The Atlanta Thrashers have clearly made an attempt to move forward and become more competitive, which is no easy task in a division with Washington and a rising Tampa Bay team. It's hard to imagine the fact that this was once a team with both Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk. Less than a year after trading the latter, the Thrashers finally appear to be moving in the right direction.
While they traded their franchise player last season, the Thrashers got a good return for him, bringing back forward Niclas Bergfors and defenseman Johnny Oduya. Bergfors has already had an impact early, with 11 points for a team that already looks better than it has in years past.
This past summer provided an opportunity for the Thrashers to improve that they couldn't pass up. With the Blackhawks struggling with cap issues, Atlanta jumped on the opportunity to take on some of their talent from the Cup winning team. The first wave included playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien, goon Ben Eager, and PK specialist Brent Sopel. After further cap trouble, Atlanta was happy to take on Andrew Ladd as well.
With all of the talent they acquired, the Thrashers didn't seem to give up much. They sent Marty Reasoner and Joey Crabb to the Hawks, both of whom were dealt to other teams in Chicago's salary dump, with the only real loss appearing to be prospect Jeremy Morin, who has appeared just briefly for the Hawks in 2010-11.
The Thrashers have begun to stockpile young talent, but there's little doubt that the guy they want to build around is Evander Kane. Just 19 years old, Kane is coming in to his first full season with the club, and already has seven goals on the season. Aside from Kane, youngsters Alex Burmistrov and Bryan Little appear to have bright futures at the forwards, with Zach Bogosian looking like the future of the Atlanta blue line.
While those four certainly have bright futures, Ladd and Byfuglien have already established themselves as a part of this core group in Atlanta, just over a month into the season. Ladd appears as the grizzled vet, though he's still just 24. Wearing the "A" while leading the team in points, Ladd appears to already be more appreciated than he was in Chicago, though his absence in the Windy City is becoming more obvious.
Byfuglien has also had the chance to wear an "A" for Atlanta, after moving back to his native position on the blue line. A breakout player in Chicago during their Cup run, Buff seems to have little trouble getting motivated, as was a knock on him last season, with 16 points in the early going, tied with Ladd for the team league.
While they're not ready to compete with Washington or Tampa Bay in their own division just yet, Atlanta has certainly made strides in becoming a competitive club. This group could be one to watch as they continue to grow together, and we could see them as a highly competitive team in the East before long.
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