With one out of the way, we're free to continue on down the alphabet, or at least stay on the same letter.
Ladies and gentlemen: Ten Bold (or not so bold) Predictions for the Atlanta Thrashers:
1. Zach Bogosian leads the defense in scoring
If we were to use last year's stats, Bogosian would have to see more than a 50 percent jump in production to top Tobias Enstrom's 50 points. This also isn't to take anything away from Enstrom (who's an often-overlooked all-around talent), but Bogosian will be getting more opportunities now that Pavel Kubina's back in Tampa.
2. Dustin Byfuglien scores fewer game winning goals than he did in the 2010 playoffs
This one isn't so much of a stretch. Byfuglien had five game-winners in the playoffs last year, but just three in the regular season. Dany Heatley (the league leader) only had nine, with only 23 players scoring more than five. That, and there is the possibility that Byfuglien moves back to defense.
3. Bryan Little bounces back with 25 goals and 65 points
It was just two seasons ago that Little scored 31 goals. While he had a down year last year (34 points) he's got the talent, and he's surrounded by the talent, to bounce back. Although he had just one point in his last five games last year, it was a game-winning goal in the season finale against Pittsburgh. Maybe that's a clue.
4. Atlanta finishes with someone in the top five of rookie scoring
Rick Dudley mentioned a ton of names in terms of young players that could make an impact with this team. Ivan Telegin was one of them, but the two to watch for would be Angelo Esposito and Alexander Burmistrov. Burmistrov could thrive in Atlanta and be the surprise of the 2010 rookie class if he makes the NHL. The reason being (and I can guarantee that you've never heard this in any other hockey article): He's an exciting penalty killer. He's also got plenty of offensive upside.
5. The goaltending battle will be closer than most think
While Chris Mason is a good, established presence in the Atlanta net, there's also something to be said for development. Ondrej Pavelec had only played in 19 NHL games coming into last year and ended up starting 40 of the 42 he saw action in. A 14-18-7 record and a .906 save percentage certainly are numbers many would keep from a 23-year old, although you can take back the 3.29 goals-against average. Pavelec continues his development this year and makes taking time from him difficult: The battle is close with one playing in 47 games and the other in 35.
6. Nik Antropov breaks 70 points for the first time
Look, it's easy to put up 67 points when you play with Ilya Kovalchuk (Tony Hrkac scored 44 between him and Heatley in 2001-02) for a portion of the season, but Antropov was also experiencing his second year as a feature centre, and first in a new market. Granted he'll never be mistaken for Joe Thornton, but Antropov is a good player with a bum rap (and knee). With good, young players surrounding him they could mesh really well. Or he'll prove me wrong and fall back to Earth with 55 points.
7. The Thrashers allow fewer than 250 goals
A more mobile defense and a slight upgrade in net (Mason > Hedberg; Pavelec gets better) could have the Thrashers in line to allow fewer than 250 goals against for the first time in three seasons. And who knows what kind of an impact new goalie coach Clint Malarchuk could have?
8. Evander Kane scores 22 goals
Why 22? I have no idea. Twenty-one would mark a 33 percent increase in last year's goal-scoring (14...and we're all about the percents today for some reason), and 20 seems like a good benchmark for a second-year player. But no, 22. He's scoring 22.
9. Atlanta will score first in 40 games and win 30 of them
That's 75 percent folks! Think I'm crazy? They were 25-7-7 in games they scored first last year. That's 39 games. If you add another game and make it a win, that's 26. If they can somehow figure out to win four more games, then they nail it. And you know what? The 11 teams that won 30 games in which they scored first made the playoffs. So...
10. Atlanta finishes Eighth in the East
Dudley wants to tinker a little more, and the additions of Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, and Dustin Byfuglien at least make this team more mature. They're easily five points better than last year.
Atlanta somehow figures out a way to trade for Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Stan Bowman's only concession is that they take Cristobal Huet too.