Another season, another disappointment for the Atlanta Thrashers, who failed to make the playoffs in back-to-back years.
Any team with the third and fourth overall selections in back-to-back years has more than a few needs, and that's certainly the Thrashers' case.
Up front, aside from Bryan Little, Ilya Kovalchuk and Vyacheslav Kozlov, there are no true top-6 forwards.
Basically, the Thrashers are down an entire scoring line, and that should be the biggest priority going into the off-season.
One very good fit is Brian Gionta, a playmaking center who it seems would complement Kovalchuk very well.
Assuming they give one of the top-6 forward roles to Angelo Esposito, there is still one spot open, where they could use a player of good size who can drive to the net as well as play a solid two-way game.
Erik Cole or Bill Guerin would both fit well here, both bring size and experience to a young Thrashers group. Cole's value is very low, and he could be quite a bargain.
Also, the Thrashers should try and retain Marty Reasoner, an invaluable third line player.
Atlanta's defense looks surprisingly good for next season. Zach Bogosian is a solid two-way player who is still very young, and the team has a great mix of puck-movers (Ron Hainsey, Tobias Enstrom) and stay-at-home defensemen (Boris Valabik, Garnet Exelby). The team could add a depth player, but there are no major needs on the blueline.
Atlanta's goalie situation is one of transition, as it looks like the Kari Lehtonen era is over and the Ondrej Pavelec regime is about to get underway.
Hold that thought though; Pavelec will certainly not be ready for a full workload for at least a couple of seasons.
A great stopgap in the transition period is Matthieu Garon, a very capable 1B goaltender who's numbers on a weak Edmonton team in 2006-07 cannot be disputed.
He is another UFA who's value would be lower than normal because of a substandard contract year, and he would certainly help make Ondrej Pavelec's transition to the NHL a smooth one.
Angelo Esposito is the Thrashers best prospect aside from Pavelec, and he should be given every opportunity to crack the team's top 6 at training camp.
The Thrashers system has some solid two-way prospects in Daulton Leveille, Spencer Machacek and Riley Holzapfel but no true offense-first forward aside from Esposito.
After drafting a franchise defenseman in Zach Bogosian last year, the Thrashers have to go all out offense with their first round pick. A couple of options are Evander Kane, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and Jordan Schroeder.
Of all these three players, Paajarvi-Svensson seems to be the player that would complement Bryan Little the most.
The Thrashers already have Ilya Kovalchuk and Little in terms of snipers, now the focus should be on a playmaking forward feeding them pucks.
It may be considered a reach, but the Thrashers have no budding playmakers among their prospects, and Paajarvi-Svensson is the best pure passing forward in this draft.
After the first round the Thrashers should still place a premium on offense-first forwards.
What Salim Valji would do:
-Re-sign Marty Reasoner
-Sign Brian Gionta
-Sign one of Erik Cole or Bill Guerin, preferably Cole
-Sign Matthieu Garon
-Give Angelo Esposito a top-6 forward spot by default and let him run away with it
-Draft Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson with the 4th pick, and make it a priority to draft skilled offensive forwards this draft, as well as blueline depth
Stay tuned for more in this series of articles.