Thrashers prospect makes good first impression
Zach Bogosian's first game-winning goal for the Thrashers came on his first day in the team's uniform.

It was just for fun, in a breakaway drill in the opening practice of prospect development camp. But maybe it was a harbinger of things to come.

The Thrashers sure hope so.

They could use instant help from their top draft pick, the third overall selection in the NHL entry draft less than three weeks ago. They were far from disappointed with what he showed them Tuesday, one week to the day before his 18th birthday.

"I think he was the best player out there today, so we're really happy with that," said John Anderson, who became the Thrashers' coach the day they drafted Bogosian. "He had a really good stick. He was poke checking very, very well, very strong on the body. There was not a lot of hitting obviously today, but he knocked a few guys around just because of his size and strength."

The first to fall, 6-foot-1, 205-pound Matt Siddall, was pushed to the ice by the 6-2, 200-pound Bogosian 22 minutes into the two-hour session.

Bogosian isn't the youngest of the 32 players attending the week-long prospect camp. He turns 18 two days before third-round pick Danick Paquette. But Paquette isn't expected to play in the NHL this season. Bogosian might be a different story.

That's why he spent more time than any other player getting one-on-one coaching. Todd Nelson, one of Anderson's assistants last season for the Chicago Wolves, called Bogosian over during a two-on-one drill. Bogosian later sought out Nelson to ask, "Is this what you want?"

The coaches and the player know the more he learns this week, the better his chances when he is on the ice with the veterans in September and October.

"Any little thing you can learn this week, it's going to pay off when you come into [full-team] camp," Bogosian said. "You're kind of that much more, a step ahead."

Bogosian has been a step ahead his entire hockey life.

'A little bit tougher'

Ike Bogosian played safety at Syracuse and was captain as a senior. Ike's brother Steve played at Army. But the youngest of Ike's three sons never played football. He was too small. Somehow, on the ice, that never seemed to matter. He could skate his way around the big guys, and he got plenty of practice, at home against his brothers and in organized leagues, where he always played up a classification.

When he was 7, he was playing against 11-year-olds. When he was 12, he was playing 15-year-olds. When he was 14, his dad said, Zach stood 5-6, weighed 120 pounds.

"He wasn't afraid to stick his nose in there, even at that size," Ike Bogosian said by phone.

"It makes you a little bit tougher," Zach Bogosian said of always being the little guy. "You learn how to play with your head up."

By the time Zach turned 16 a growth spurt had caught him up with some of his competition. He didn't just stick up for himself. He stuck up for his teammates.

When an Oshawa player took a cheap shot against one of Bogosian's Peterborough teammates, Bogosian went right after him. Peterborough general manager Jeff Twohey knew then this 16-year-old wouldn't be intimidated playing against 20-year-old competition.

Ike Bogosian doesn't worry about his son being able to take care of himself in the NHL, not after Zach fought James DeLory this past season. DeLory is more than two years older and 25 pounds heavier.

"I had a nice black eye," Zach Bogosian said, "and he had a nice black eye."

'He's a world-class player'

You don't punch your way to becoming the No. 3 overall pick. His skills and his competitiveness are what have Bogosian on the brink of becoming an NHL player, perhaps in just three months.

"I believe he will be playing for the Atlanta Thrashers and contributing to them," Twohey said by phone.

Twohey has seen NHL stars-to-be pass through his Ontario Hockey League team Steve Yzerman, Chris Pronger, the Staal brothers.

"There's been a lot of them who've played here, and this guy's right up there with them," Twohey said. "He's a world-class player."

The former NHL player whom Twohey compares Bogosian with is Scott Stevens, "a really hard, tough defenseman with ability."

Bogosian played hockey with Stevens' nephew, and he visited Stevens' vacation house the summer after Stevens' team won the Stanley Cup. Bogosian has a picture of himself and Stevens with the Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy. He also knows Boston Bruins legends Ray Bourque and Bobby Orr; Bogosian wears Orr's No. 4, and if the player development camp weren't this week Bogosian would be working as a mentor at Orr's Leaders 4 Life camp.

Bogosian's hockey career isn't all celebrities and glamour. The family he stayed with last season at Peterborough describes a guy so serious about his hockey he'd stay home and go to bed early the night before each game, a guy so serious, Debbie Nayler said, he sometimes seemed "like an old man in a young body."

"He was as mature a 17-year-old as we've ever seen," Phil Nayler said. "In terms of his drive and his preparation, he was beyond his years."

Four days a week, Bogosian drives 150 miles round-trip from his home in the border town of Massena, N.Y., to Ottawa, Ontario, to work out with a personal trainer. Later this summer he'll make the same drive to skate with Thrashers center Todd White, who invited him to share some ice time.

White met Bogosian when White was playing for Clarkson, more than a decade ago. "The last time he saw me, I was probably 3-foot-2 and maybe 50 pounds," Bogosian said.

He's bigger now. He knows he's not just a top prospect but the top prospect for an NHL team.

"You don't want it to get to your head, because that's when you really can get yourself in trouble, if you think you're God's gift to hockey," Bogosian said.

For now, he's just the

draft's gift to Atlanta. This gift, the Thrashers hope, they can plug in and play.