On February 18, Mark Stuart learned that he and teammate Blake Wheeler were being traded from the Boston Bruins to the Atlanta Thrashers. The two made their way out to the Canadian Rockies where their new team was preparing to play the Edmonton Oilers the next day.
The outcome of that particular game didn’t go the way Stuart and his new team had hoped as they lost to the last place Oilers. However, it didn’t take long for the Thrashers to understand just what they were getting with this 6’-2”, 215-pound defenseman from Rochester, Minnesota as he went toe-to-toe with 6’-4”, 217-pound Jean-Francois Jacques.
Stuart’s a fighter…and he’s not afraid to stick up for himself and his new teammates as well.
One other thing it didn’t take a great deal of time to discover about Stuart is that he’s also a joiner. Less than two weeks after coming over, he surprised most of us in Thrasherville by inking a 3-year contract extension. This came as somewhat of a surprise because…well, lets face it… the path isn’t exactly littered with quality defensemen who jump at a chance to re-up for an extended tour of duty here.
So just what was it that made him decide to stick around for more than just a couple months in Atlanta? Well, apparently he likes the direction the team is heading and he wants to be a part of it.
“I like it here a lot”, he told me. “Obviously, I haven’t been here long, but I think the team has a lot of potential going forward. That was definitely a part of it. I think it’s good group of guys, and a lot of young talent as well, so I think the future is bright.”
Since the trade, Stuart has quickly made himself popular with the Atlanta fan base. His solid, dependable, tough, gritty defense-first style of play has been sorely needed here for some time and he’s a welcome addition to this blueline corps.
He’s also been getting used to new defensive partners during his time here, but says that process has gone pretty smoothly.
“It can be hard sometimes [learning to play with new linemates], but I think as long as you’re communicating out on the ice, it definitely helps. And you get to know guys pretty quick. A couple games, and you’re pretty comfortable.”
However, there is one fellow defenseman that he seems to be very comfortable sharing ice time with, someone who himself was traded here a year prior from another team that was steaming into the postseason at the time.
“I’ve been playing with Johnny [Oduya] mostly. He’s a lot of fun to play with. He’s so good with the puck. I think we complement each other well. I’m more defense-first, and I think he’s more of a two-way guy, and moves the puck pretty well.”
“It’s been a lot of fun playing with him.”
While Stuart is very complementary of Oduya, it’s fair to say he’s complemented this defensive corps quite well himself. In the 16 games he’s played in a Thrashers jersey, the opposition has been held to 30 or fewer shots on goal 12 times, (75% of the time).
In the 59 games prior, that happened only 20 times, (34% of the time).
Those kind of defensive stats aren’t exactly a common thing in these parts. Then again neither is having a good D-man agree to sign a contract extension just days after being traded here.