for a player.”


C. Stuart enters free agency ... again

For a second consecutive summer, Colin Stuart will enter unrestricted free agency, on July 1. A year ago, he signed with the Buffalo Sabres organization and was a key player all season for their AHL affiliate, the Portland (Maine) Pirates.

He played three games for the Sabres, bringing his career total to 54 NHL games (he has 8 goals and 5 assists in those games).

In Portland, he played 72 regular season games and was the seventh-leading scorer for the Pirates (16-28--44). He also had 3-4--7 in 12 playoff games for the Pirates, who lost to the Binghamton Senators in six games in the AHL Atlantic Division Finals. Binghamton went on to sweep Charlotte in the Eastern Conference Finals and the B-Sens are now playing the Minnesota Wild's AHL affiliate, the Houston Aeros, in the Calder Cup Finals (that series is tied 1-1, with Game 3 coming up tonight at Binghamton.

Colin isn't ruling out a return to Portland/Buffalo. He said, in a way, it's nice to be an unrestricted free agent and be able to choose where you want to play. But, he said, it's also stressful to not know if what teams, if any, will be interested in him.

"I would have obviously liked to have spent more time in the NHL," he said. "Buffalo is a great system to be in. I was fortunate to play under a couple of great coaches in Portland (Kevin Dineen and Eric Weinrich). They respect their players and make it a joy to come to the rink every day. And Portland was a great city for me and my wife."

Now, Stuart will wait and see which teams show interest in him on July 1. He's 6-foot-2, 200 pounds and is a left-handed shot. And, at just 29 years old, he'll surely help a team, either in the AHL or NHL, next season.

"We'll wait and see what happens on July 1," he said. "It's exciting, but a little nerve-wracking to be looking for work. You just hope your reputation is good and your play speaks for itself."

May 19, 2011

Hockey | Was the NHL's southern invasion worth it?

FELDY: It's looking more and more each day like Rochester native Mark Stuart and the Atlanta Thrashers will make their home in Winnipeg next season (or, possibly the following season, depending upon if, and how soon, a sale of the Thrashers can get done).

Another southern NHL team, the Coyotes, are safe in Phoenix for at least another season, thanks to the city of Glendale covering some of the NHL's big-time financial losses there. That leaves the Thrashers as the team targeted by Winnipeg's True North Sports and Entertainment to move into the seven-year-old MTS Centre (the name alone sounds like a hockey building, with the "re" on Centre).

With all of that in mind, an interesting topic has bounced around on Twitter over the past couple of days, primed by former USA Hockey P.R. guy Chris Peters (who happens to operate the kick-#!@ hockey blog, the United States of Hockey) and Fargo Fourm hockey writer Ryan S. Clark. (by the way, if you're a hockey fan at all, follow those guys on Twitter -- @chrismpeters and @ryan_s_clark)

The debate: Has the NHL's entry into southern markets been worthwhile?

With the financial troubles that the Coyotes and Thrashers have had, it's easy to say that the NHL's invasion of the non-traditional markets in the U.S. has been a bust. But that's really not fair, not looking at the big picture.

I won't quote all of Peters' research here; he did a lot of work on this, so go to his site to check it out. He looked at the increase in hockey players of all ages in the NHL's southeastern markets (Atlanta, Nashville, Raleigh, Miami, Tampa Bay, and he included Dallas).

Here's a link to Peters' statistical spreadsheet, which looks at the number of registered players in those southern states with NHL teams. Note that, over the past decade, the number of registered players in those states has either come close to doubling, or it has more than doubled. That's a pretty big impact on areas not previously known for hockey. In Georgia, nearly 85 percent of new players over the past 10 years are 18 years old or younger. Now, that is how the game grows, by getting kids involved and active.

Also, look at the number of players from Texas, California and the Carolinas now making their way into junior hockey, college hockey and the pros. It's obviously not as many as come from Canada and the northern U.S., but my hometown college hockey team (University of North Dakota) will have as many players on its roster next season from Arizona and California as it will from North Dakota.

More examples: Check out last year's NHL Draft: Beau Bennett and Emerson Etem, both California-born, were selected in the first round. Bennett's Denver University teammate, Jason Zucker, from Las Vegas, was a second-round pick of the Minnesota Wild.

The NHL may not have succeeded in Phoenix or Atlanta, but it's worked well in Dallas, San Jose, L.A., Nashville, Tampa Bay and Carolina.

It's difficult to watch NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman do all he can to keep a team (Phoenix) in a market that hasn't supported it. And, Atlanta looks like it will be NHL-less in a matter of months. But, two bad apples shouldn't ruin the bunch. The NHL's presence in the south has done much more good than bad.

May 03, 2011

Pro Hockey | Playing catch-up

Posted by: Feldman

Time to catch up on some hockey news involving former area players...

We're into May and a handful of former Rochester-area hockey players are still chasing championships.

Three former Rochester high school standouts -- Tyler Voigt and Pete Spratte of Lourdes, and Charlie Thauwald of Mayo -- are playing together for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the NAHL. The Ice Dogs open play in the Robertson Cup Final Four tonight, but we'll get into that in a subsequent post.

Two Rochester natives are still chasing championships at a higher level -- brothers Mark and Colin Stuart. While both would much rather be playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, they have to be happy to be still playing at this time of year.

* Mark Stuart, a defenseman for the Atlanta Thrashers, is the captain of Team USA at the IIHF World Men's Championships in Slovakia. The U.S. opened play on Saturday with a 5-1 win against Austria and followed that with a 4-2 victory against Norway on Monday, to secure a spot in the qualification round.

The U.S. plays its final pool play game of the tournament against Sweden on Wednesday. That game will be televised on Versus (channel 35, Charter Cable, Rochester; or channel 761 in HD). The qualification round is scheduled to begin Thursday.

* Colin Stuart and the Portland (Maine) Pirates are on the verge of elimination from the AHL playoffs. Portland, the top minor-league affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres, trails the Binghamton Senators, 3-1, in the best-of-7 Atlantic Division finals. Stuart, who has played 54 games at the NHL level in his career (including three this season), played in 72 games for Portland in the regular season, putting up 44 points (16 goals, 28 assists). He has two goals and three assists in 10 playoff games.

Stuart and the Pirates have a big hole to dig out of, needing three consecutive victories to advance in the Calder Cup playoffs. He's no stranger to postseason success. Stuart was on the Chicago Wolves 2008 Calder Cup championship team.

* Rochester native and former University of Minnesota defenseman Jake Taylor's season is over, but the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder had another solid season in the AHL. Taylor played in 65 games, accumulating five assists, a plus-14 rating and 135 penalty minutes for the Oklahoma City Barons, an Edmonton Oilers affiliate. Taylor also had one assist in six playoff games for the Barons, who

* Rochester's Bryce Lampman played 24 games with Ingolstadt ERC of the German Elite League at the end of the season. After playing in five games with the Houston Aeros of the AHL, Lampman, 28, had two goals and five assists for Ingolstadt ERC. He also had one assist in four postseason games.

* Red Wing's Reid Cashman had 25 points and 72 penalty minutes in 54 games this season for Linz EHC in Austria. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound defenseman also had a goal and two assists in five playoff games. Cashman split time last season between Cincinnati of the ECHL and Milwaukee of the AHL.

April 19, 2011

Pro Hockey | Stuart: "I like our team … in this league you have to learn how to win"

Posted by: Feldman

Rochester native Mark Stuart, a defenseman for the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers, is headed to Slovakia to play in the IIHF men's world championships, April 29-May 15, but before departing, he gave reporters in Atlanta his thoughts on his first (partial) season with the Thrashers.

Stuart clearly enjoyed being in Atlanta for the final 23 games of the season, after being traded by the Boston Bruins. He scored one goal in those 23 games, but provided the team with a tremendous defensive defenseman, someone willing to play hard on the penalty kill and a leader in the locker room.

Just 10 days after being traded to the Thrashers, Stuart signed a three-year contract extension worth $5.1 million total, which made it evident that both sides were pleased with the trade from Boston. He has 41 points in 306 career games.

Stuart has been described by Thrashers coaches as "providing momentum-shifting hits" and "having a willingness to drop the gloves to defend his teammates." The Thrashers think so highly of Stuart, that he even wore an "A"  while Toby Enstrom missed time with an injury.

Here is some of what Stuart had to say to the media in Atlanta after the Thrashers season — Stuart's fourth full NHL season — came to an end:

On joining the Thrashers after the trade…
"Coming over, it was exciting and new. It was disappointing that we didn't make a better run at (the postseason). But like I've said since I've been here, I really like our team. I like the makeup of our team. I like the organization. … Some things need to get better, but I think we have the guys. … We know we can be a good team in this league, it's just finding that consistency."

On what needs to change for Atlanta to be a playoff team…
"It's tough to explain, but in this league you have to learn how to win. You saw that in some of the games we were up by a few goals. We don’t know how to win yet. We kind of let teams back into it once in a while. win yet. We kind of let teams back into it once in a while. There was a lot of overtime games — games that we won, but good teams, when they get up, they don’t look back. They bury teams. We haven’t quite learned how to do that yet."

On Atlanta's defensive corps …
"“I think it’s one of the best (I’ve seen), really. Nowadays your defensemen have to be offensive. If you look around the league a lot of teams are getting a lot of offense from their defensemen. Buff (Dustin Byfuglien) had 20 goals this year, so I think we have that piece, but I also think we have two-way guys. We have guys that are good defensively and you need some toughness, and I think we have that.”

On being named an alternate captain late in the season …
"I was very flattered. Leadership is very important to me. Hopefully I can grow into that role here. I haven’t been in the league a long time but I think I’ve been in it long enough that I can help some of the young guys. Having a letter is very important to me. On an NHL team wearing an “A” is big. I hold a lot of pride in that for sure.”

April 12, 2011

Pro Hockey | Stuarts headed to World Championships

FELDY: You would think a doctor as successful as Mayo Clinic's Dr. Michael Stuart and a hockey player, such as his son, Mark Stuart, who makes more than $1.5 million per year, they could find an easier way to see each other than to travel to Slovakia.

But, the Stuarts will indeed have a family vacation in Slovakia, from April 29-May 15.

Mark Stuart, a defenseman for the Atlanta Thrashers, and Mike, will represent the USA at the 2011 IIHF Men's World Championships. The Thrashers announced today that Stuart, as well as former Minnesota Gopher Blake Wheeler, have been named to the U.S. roster.

Both of those players were traded from the Boston Bruins to Atlanta earlier this season. At the time, the Thrashers were within striking distance of a playoff spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference. Atlanta fell off late in the season, though, and finsihed 12th in the east, 13 points out of the playoffs.

Though Stuart, who signed a three-year, $5.1 million extension with Atlanta, won't be in the playoffs, he'll do the next best thing -- represent the U.S. on a big stage. His brother, Colin Stuart, played for Team USA at the 2009 IIHF World Championship.

Mark Stuart had two goals and four assists in 54 games between Boston and Atlanta this season. He had a goal and 24 penalty minutes in 23 games after being traded to Atlanta.

Team USA is in Group C, along with Sweden, Norway and Austria. The U.S. opens play on April 30 against Austria, followed by a May 2 game against Norway and a 4 matchup with Sweden.

Canada is in Group B with Switzerland, Belarus and France.

Here is a link to the website for the World Championships.

February 28, 2011

Pro Hockey | Stuart signs extension with Thrashers

FELDY: Rochester native Mark Stuart won't hit free agency in a few months. The Atlanta Thrashers announced today that Stuart has signed a three-year contract extension, reportedly worth a total of $5.1 million.

Stuart, 26, will make $1.6 million in 2011-12, followed by $1.7 million in 2012-13, and $1.8 million in 2013-14.

Here is the official release from the Thrashers.

February 18, 2011

Mark Stuart traded to Atlanta

FELDY: Rochester native Mark Stuart is going from a division-leading NHL team to one that is battling just to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. The 26-year-old Rochester native was traded just more than an hour ago from the Boston Bruins to the Atlanta Thrashers.

Stuart has been a healthy scratch in recent weeks for the Bruins, after returning from a hand injury. But the former first-round pick was dealt today mainly because of salary cap reasons. The Bruins needed to clear space to acquire Tomas Kaberle from Toronto, so they sent Stuart (and his $1.675 million cap hit) and former Gopher Blake Wheeler ($2.2 million cap hit) to Atlanta in exchange for center Rich Peverley and minor league defenseman Boris Valabik. Peverley and Valabik together earn barely more than $2 million.

Once the Stuart/Wheeler trade was completed, Boston sent another former WCHA standout, Joe Colborne (a former first-round pick who played college hockey at Denver), and its 2011 first round draft pick to Toronto for Kaberle.

So, what does this mean for Stuart?

First and foremost, it means he gets to give life in Atlanta a two-month trial run to see if he would like to play there in coming years. Stuart will be just 27 when the season ends, and he'll be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. (Obvious question: Might the Wild be interested in him? We'll get back to that point later.)

Second, The move reunites Stuart and Wheeler with Thrashers head coach Craig Ramsay, who was an assistant in Boston until taking the job in Atlanta this season. But his injury issues over the past two seasons have left some Bruins fans disgruntled with a former first-round pick they perceive as injury-prone. The reality is, Stuart is a gritty player. He plays a style of game that can lead to injuries. But his name was batted around a lot after last season as a potential captain of the team, so you know players and coaches around the NHL have a lot of respect for the way he plays. He has a goal and four assists in 31 games this season (Wheeler has 11-16--27 this season).

And, third, Stuart will likely see more playing time in Atlanta, too. The Thrashers need his physical presence on the blue line. Stuart (6-feet-2, 213 pounds) and Wheeler are being viewed in Atlanta as guys who can help take the Thrashers from tied for ninth in the Eastern Conference up into the top eight and a playoff berth.

The Thrashers now have the market cornered on Rochester natives, as they also hold former Century goalie Alex Kangas' rights. Other Minnesota connections in the Atlanta system: former Cup winner Dustin Byfuglien (Roseau), forward and ECHL All-Star Michael Forney (Thief River Falls) and forward/draft pick Tanner Lane (Detroit Lakes).

So, whether the Thrashers reach the postseason or not, Stuart will have the chance in June to pick where he wants to play in 2011-12 and beyond. Which begs the question, is there a chance he ends up in a Minnesota Wild uniform next season?

It's a great thought, but it looks unlikely. Of the eight d-men the Wild have on their NHL roster right now (Burns, Barker, Schultz, Scandella, Spurgeon, Stoner, Zanon, Zidlicky), six are between the ages of 20-28. And with guys such as Justin Falk, Tyler Cuma (his injuries not withstanding) and Nate Prosser in the minors, it seems unlikely that Wild GM Chuck Fletcher would be willing to pay the kind of money Stuart may get in other places (it's reasonable to think he could get $2 million per year or more in a free agent deal).

As for Stuart potentially getting back into the playoffs, this time with the Thrashers, it could come down to the final weeks of the season. Atlanta is currently tied for ninth in the East with Buffalo, two points behind eighth-place Carolina.

And, for anyone who wondering if the Thrashers play near Minnesota again this season, they don't. They played the Wild, in Atlanta, back in November (a 5-1 Thrashers win). Just two of Atlanta's remaining 23 games are against Western Conference opponents.

July 09, 2010

Stuart officially signs with Bruins, Kangas at Thrashers camp

FELDY: Roch native Mark Stuart has officially signed his 1-year deal with the Boston Bruins. The defenseman, who was the Bruins' first-round pick in the 2003 draft, reportedly signed for a slight raise of $1.675 million for the 2010-11 season. He completed a two-year, $2.6 million deal this past season.

Stuart, 26, will be an unrestricted free agent come July 1, 2011.

* * * * *

Rochester Century grad Alex Kangas is getting a little taste of NHL life this week. The senior-to-be at the University of Minnesota is one of three goalies involved in the Atlanta Thrashers' development camp.

The camp includes 29 Thrashers prospects, mostly draft picks who have not yet signed with the team or are in the team's minor league system. The camp began Thursday and runs through Tuesday.

Kangas is one of eight goalies in Atlanta's system, which includes Chris Mason and Ondrej Pavelec, the two goalies currently listed on the Thrashers NHL roster.

Kangas, 23, was the Thrashers' fifth-round draft pick (No. 135 overall) in the 2005 draft. He will play out his final year of college eligibility this year and will either sign with the Thrashers after the Gophers season ends or become a free agent.

Other goalies at this week's prospect camp are 20-year-old Chris Carrozzi, a 2008 fifth-round draft pick, and Ed Pasquale, a 19-year-old selected in the fourth round of the 2009 draft.

Fredrik Pettersson-Wentzel, an 18-year-old from Sweden who was drafted by the Thrashers in the fifth round of last month's NHL Draft, is not at the prospects camp.

The full roster and schedule for the Thrashers development camp can be found here.