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Bogosian healthy and ready for a big season

by John Manasso
DULUTH, Ga. -- Zach Bogosian said it was the kind of collision in which nine times out of 10 times, nothing happens.

This unlucky occasion, however, proved to be the 19-year-old Atlanta Thrashers own personal Halloween nightmare, ruining what was shaping up to be a fabulous sophomore season.

Playing against the Senators in Ottawa last Oct. 31, the No. 3 pick in the 2008 Entry Draft fell behind the net and hit his left hand on the iron. Then someone fell on top of it.

Bogosian's thumb was broken and his wrist was injured. Bogosian, a righty-shooting defenseman whose wrist shot had produced 8 goals in his first 17 games -- tops among all NHL defensemen -- could no longer generate any power with his top hand.

He ended up playing through the injuries -- something he later said he should not have done -- missing only one game all season. But instead of reacting and firing the puck at the net as he naturally would have done, he had to think about how he would play the puck, usually a pass because of his ineffectual shot -- and in a game like hockey that allows only milliseconds to make decisions, his game and his confidence began to unravel.

Bogosian said it was "definitely a tough year."

"I didn't play at 100 percent at all last year" after the injury, he said. "I was still feeling it at the end of the year. The only way an injury like that is going to get better is with rest, and time was not really something I wanted to take off. I just wanted to keep at it.

"It's not like it was a career-ending, career-threatening injury. It was something that if I battled through it, it'd be OK. It was hard in like December and January and stuff, but the pain eased by the end of the year. But I was never 100 percent."

In the two weeks following the injury, he somehow scored three times in his next seven games and even had a plus-4 night at Los Angeles. Maybe it was adrenaline.

But he couldn't sustain it. Over his final 64 games, Bogosian totaled just 2 goals and 11 assists and was minus-17. Yet Bogosian kept mum about the injury until April.

When a player gets injured and attempts to play through it, he sometimes unwittingly causes another injury by compensating too hard. In this case, Bogosian hurt his confidence.

"Personally, you're sitting there and everyone's talking about how bad or this game or that game, but really they're not feeling the pain," he said. "They don't really know what it's like. But obviously, at the beginning of the year, I got off to the good start. I mean, there wasn't any more pressure on me than what I put on myself."

He said teammates supported him in the locker room, but it could not have helped that before the injury Bogosian was mentioned as a candidate to make the U.S. Olympic team. He was not selected.

Meanwhile, the player selected ahead of him in his draft year, Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty (second overall in 2008), went on to star for gold medal-winning Team Canada and finished third in the Norris Trophy balloting.

Comparisons are inevitable. Thrashers defenseman Ron Hainsey, Bogosian's partner for much of last season, made that comparison unsolicited.

"It hampered him a lot of the year, but it is what it is," Hainsey said when asked if he thought Bogosian would rebound from the injury. "We'll see. It's going to be a little different here with the new staff. It's a learning process on defense. Not everybody 18 or 19 -- it's unfair to compare, but Doughty was such a dominant player for Canada and they were drafted so close together -- but it doesn't always work like that.

"He'll be fine. He's got all the tools to be a great player. It's just putting them all together, staying healthy, obviously. He's on the right track, so no point putting too much pressure on him, but he'll be fine."

When the season ended, Bogosian remained in Atlanta for several months working out. He did wrist curls in an effort to strengthen the injured wrist and try to prevent future injury.

He left for a few weeks, visiting his family in Western New York, and now he's back at the Thrashers' practice facility several weeks early, skating with his teammates to prepare for the year.

He has met new coach Craig Ramsay for only a few minutes, but general manager Rick Dudley has big hopes for what Ramsay, one of the NHL's best teachers, will do for Bogosian's game. Dudley has credited Ramsay for, among others, helping Dan Boyle to become one of the NHL's elite defensemen while with Tampa Bay, and, more recently, turning Boston rookie Johnny Boychuk into a player who could go plus-2 and play 28:07 in Game 3 of the second round of last spring's playoffs.

In a short meeting, Ramsay discussed what he has in store for Bogosian.

"I think one of the things he stressed on the other day was instead of me going in and kill someone, or trying to go for the big hit, trying to contain," Bogosian said. "You don't want to go for a big hit in your own zone because then the guy can spin off you and can walk in and score.

"I just want to learn the game. I want guidance and I'm all for it. I want to do a lot of things I haven't done in the past, like video and stuff like that."
-- Zach Bogosian

"So different things like that. I just want to learn the game. I want guidance and I'm all for it. I want to do a lot of things I haven't done in the past, like video and stuff like that."

A criticism leveled at the Thrashers' former coaching staff by outgoing veteran Slava Kozlov last April was that the team did not do enough video work and was not prepared. Bogosian said he was looking forward to working with Ramsey, who was hired after John Anderson was let go.

"It was a little tough," he said. "Every coach has their different ways of teaching, and I think that the way Craig will be with me, from what I've heard, it will be good for me to do a lot of video and stuff like that."

Hainsey recalled when he left Montreal for Columbus and had the good fortune to play for Stanley Cup winner Ken Hitchcock, one of the game's preeminent teachers of defensive hockey.

"I don't know most of those guys [on the Thrashers' new coaching staff], but I know they really plan on being teachers," Hainsey said. "That's something that can only help. From my own experience, once I got to Columbus and had Hitchcock there, he was the master teacher -- or whatever -- it turned my career around. It really did ... It's usually defenseman who have a little more of a learning curve.

"If you take advantage of it and take it in, great things can happen."

Bogosian said whether it's scoring 20 goals or blocking shots, he just wants to do whatever he must to help the team make the playoffs. In that regard, he thinks his influx of new teammates from the Chicago Blackhawks will help, as will the arrival of free-agent goalie Chris Mason from St. Louis.

But if Bogosian can transform himself into the dominating No. 1 defenseman he was drafted to be, that could help as much as anything.

"As long as he's improving and getting better -- he's already our best skater; he has been since he got here," Hainsey said. "Once the other stuff catches up, the sky's the limit. It really is."
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