Carter slated for big-name line

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:39 AM ET

If you're going to break into the big leagues, you may as well break in with some of the best big-league players.

How about Simon Gagne and Peter Forsberg?

Not a bad pair of linemates to start an NHL career with.

Londoner Jeff Carter came home last night. He came home with the Philadelphia Flyers as the Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers opened their National Hockey League exhibition season at the John Labatt Centre.

The Flyers defeated the Thrashers 8-6 in a wide-open, free-wheeling affair in front of 8,421 spectators.

Coach Ken Hitchcock is going to play Carter with two of the Flyers' biggest names when the season begins. When Forsberg returns from an injury, Carter will play with him and Gagne, one of the league's best young snipers.

Carter was surprised when told who he was going to play with.

"What can you say?" he said. "It's unbelievable."

"He's going to have to get used to playing at our level," said Hitchcock. "But he's here because he helps us win, not because he's a young hockey player. There's a feeling in our organization that he'll help us win hockey games."

Gagne led the Flyers with three goals, including one into an empty net. Jon Sim had a pair with singles to Kim Johnsson, Mike Knuble and Turner Stevenson.

J.P. Vigier led the Thrashers with two and singles going to Brad Larsen, Mark Popovic, Jim Slater and Brian Maloney.

It's difficult to believe that a six-foot-three, 200-pounder could fly in under the radar. But in the year of Sidney Crosby, most rookies will be in that position.

Watch out, warns Hitchcock. He believes Carter and a fellow rookie, former Kitchener Ranger Michael Richards, have already gone through growing pains to play in the NHL. Other rookies may not be as prepared.

"There's a lot of people that talk about Sidney Crosby but there are a lot of other good players in the league and Richards and Carter are two of them," he said. "At the end of the day, they are going to garner some attention also. There is a difference between coming from junior and playing in the National Hockey League. These kids have gone through the ultimate test in a very good league in the American Hockey League and they came out as good players, impact players. They have a leg up on a lot of people who haven't had that opportunity."

After their junior teams were eliminated from the playoffs last year, Carter and Richards joined the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL. Carter led the AHL in playoff scoring with 12 goals and 11 assists. The Phantoms won the Calder Cup.

"He's a player that has tremendous upside but that can help us win hockey games right now," said Hitchcock.

It sounds like a lot of pressure to put on a young player but Carter doesn't feel any.

"I wanted to come into camp ready to play and to prove that I belong at this level," he said. "It's a step up, a transition and I have a lot to work on."

Flyers general manager Bob Clarke has no qualms about how good Carter is going to be.

"(Carter's) going to be a great player," said Clarke. "He can skate and shoot and he competes hard. What's going to make him a good scorer is his hands. The puck hits his stick and it's gone quickly. It's gone hard and it's gone accurately. It's not a skill that very many people have."

With Forsberg out for at least another week, Carter played with Gagne and Patrick Sharp. He had some good chances but didn't score.

The practice shootout went to a fourth shot and, in what seemed appropriate theatre, Carter had a chance to win it. He was stopped by Thrashers goalie Mike Dunham.

"Prrrpphhhh," Carter said making a sound, "it sure wasn't what I wanted to do."

He'll have plenty of chances to get things right, though.

"I was lucky enough to win some championships. I played on some great teams, some bad teams and I'm grateful for what I've been through so far and I'm looking forward to everything that's going to happen."

On a line with Forsberg and Gagne, that should be quite a lot.


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