BOSTON — In his three years as a Bruins assistant, Craig Ramsay was known mostly for his work with the club's defense.
But three months into his first season as the Thrashers' head coach, it's the offensive system that Ramsay has installed in Atlanta that's the talk of the league.
"I think the most important thing that I tried to talk about when I first got there was that I'm not pigeonholing anybody," said Ramsay prior to Thursday's clash with the Bruins at the TD Garden. "Everybody will be required to participate in the offense first. It doesn't matter who you are or what you've done in the past — we need you to participate offensively. We need our defensemen to jump up. We need our tough guys to try to score a goal and not just take up time and space."
That approach is paying off. Atlanta is tied for second in the NHL with 117 goals, and after missing the playoffs the last three seasons, the Thrashers are one point out of first place in the Southeast Division and sixth overall in the Eastern Conference.
"It's a pressure system," said Atlanta forward Evander Kane. "He really wants you to play in the offensive zone and he wants everybody to score goals, so it's fun that way."
Kane is just 19, playing in his second NHL season after being drafted fourth overall in 2009. Just as he did in Boston as an assistant, Ramsay, 59, has proven adept at relating to the young players on his roster in Atlanta and getting the most out of them.
"He gives guys an opportunity no matter how old you are," said Kane, who has 11-11-22 totals in 34 games this year after 14-12-26 totals in 66 games all of last season. "And I think it pays off for the team. The younger players really thrive under him. It was really important for us to have a fresh look coming into camp, and he really brought that with the new system and the new philosophy and the new belief we have in the dressing room.
"It's really paid off for us."
Ramsay's calm demeanor and aggressive approach have struck a chord not only with the youngsters but also with the veterans on the squad.
"I think the businesslike attitude, the accountability he's brought, he's been good not only for the young guys, but for the older guys too, teaching and hammering home how he likes us to play," said Thrashers forward Eric Boulton, a 34-year-old enforcer in his ninth season in the NHL. "I think for the most part this year, we've been successful because guys are buying in to how he wants us to play and he's been able to reinforce that game in and game out."
Reinforcing the message has been the key for Ramsay, who admitted that it took a little time for the changes he installed to start showing results.
"In training camp, we were having trouble scoring goals in the preseason games," said Ramsay. "We had to really push the theme and the concept. And we went out on our first [regular-season] trip and we started scoring goals and we got them from everybody. It didn't take long for guys to say, 'Hey this is kind of fun.' But still, it's a long process to make sure everybody is doing it every night and doing it together and supporting each other. But when you start scoring goals and you're scoring them from all lines and from your defense, you know the boys are buying in."
Ramsay's old charges aren't surprised by the success he's enjoying in Atlanta.
"He's a great coach," said Bruins forward Blake Wheeler. "I think they hired him with the expectation that he was going to be able to get them on this track. Maybe not as good as they are as fast as they are, but he's done a great job and it's definitely nice to see Rammer having that success over there."
That success included a decisive 4-1 win over the Bruins in Atlanta last month, an eye-opener for a Bruins squad which had won 10 straight against the Thrashers prior to that game.
"It's a totally new team," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. "It just tells you a guy like that makes such a big difference for that hockey club. He brought such an energy and a vision into that organization. He's such a respected guy and coach that everybody is following his lead."
Ramsay hasn't forgotten his time in Boston or what he learned serving on the staff here, though he's also anxious to show his old friends what he can do on his own now.
"They're good people here," said Ramsay. "It was a fun time my three years here. I loved the city. But there's always a little extra pressure when you know so many people. You want to play your best and show everybody what your team has."