Atlanta fans, your time will come, just not quite yet. Other than Kovalchuk, the offense is thin. The defense has potential, but isn't great right now. And their goaltender is loaded with potential, but hasn't been overly consistent during his first couple of years in the league.
I'm not putting Tavares' name on an Atlanta jersey yet, but the Thrashers will definitely be in the lottery mix.
Ilya Kovalchuk was among the league leaders in goals last season at 52 and he definitely has the potential to score 60 in a year. However, a true No. 1 center, something the Thrashers haven't had since Marc Savard's departure, is something the club lacks. Jason Williams, Eric Perrin, Erik Christensen, Todd White, and Brian Little are all candidates.
Little will take over in a couple of years, but the front-runner for that job is Todd White, who once had a 60-point season with the Ottawa Senators. Vyacheslav Kozlov had an off year at the age of 36 last year, and age appears to be taking its toll on the sniper.
The third and fourth line wingers are unimpressive, and projected first line RW Colby Armstrong amassed most of his fame (and points) on a line with Sidney Crosby. Although he is talented, there are a lot of players who would get a jump in production from a line with Sid the Kid
Overall, the offense is unimpressive and nobody can score in bunches except for Kovalchuk and maybe Kozlov.
Ron Hainsey will help the defense, but why the heck is he making $4.5 million per year? He only got significant PP time because Columbus has a thin defense, and his defense is more porous than Swiss cheese (-26 over the last two years combined). He was also a career minor-leaguer until around two years ago.
Havelid and Enstrom should be the first defensive pairing, and not a very good one at that. Enstrom shows signs of becoming an elite offensive defenseman, but now won't be his breakout year. Bogosian will contribute, say, as much as Erik Johnson did on St. Louis last year.
Overall, the defense has major potential, but Hainsey was not a good signing in terms of improving the defense. Expect Bogosian to have more points than him. Signing a proven veteran would have worked better for the Thrashers.
Kari Lehtonen leads a slew of goaltenders including Johan Hedberg and Ondrej Pavelec. Liken Lehtonen's situation to Marc Denis back in Columbus a few years ago (back when Denis was actually a good goalie). He will get a lot of saves, but his defense will allow too many shots on the young goaltender for him to be successful.
Pavelec could be the starter in a couple years and shows a tremendous amount of potential. Hedberg can play a lot of games if Lehtonen goes down with an injury and fill in admirably. Not elite, but their goaltenders are at least decent.
The Thrashers won't contend for anything in the Eastern Conference, but they have a solid young core of Brian Little, Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, and Kari Lehtonen. Expect a playoff berth in three years if the core develops well.
Prediction: 14th in East
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