Garnett Exelby was born August 16, 1981 in Craik, Saskatchewan. The eighth round, 217th overall selection of the Atlanta Thrashers in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Exelby is a graduate of the WHL.
A hard-nosed defenseman, Exelby played three seasons in the WHL, with stops in Saskatoon and Regina before making his professional debut with the AHL's Chicago Wolves in 2001-02. In his first two seasons with the Wolves, Exelby continued his aggressive play on the blue line and was a solid defender as the team captured the Calder Cup title in 2002.
While he spent the majority of his first two seasons in the AHL, Exelby strong play impressed the Atlanta staff to earn 15 games throughout the 2002-03 season, before becoming a regular on the Atlanta blue line in 2003-04.
While with the Thrashers, Exelby established himself as a feared open-ice hitter. Opposing players who tried to carry the puck across his blueline were routinely sent crashing down. Never an offensive force, Exelby's play was steady if unspectacular, never scoring more than two goals in a single season in Atlanta.
In the summer of 2009 he was acquired by the Toronto Maple Leafs, a team looking to add more "pugnacity, testosterone and truculence" to their lineup, as famously said by Maple Leafs general manager, Brian Burke. The trade saw the Thrashers acquire Pavel Kubina in return.