Mark Stuart was acquired in a February trade with Boston and promptly signed a three-year, $5.1 million contract with the Thrashers. He had one assist in 23 games.
Stuart will play for the United States in the World Championships following the season.
In the next of a series of interviews with Thrashers players following the 2010-11 season, here is some of what Stuart had to say about how close the Thrashers are to the playoffs, how long it takes to adjust to coach Craig Ramsay’s style and his chance to wear an ‘A.’
Q. Can you speak to your season from a personal standpoint, coming over here in the trade and then not making the playoffs?
A. Coming over it was exciting. It was new. It was very disappointing we didn’t make a better run at it. Like I’ve said since I’ve been here, I really like our team. I really like the makeup of the team. I like the organization. The future is definitely bright. I think we have the pieces in place. Obviously there are some things that need to change, some things that need to get better. I think we have the guys. You’ve seen it off and on in some of the games we played. We can be a good team in this league. We just have to find that consistency.
Q. When you say some things have to change, what are you referring to?
A. It’s tough to explain but in this league you have to learn how to win. We seen in some of the games we were up by a few goals, we don’t know how win yet. We kind of let teams back into it. We had a lot of overtime games, games that we won. But good teams, once they get up in games they don’t look back. They bury teams. We haven’t quite learned how to do that yet. It’s something that we are working on. We are getting better. That game in New York (on April 7) was a good example. We stayed with them. We played the same game the whole time and won 3-0. It’s good to see. There were not enough games like that.
Q. How long does it take to get coach Ramsay’s method of play, like being better with your stick, for the younger players?
A. I don’t think it should take that long. It’s really a simple thing. It’s just a matter of getting it in your head and forming that good habit and having your stick down. It’s big though. It’s amazing if you have your stick on the ice and you are putting your stick on the puck, it’s amazing how many pucks you will deflect or passes you’ll pick off. I think guys are definitely improving at it. I think [Alexander Burmistrov] and [Evander Kane] are two guys that have definitely improve. In the neutral zone, forechecking, if they have their stick on the ice, they are so fast, they have such good speed, they are going to pick off a lot of pucks. It’s just a matter of forming that good habit.
Q. You bring a physical presence to the game. Ramsay’s style, and he took some heat for it, is that hitting is overrated because he wants the hit to separate the player from the puck. What is your philosophy on that? Does that take a while to teach a young player?
A. Yes. I think it’s important. The ultimate goal is to get the puck back. You want to control the puck. But I think at times a physical play, like a hit or a fight, can change the momentum of the game. Sometimes you’ve got to forget about that puck and try to run somebody over. Most of the time, for a guy like [Burmistrov] getting in on the forecheck, I think it’s important to finish their checks but the ultimate goal is to get the puck. A guy like [Burmistrov], you want the puck on his stick. It’s different for me, obviously, in the neutral zone and open-ice hits, I’m going to take the body and hopefully one of my teammates is going to take the puck. I agree with [Ramsay] but also I think once in awhile run someone over and forget about the puck and it might jack your team up a little bit.
Q. When Tobias Enstrom went down, they gave you the ‘A.’ What are your thoughts on that?
A. I was very flattered. Leadership is very important to me. Hopefully I can grow into that role here. I think I haven’t been in the league a long time but I think I’ve been in it long enough where I can help some of the young guys. Having a letter is very important to me. The NHL, wearing an ‘A’ it’s big. I have a whole lot of pride in that for sure.
The series will continue over the next couple of weeks. Coming Thursday, Eric Boulton.