Updated: Valabik knows the importance of upcoming season

Boris Valabik is skating and feeling good – and that’s a big deal.

The Thrashers defenseman was limited to 23 games last season that started with an ankle injury and ended with a torn ACL in his left knee.

“I feel good and I feel confident,” Valabik said last week. “I really hope to stay healthy this year. Enough is enough.”

Valabik, the Thrashers first-round pick (No. 10 overall) in 2004, missed the first 16 games of the season after injuring his ankle in training camp. His season abruptly ended in February when he tore his knee ligament in a game at Washington. He knows the importance of the upcoming season, which will be his third full year in the NHL.

“I need to feel confident in order to play well,” Valabik said. “In order to feel confident I need to play. It’s a vicious circle. My first year, I didn’t feel confident – new guys, new team, new league. My second year, last year, I played well when I was healthy and I felt really good when I was healthy. I finally told myself, I can play in this league. That was very important. That was a big turnaround for me. Then I got hurt. At least now I know if I keep working, I can be successful. It’s huge for me. This is the year to be successful.”

Valabik said that his knee is completely healed and he expects to be 100 percent healthy by the start of training camp next month. He did rehab and conditioning work during the offseason, which included a trip home to Slovakia. Valabik reported to the Thrashers practice facility last week for voluntary on- and off-ice workouts with other players and the team’s training staff.

“I feel good out there,” Valabik said. “This is the first week skating out there, so considering that, I feel really good. Obviously, I need to get my feet under me, but that’s every summer. … I’m really progressing. Just like the doctors, we didn’t expect it to heal this quickly. I’m really happy.”

Valabik is training 16 hours a week Monday through Friday at the IceForum. After his injury plagued season, that in itself is an accomplishment. “I like [training],” he said. “That’s why I came over here. You appreciate it when you can do it. I’m at that stage where I appreciate that I can do it.”

Part of Valabik’s training includes Olympic-style weightlifting under new strength and conditioning coach Barry Brennan. Brennan explained to me last week (for a future story) that the process is aimed at turning slow-twitch muscle fiber into fast-twitch muscle fiber, creating more explosive movement.

“It’s definitely new for me,” Valabik said of the weightlifting style. “I haven’t done much of it before. It’s good. It’s definitely for that quick first step. Not a lot of reps, just heavy weight and push it as fast as you can. Just explode as hard as you can. That’s exactly what I need, that first step to power my hips. It’s going to help me with my knees. It’s going to help me with my stride. It’s going to help me with my speed. Barry knows his stuff. I will see where this approach takes me. We see eye-to-eye on everything. I’m expecting a whole lot. I know my stuff, but when I see someone who knows his stuff and can put something on top of what I know or something extra that I don’t know, that’s the kind of person I can respect.”

The Thrashers will enter training camp with plenty of defensmen. Including Valabik, Zach Bogosian, Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Arturs Kulda and Johnny Oduya all played games on the Thrashers blue line last season. Add Brent Sopel, acquired in the offseason trade with the Blackhawks. Don’t forget others such as Grant Lewis, Freddy Meyer, Paul Postma, Jaime Sifers, Noah Welch and Andrei Zubarev competing for spots. Valabik will become a restricted free agent after the season.

A bigger Thrashers defense suits Valabik, 6-foot-7, 245 pounds, just fine.

“Honestly, I think this is the best team we’ve had, at least the years I’ve been in the organization,” he said. “I like our size up front. I think it’s great. This is my kind of team, let’s put it that way. Maybe different people have different opinions but I like the physical style. I like the big guys. I can guarantee you one thing, no team is going to like to play in our rink. That’s huge. You don’t want to be an easy team to play against. I can guarantee you there are going to be teams that don’t want to play the Thrashers on the schedule. You have a lot of hard working guys. I think we are going to be just fine.”

*As I reported last week that was imminent, the Thrashers officially announced the signing of Zubarev to a twoi-year, two-way contract Tuesday. The deal will pay him $625,000 in the NHL and $65,000 in the AHL.  “I’m so happy,” Zubarev told me last week while participating in voluntary workouts with the team. “It’s been a dream all my life, now that I’m here, I’m so happy.”

50 comments Add your comment

Flames

August 24th, 2010
7:59 am

I still think Valabik needs to prove himself….

Russian

August 24th, 2010
8:02 am

It will interesting to see what Coaches will choose in our D-men. Atlanta has lot of D-men on this year. I think that Tobi, Bogus, Hainsi, Oduya and Sopel get a spot on the Team. Now we are looking for number 6 and 7 D-man. Who is going to be? I saw Kulda last year. He was impressive. I saw Postma in camp. He was very good also.

Jimbo

August 24th, 2010
8:09 am

Sounds like the guy has a great attitude. I sure hope that we end up with a team that can pound others. Would be a welcome sight after Peaches, Charmin and others have tip toed around.

Flames

August 24th, 2010
8:09 am

I truly expect a trade involving one of our D-Man. If Duds signs a UFA like Stempniak, then he might trade a D-man for a future draft pick.

kracker

August 24th, 2010
8:10 am

For 6 and 7: two of Valabik, Kulda, Zubarev, Meyer. I guess going into camp you favor Boris, if he is really healthy and in shape, and Kulda, who deserves a lenghty look. But so do Zubarev and Meyer.

Is anyone thinking trade? Chris?

Michael B. Shapiro

August 24th, 2010
8:14 am

The idea of Boris having a quicker first step is right on. He’s big, but often is out of position because he doesn’t have that jump. I was favoring dumping him last year, but am willing to see what he can do in the pre-season. Size isn’t everything if there isn’t some speed, hockey sense and good positioning to go with it. Time will tell. Now what about our missing scoring from our former Kapitan and Max?

kracker

August 24th, 2010
8:25 am

If we are a talking trade of any significance, wouldn’t it be of a healthy Valabik or of Kulda? Meyer could have been had as a FA. I suppose some team might be in need of a seasoned defenseman for depth in Zubarev. (But wouldn’t that be us?)

GaVaHokie

August 24th, 2010
8:35 am

Love the idea of Stamkos struggling to get away from Byfuglien just to get plowed by Valabik at the blue line.

kracker

August 24th, 2010
8:47 am

Twitter –
jmanasso #Thrashers’ Bryan Little talks about 3-year deal, seeing a sports psychologist, frustrating ‘09′-10 season. FS South http://bit.ly/d6kQTV

Alan R.

August 24th, 2010
8:57 am

Hokie – Your vision made me smile this morning. “Oh no, Byfuglien is on me, must get aw–” *BOOM*! Oh man, good times!

GaVaHokie

August 24th, 2010
9:10 am

Alan R… it’ll look a lot like the 2:25 mark of this Evander Kane highlight clip. :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3X6bB2mwq1c

J-man

August 24th, 2010
9:11 am

Meyer is more or less a smaller version of Christoph Schubert. I’m unconvinced that he’s a better option Kulda, Valabik or Sopel. Zubarev and Postma probably could both benefit most from playing in the AHL this year, but I’d rather see them on the Thrashers than Meyer. I’d like to see Valabik get a chance to play full time and not be just a healthy scratch.

J(Z)

August 24th, 2010
9:26 am

I’d be all for flipping Sopel, I’m sure someone can use a veteran d-man (ie – old)

Alan R.

August 24th, 2010
9:49 am

Woohoo, Vivs just reported on Twitter that the Zubarev signing will be announced today!

Thrashers27

August 24th, 2010
9:53 am

Boris and Kulda definitely round out the defensive corps.

A lot of people give Boris a hard time about being slow and clumsy. He shows improvement from year to year and that’s really all you can ask. Afterall, he is still very young and we all know D-men take longer to develop.

Historically, Boris has been called for a lot of bad penalties simply due to the fact that he is much bigger than most opposition. What would be harmless contact with one player might be viewed as a penalty when someone of Boris’ size makes the same contact. He’s learning to manage that issue and he’s showed overall improvement in his skating ability too.

Sorry, but I really want to see him succeed and hate seeing him thrown under the bus because of his age and size. I’m not sure how long it took for Chara to find his place in the league, but something tells me this is the year that Boris will prove himself if he can stay healthy.

Anxious, anxious, anxious…for October 8th to arrive…alright I can settle for some pre-season action right about now.

Go Blue!

Alan R.

August 24th, 2010
10:01 am

T27 – Agreed. It’s rather unfortunate that many fans want to see Valabik shipped off. He is what this team needs, and I hope the new strength coach can really help him out.

The Monkey

August 24th, 2010
10:33 am

All the girls love Big Bobo!

kracker

August 24th, 2010
11:13 am

Don’t feed the trolls.

Jack

August 24th, 2010
11:16 am

Lets go Boris be the MAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

squirt

August 24th, 2010
11:16 am

kent, loved you in the movie “real genius”. haha.

speak2planets

August 24th, 2010
11:16 am

I think Boris looked pretty good last year and he does improve each season he plays.

Jack

August 24th, 2010
11:18 am

Flames are you hearing anything

Sage of Bluesland

August 24th, 2010
11:30 am

We’ll see what Boris does when the puck drops. Until then, I’ll have to settle for this autographed photo he mailed me. What a guy!

Smoothie

August 24th, 2010
12:00 pm

I enjoy Boris’ special brand of Slovakian candor. Hope he is healthy all year and many forwards alike feel the hurt and disdain of the Boris stank-eye.

Simon

August 24th, 2010
12:36 pm

Zubarev officially signed!

Joe McGrath

August 24th, 2010
1:08 pm

Remember when we first saw a freakish-lookin’ Zdeno Chara play as rookie back in 1997-98? Remember how he could barely skate?

Jack

August 24th, 2010
1:18 pm

I think everyone in the Front Office hopes he is Chara junior.

A27

August 24th, 2010
1:20 pm

Hope he does well… Like his attitude already. Go Boris!!!

Hockey Biltong

August 24th, 2010
1:34 pm

I’m in Boris’ court as well. This is his make or break year……I want him to succeed……..

schroeder

August 24th, 2010
2:08 pm

ok,I will back off my stance of giving up on Valabik.I will be the first to say that I was wrong if he turns it around. I did a little light reading and found that those in Ottawa thought the same of Chara back when he first came up. I bet they would love to have him back now. With the glut of d-men we have now we can afford to give him time in Chi.and see if he is 100% healed and can live up to his draft position. That being said if the right package for a top line scorer came along and he was involved,I would have to let him go.

Flames

August 24th, 2010
2:52 pm

Jack- Just rumors…I can’t confirm anything yet….I’ll keep you updated…

Jack

August 24th, 2010
3:15 pm

atlantic

August 24th, 2010
3:20 pm

nobody cares about this team. move it back to canada already

atlantic

August 24th, 2010
3:27 pm

this team is a nothing

Jack

August 24th, 2010
3:31 pm

J.B.

August 24th, 2010
3:38 pm

i think that’s the least creative, most pitiful attempt at trolling i’ve ever seen.

schroeder

August 24th, 2010
4:18 pm

Flames-rumors are fun,whatcha hearin?

Spud Webb

August 24th, 2010
5:47 pm

Wow, atlantic is insightful!! thanks for the input, educated are we???

I’m glad Boris is working hard, been pretty brutal early in his career. I hope he turns it up and becomes a good NHL dman.

Brendan

August 24th, 2010
6:16 pm

Boris Valabik needs to prove himself at the NHL level.

goose

August 24th, 2010
6:38 pm

Thrashers27-I agree too, I was starting to think I was the only boris supporter left.

I think it will be Kulda and boris to make the team. Postma still has to work on his defense, and Zubarev will need a year to adjust to north american style of play. Myers is just a depth signing for injuries just in case Postma or Zubarev aren’t ready for call ups at that point.

World Be Free

August 24th, 2010
7:06 pm

Boris needs to stop playing like Doris and hit someone. He is not known for offense, he needs to start planting opposing players when they come into the Thrashers’ end.

KLS1

August 24th, 2010
9:52 pm

Too much defense is not a problem…we can always scratch one. Give them all a chance, would like to see Kulda/Postma getting play time to develop all season.

Closet Hanger

August 24th, 2010
10:02 pm

I’m a “closet” supporter of Boris too.

Mikey

August 24th, 2010
10:04 pm

“move it back to canada already”

So, what you’re saying is….the Thrashers were IN Canada prior to being in Atlanta and you think they should move BACK to Canada?

OK, thank you for your input there buddy.

Brendan

August 24th, 2010
11:51 pm

Will Boris Valabik score his 1st NHL goal this season?

Ryan

August 25th, 2010
1:09 am

I think, that 6th and 7th defensemen must be Kulda and Valabik, but Myers & russian can play at farm. But who- Arturs or Boris will beginning the season as 6th? I think, that Kulda, he better works in defense.

Ryan

August 25th, 2010
1:18 am

to Brendan
I think, not so fast. But I’m shure, that Kulda will scores for Thrashers in october. ;)
Good night, guys.

EJK

August 26th, 2010
5:06 pm

I’m a hard core Black Hawks fan and have been a hockey fan for years. Here’s one thing to know about Brent Sopel. May be one of the slowest skaters in the league. He also may be one of the smartest defenseman in the league. The guy knows shot angles like a geometry major and is always in a position to make a smart play. Watch how he constantly is in communication with his goalie. For his position as the second goaltender, give me smart any day.

Joe McGrath

September 3rd, 2010
12:07 pm

EJK–that’s what we’re hoping for. As for Boris, he and few of the boys need to learn the local language. Specifically “scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, diced, peppered, capped, topped and all the way country.” Just saying some of our boys are a little on the skinny side. Maybe Buff can order for them.

Daniel

September 10th, 2010
1:39 pm

Don’t forget Atlanta fans, that they’ve also invited Kyle McLaren to tryout as well on Defense. He’s in great shape and has a lot of NHL games under his belt. He was merely a salary cap casualty in San Jose and he could also make a big impact on the Trashers Blueline if his work is good enough. If you had him and Valabik as your #5,6 defensemen, I guarantee no opposing forwards would want to be down low or in the corners with these two behemoths.