Despite a decided lack of on-ice success, the Atlanta Thrashers have surprisingly few blue chip prospects in their system.
Perhaps the club's best young player, center Bryan Little, played in 48 games in 2007-08, making him ineligible for this listing (only players with less than 25 NHL games were considered). The 5'11” forward will be counted on to produce more than the 16 points he contributed as a rookie.
In our continuing series, here are the top five prospects in the Thrashers system, based on fantasy potential:
1. Zach Bogosian, D
The third-overall pick in the June draft, Bogosian is a dynamic skater who just doesn't seem to know how to take a shift off. Blessed with great offensive instincts, soft hands and a cannon-like shot for the point, the 18-year old is a natural as the future quarterback of the Atlanta power-play.But it's the Massena, NY native's competitiveness that almost guarantees a long career as the Thrashers' number-one blueliner.
2. Brett Sterling, LW
Despite his size (5'7”) and his disappointing NHL debut last season (only three points in 13 games), the Thrashers' brass still feel the diminutive Sterling can be an offensive force in “the show.” A true pest in the Theo Fleury mold, Sterling fearlessly goes to the net and has great hands. The feisty winger could give you 35-40 goals and 100 penalty minutes—a dream combination in many fantasy hockey formats.
3. Angelo Esposito, C
The talented Esposito has been on a continual downhill spiral since the hockey world anointed him as the next big thing as a 16-year old. A great skater with elite-level one-on-one moves and tons of offensive smarts, Esposito is even money at this point to become a star or a bust. The Thrashers are hopeful the big center can realize his potential. If he does, they could have a top-line center on their hands.
4. Riley Hozapfel, C
An almost-certain NHLer, the jury is still out on how much of an offensive contributor the 19-year old will be. The strength of Hozapfel's game is his work ethic and hockey sense, and many feel he will develop into a solid all-around player who will produce nice, if not spectacular, offensive numbers. Hozapfel may be a better bet to crack the line-up in the fall of 2009. The 6'0” center's prospects for the coming season will likely depend on who Atlanta picks up in the rest of the offseason.
5. Ondrej Pavelec, G
The 20-year old had a solid AHL season, and didn't disappoint in seven NHL appearances last season. Loaded with confidence and the ability to stay cool under pressure, the Czech goalkeeper is the most asked about young player in the Thrashers system, when other teams are enquiring about trade possibilities.Kari Lehtonen's inconsistency gives Pavelec some hope, but it's likely his best opportunity for a starting role will come with another team.
In the next installment of our series, we'll look at the top young talent in the Boston Bruins' organization
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