DULUTH, Ga. -- Darcy Hordichuk makes no apologies about his role with the Atlanta Thrashers.
He's a fighter, an enforcer, a protector, an instigator - in general, just a plain nuisance.
"Maybe I didn't have to have 36 fights last season, but I love it. Maybe I didn't have to lead the league in penalties, but I love it," Hordichuk said. "That's how I was born and raised. That's all I know."
A smiling, pleasing person off the ice, Hordichuk is pure havoc once he straps on the skates. He ricochets across the ice in constant search for a target, willing to deliver a hit - or a fist, if deemed necessary.
Now, the 20-year-old winger with admittedly limited physical skills is on the verge of earning a regular job in the NHL.
The Thrashers traded Denny Lambert, their primary enforcer the last two years, mainly because they wanted to clear a spot for Hordichuk. He played briefly in Atlanta last season, enough time to earn a well-deserved nickname.
"He brings energy to the team," general manager Don Waddell said. "When the game is dull and you need something to happen, you put him on the ice. Chances are he'll run someone over or someone will run him over."
Hordichuk is among 32 players taking part in the Thrashers' inaugural rookie camp, which began Wednesday at their training complex in suburban Atlanta. Only a few of the youngsters will spend the upcoming season in Atlanta, but Hordichuk should be among them.
"We've created an opportunity for him to compete for that spot," Waddell said. "He can't come in expecting to be given that spot. He's got to earn it. But if he does that, he'll be here."
Hordichuk realized his place in hockey's hierarchy early in life. He wasn't skilled enough to score a bunch of goals, so he had to hit, hit and hit some more if he wanted to get on the ice.
During two seasons with Saskatoon of the Western Hockey League, Hordichuk managed nine goals, nine assists - and 515 penalty minutes. The Thrashers were attracted to all that aggression, picking him in the sixth round of last year's draft.
"Basically, I was never a talented guy who was going to play the game and score goals," he said. "The only way for me to make teams was by fighting."
It's a tough way to make a living, but Hordichuk doesn't mind a bit.
"I think there's more pressure when you're a goal scorer," he said. "When I go out there, I know I can get in a fight. But when you've got to put the puck in the net, that's a lot harder."
Hordichuk spent most of last season with Orlando of the International Hockey League, where he managed seven goals and 369 penalty minutes. A rash of injuries prompted the Thrashers to call him up for 11 games.
While Hordichuk didn't make the scoresheet, he did make quite an impression during his brief stint - 38 penalty minutes and 32 hits, the most on the team during that span.
Waddell was so impressed that he traded Lambert, one of the GM's favorite players, to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks for future considerations on July 2.
"I know there's an opportunity here," Hordichuk said. "If anything, this will motivate me to work even harder. I'm that much closer to making it."
He looks up to players such as Toronto's Tie Domi, who is suspended for the first eight games of the upcoming season for elbowing New Jersey defenseman Scott Niedermayer in the head during the playoffs.
For the Domis and Hordichuks of the world, there's a fine line between admiration and condemnation. Domi went over the edge when he gave Niedermayer a concussion, and there's plenty of people who would like to stamp out enforcers altogether.
"I just tell 'em it would be like living in a world with no police officers," Hordichuk said. "If we're not there, no one will be there to stick up for our teammates, and the other team is going to take advantage of them. Besides, when a fight breaks out, it's usually between two tough guys who know what they're doing.
"But I'm still learning. ... You can't get caught up in the moment or you're going to pay the consequences."