NHL: Around the League in 30 Days, Day Eight: Atlanta Thrashers

Anthony BumbacoCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2010

Day #8: Atlanta Thrashers

2010 Record: 35-34-13 (83 Points), 10th place in the Eastern Conference


Roster Changes

2010-2011 Notable Arrivals: Chris Mason (from STL), Dustin Byfuglien (CHI), Andrew Ladd (CHI), Brent Sopel (CHI), Akim Aliu (CHI), Ben Eager (CHI).

2010-2011 Noteable Departures: Johan Hedberg (to NJ), Pavol Kubina (TB), Maxim Afinoganov (KHL), Colby Armstrong (TOR), Slava Kozlov (FA), Todd White (NYR), Marty Reasoner (FLA).

Thrashers Report Card

Forwards: Up front the Thrashers enter a new era in which they don’t have a single superstar leading them offensively. Over the years they have boasted talented forwards in Dany Heatley, Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk. This year’s version of the Thrashers forwards contains a plethora of youth talent and even depth.

Fans got a sense of this following the trade deadline in which the team saw great play from Niklas Antropov and Niklas Bergfors. The Thrashers can only hope this chemistry lasts into an new season. As well, the Thrashers will be looking for a bounce back year from Bryan Little. Little struggled in his sophomore year posting only 34 points. As well, more will be expected of Evander Kane as he continues to mature on the right side.

Lastly, the depth that Atlanta gained through the additions of Byfuglien, Ladd and Eager give Atlanta a rather dangerous forward group moving forward.

Overall Grade: B-

Top Fantasy Forwards in 2010/2011: C/RW Nik Antropov (23 G/43 A/67 pts/plus-13), C Rich Peverley (22 G/33 A/55 pts/minus-14), C Bryan Little (13 G/21 A/34 pts/minus-6),RW Evander Kane (14 G/12 A/26 pts/plus-2), C/RW Niklas Bergfors (21 G/23 A/41 pts/minus-10)

Defence: On the back end, the Thrashers have also shown glimpses of greatness and hope that their young blue line will continue to progress. Losing Pavel Kubina to free agency hurts slightly as his offensive talent and his experience will be missed, however, some of this can be replaced by gritty defender Brent Sopel.

The Thrashers hope that they can also see Zach Bogosian return to the form he exhibited in his rookie year and shake off a very unmemorable sophomore stint. Tobias Enstrom will very much be looked upon as the leader of the defense core and will be relied upon heavily as a quarterback on the power play.

The Thrashers also have decent depth from veterans Ron Hainsey and Johnny Oduya to help solidify the blueline. However, one worry is that this team still lacks a big-minute No. 1 defender, so one of the above will be looked upon to step up and fulfill this role.

Overall Grade: C+

Top Fantasy Defenders in 2010/2011: Tobias Enstrom (6 G/44 A/50 pts/minus-5), Ron Hainsey (5 G/21 A/26 pts/minus-6), Zach Bogosian (10 G/13 A/23 pts/minus-16)

Goaltending: This just might be the difference-maker in 2010-11 for the Thrashers as they were able to acquire a proven, talented veteran goaltender in Chris Mason.

Despite the struggles the Blues had as a team last season, Chris Mason posted excellent numbers recording 30 victories and a .913 save percentage. Mason also had a key role in the Blues great run towards the playoffs two season ago and will hope to show some of that form in Atlanta. The Thrashers also have a capable backup in Ondrej Pavelec, who at only 23, will benefit greatly from the opportunity to mature as an NHL goalie and receive mentoring from Mason.

If this tandem can play the way it is capable they just might be able to steal enough games to help the Thrashers return to the playoffs.

Overall Grade: B

Top Fantasy Goaltender in 2010/2011: Chris Mason (30-22-8, 2.53 GAA, .913 save percentage)

Prospects Watch (via hockeysfuture.com)

1. C Alexander Burmistrov

Age: 18

Drafted: 2010, No. 8 Overall

Current Team: Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League.

Key Attributes: Offensively gifted, excellent speed and playmaking ability, has the skill set of a top six forward.

2. LW Carl Klingberg

Age: 19

Drafted: 2009, second round, 34th overall

Current Team: Frolunda, SEL

Key Attributes: High level work ethic and strong skating ability make Klingberg a key piece of the Thrashers future.

3. C Patrice Cormier

Age: 20

Drafted: 2008, second round, 54th overall

Current Team: QMJHL, likely AHL in 2010-2011

Key Attributes: Solid 2-way power forward, big checker, needs to revive reputation following vicious check and suspension in the QMJHL last season.

4. RW Spencer Machacek

Age: 21

Drafted: 2007, third round, 67th overall

Current Team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)

Key Attributes: Prototypical 2-way winger who is capable of putting the puck in the net at one end and keeping the puck out of his own. He has shown great strength and skating ability and should

5. D Arturs Kulda

Age: 22

Drafted: 2006, seventh round, 200th overall

Current Team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)

Key Attributes: Plays the role of a physical, defensive-defender. He gained tremendous experience with the Wolves playing alongside veteran Chris Chelios. He’s a decent passer and won’t pass up on the big hit, though this does often see him get caught out of position. Kulda should compete for a spot on the Thrashers back end in camp.

Fantasy Outlook

Analysts’ Fantasy Stud: RW Evander Kane

Expect a great sophomore year from the 19-year-old winger. Fantasy owners, especially in keeper leagues should be looking to add Kane who should get a great deal of minute on one of the team’s top two lines. Look for a minimum of 50 points in 2010-11.

Analysts’ Player to Avoid: RW Dustin Byfuglien

While Byfuglien was able to post tremendous numbers in the regular season and playoffs, he is no longer merely a role player with the Thrashers. He definitely benefited from playing on a line with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews or Hossa.

Now the bulky winger will be expected to play in the Thrashers top six which is not exactly overpowering and will likely mean tighter checking on Byfuglien. It’d be best to look for better options on the right side especially in leagues that are not very deep.

Analysts’ Sleeper Special: C/RW Nicklas Bergfors

Nicklas Bergfors might be the X-factor from the Ilya Kovalchuk deal last February. He went from being a role playing rookie in the New Jersey lineup to a spot on the top two lines with Nik Antropov or Rich Peverley. In only 27 games with the Thrashers he compiled 17 points in 27 games, and should this production continue into 2010-11, he is projected for a minimum 51-point season. Look for Bergfors in the later rounds of most drafts.

Expectations and Prediction:

This year’s edition of the Thrashers definitely shows a team headed in the right direction. They have added depth and talent all across the board and should be much more competitive than they were most of last season.

Fans were treated to an excellent brand of hockey after dealing Kovalchuk at the trade deadline, and with some key acquisitions this team can definitely be a competitor if it can continue this momentum.

The Thrashers are very much capable of competing in the Southeast Division and might even challenge for the division title. However, it will not be an easy road for the Thrashers especially having such a young core on their roster. But should everyone play to their potential, this could be a special season for the Thrashers who looked to win a playoff series for the first time.

Prediction: Seventh in the East.

Overall Grade: B-

For the rest of the Around the League in 30 Days series check out www.sportshaze.com. Tomorrow's edition will feature the Minnesota Wild


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