Tim Stapleton was signed by the Thrashers as an unrestricted free agent on Nov. 30 after he was finishing a 25-game tryout with AHL San Antonio. The forward signed a two-year contract that will be a professional deal next season.
After a slow start, Stapleton finished with five goals in 45 games. He scored the game-wining goal in overtime against Carolina on March 9 and had the game-deciding goal in a shootout against Boston on Dec. 30. Stapleton was named to the U.S. team for the World Championships following his exit interview last month. He has an assist in three preliminary round games.
In the next of a series of interviews with Thrashers players following the 2010-11 season, here is some of what Stapleton had to say about where he fits in and getting to play on a line with Evander Kane.
Q. Overall, what are your impressions on your season considering where you started and where you ended?
A. It was a weird process for me. I was in San Antonio at the beginning of the year and didn’t really know what was going to happen. Then Atlanta came to me with a two-year deal and I couldn’t really refuse it. I didn’t think I was going to be playing right away with them. I just got an opportunity right away and was called up and down a lot. I didn’t really get time to get comfortable at first so it was kind of tough. But the opportunity I’ve been given this year and the way the coaching staff taught this has been like a dream come true because I have been waiting my entire life to get a chance like this. I think it’s been good. I hope next year I can get an even better chance and learn more. It was more of a learning process for me. From the first game to the last game I definitely feel like I can play and I’m excited for next year.
Q. It appears that you’ve shown them that you can play with the way you were rewarded with increased ice time and expanded roles they gave you toward the end of the season. Do you see it that way?
A. Yes. I feel like I can do more too. I’ve been a scorer my whole career and I think five goals in 45 games is not the outcome I wanted personally but I started off playing like five minutes and game and it did get increased. I learned more that it’s more of a defensive game and that’s something that’s been lacking in my career and I think I’ve been better defensively and offensively I can do more too. Overall, I’m just more excited. I wish we could keep playing.
Q. Did you put pressure on yourself knowing where you started this season and needing to prove yourself?
A. I did. When it was 25 games in and I hadn’t scored yet and I got put on waivers. I was getting to the point where I wondered if I was ever going to score. I just hung in there and kept plugging away and I was able to score a few times. Like I said, I’d like to score a lot more. I think I can. This summer is really big for me as far as getting into shape and getting ready for next year.
Q. How do you think you fit in here?
A. It was good. It’s tough not to. The group of guys here, it’s an incredible group of guys. Everyone gets along. It went by fast, that’s how fun it was. The coaching staff are teachers of the game. I knew guys from last year so I had a little jump. I feel part of the team and I have a year left on the contract and I hope I can take advantage of it.
Q. Evander Kane mentioned you as someone he really clicked with this year. How gratifying is that?
A. He said that huh? He doesn’t really compliment many guys (laughing). He is a great kid. I think during the stretch where I was able to start scoring, I think he was pretty much involved in every goal I scored. I was very fortunate to play with him. He is a world class player and he has such a future in this league. It’s going to be exciting to see. He is such a fast skater and I think we gelled together with our speed. I just got him the puck. Hopefully we can play more together. We always talked about wanting to play together. They had us together and we had some success. I’m looking forward to maybe getting to play with him next year.
The series concludes next week. Coming Monday, Alexander Burmistrov.
- Chris Vivlamore