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It's business as usual for Thrashers scouts

by Mike G. Morreale /
TORONTO -- Despite the midday news that True North Sports and Entertainment had acquired the Atlanta Thrashers, the scouts wearing their usual Thrashers attire went about their business at the NHL Scouting Combine here at the Westin Bristol Place.
The sale, the first step toward hockey returning to the city of Winnipeg, still is pending approval by the NHL Board of Governors, which next meets June 21 in New York.
Thrashers Director of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Dan Marr spoke to on Tuesday following 18 rounds of interviews with many of the top draft-eligible prospects. Nothing has changed for Marr and his group since the announcement was made and, as far as he knows, nothing will.
"I've received no instructions to do anything differently so we're here working on our draft list and preparing for the Entry Draft," he said.
While Marr feels this year's Draft is deep with talent, there's also an unknown.
"The difference is that there's no clearly identified No. 1 pick," he said. "You see lots of different opinions and that's a little bit rare. While there seems to be some consensus on the top four or five kids, it's sketchy after that. I think anywhere from pick No. 6 to No. 30, they will all be good players.
"I believe No. 26 has a chance to be just as good as No. 6. It's a really nice pool of talent and everyone's going to get a good pick in the first round, for sure."
While Marr wouldn't reveal his scouting team's overall top five, NHL Central Scouting's top five North American skaters are center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Red Deer Rebels, left wing Gabriel Landeskog of the Kitchener Rangers, center Jonathan Huberdeau of the Saint John Sea Dogs, defenseman Dougie Hamilton of the Niagara IceDogs and defenseman Nathan Beaulieu of Saint John. The top European prospects are defensemen Adam Larsson of Skelleftea (Sweden) and center Mika Zibanejad of Djurgarden (Sweden).
The Thrashers hold the seventh pick in the first round of the 2011 Entry Draft, which will be held June 24-25 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. The odds of Nugent-Hopkins or Larsson hearing their name announced first by the Edmonton Oilers is pretty good.
"The new NHL has these exciting, dynamic players," Marr said. "Nugent-Hopkins is quick and clever and makes things happen out there. He's the type of player that fans want to come and watch play.
"Larsson has shown he's close to being ready in taking the next step. He's got a composed game out there under pressure; I like to call it grace under fire, since that's what I put in my reports. Anybody can make the first pass out of their zone, but to add the quickness and speed to get away from forecheckers while under pressure … that's what today's game is all about."
While the Thrashers were fortunate to select players able to jump right into the opening-night NHL lineup the last three years -- forwards Alexander Burmistrov in 2010 and Evander Kane in '09 and defenseman Zach Bogosian in '08 -- Marr doesn't assume that will happen every year.
"I don't think you can go into any draft expecting that you'll get a roster player," he said. "The fact of the matter is, the last couple of years that's happened with us and it really comes down to what the kid does at training camp.
"The higher you pick in the draft the higher you think the chances are that player would have a chance. But I don't think any team should expect entering the draft they'll gain a roster-spot player to step in and play right away."
Marr, as he usually is, has been impressed with the pool of players invited to this year's Scouting Combine.
"These prospects are prepared, but I think credit goes to the Canadian Hockey League and to the agents because the players are far more educated about what they need to do," Marr said. "A lot of junior teams today have full-time strength coaches who pay attention to nutrition, flexibility and stretching.
"We're seeing more hockey-educated players coming into the interview room. These are all good kids, the only difference being some have matured more physically and mentally. In the end, you are dealing with 17- and 18-year-olds."
Marr believes it might be an advantage for some European players to spend at least one year in North America, preferably in their draft year. That's precisely what Burmistrov did in 2009-10 when he played with the Ontario Hockey League's Barrie Colts before being chosen with the eighth pick by Atlanta last June.
"It's beneficial because they're coming to a different country and a different culture," Marr said. "It's important to learn the language so that when they do come over and compete for a job and eventually take a job away from an NHL player, they don't have all these distractions of everything being new to them."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter: @mike_morreale
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