Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg: Predictions for the Players on the Team
The Atlanta Thrashers move to Winnipeg is officially signed and sealed.
Now the only things left to deliver are critical decisions concerning the team name, management, coaching and scouting staff selections.
Once True North decides on the management team, decisions for the 2011-12 team roster will become a top priority.
"True North informed Atlanta Thrashers' GM Rick Dudley that he won't be retained as GM of the relocating team. Dudley met in Toronto with True North chairman Mark Chipman and hockey vice-president Craig Heisinger.
The GM's vacancy will be filled by current Chicago Blackhawks assistant GM and senior director of hockey operations Kevin Cheveldayoff, the Winnnipeg Free Press reported last Friday."
Dudley took on a difficult job of trying to trim the Thrashers payroll to save Atlanta Spirit LLC operating expenses and at the same time create a competitive team that could make the playoffs.
Ironically Dudley and some of his coaching staff and players also have ties to the Chicago Blackhawks organization.
Rick Dudley in his role as the Thrashers GM demonstrated his depth of hockey knowledge accumulated as a player, coach, and assistant GM.
To his credit Dudley masterfully trimmed down the Thrashers payroll to one of the lowest in the NHL and if not for some second half injuries to key players like Toby Enstrom he may have well pushed the Thrashers into the playoffs.
The Winnipeg team finds themselves in an excellent position to build a solid squad since the majority of the players are already signed to contracts and the total salary expense of the team leaves considerable room for the opportunity to sign a few tier one or tier two player to improve the teams mediocre offensive output.
Capgeek.com forecasts the Thrasher payroll at $ 35.9 million leaving $26 million which is considerable room to add personnel and re-sign the restricted free agents.
During the media frenzy concerning the Thrashers negotiations with True North Entertainment most hockey writers criticized the team performance forgetting that the Thrashers were competitive in the majority of games last season.
A great deal of the Thrashers losses in the 2010-11 season were by only one goal.
One of True North's major objectives will be try to improve the team's offense.
Signing captain Andrew Ladd to a new contract will be one of the new franchises priorities.
Last season Ladd had a career year and scored 29 goals. As the teams leading scorer it will be a good start for the team to re-sign him.
Other RFA's include Zach Bogosian, Anthony Stewart and Radek Dvorak.
MARK STUART: Defenseman
Mark Stuart joined the Thrashers late in the season. the 6'2" 213-pound demonstrated a steady performance after being traded from Boston.
Prediction: Stuart will have every opportunity to make the Winnipeg squad. The team will need six capable defensemen and the free agent market is not a hotbed for defense prospects.
ONDREJ PAVELEC: Goaltender
It is hard to believe that pavelec is only 23 years old.
The 6'3" 220-pound czech fill up a lot of the net and displayed his skill on numerous occasion during the first half of the season keeping the Thrashers deep in the playoff hunt.
Pavelec may still not be totally use to the rigors of playing a NHL schedule and being expected to play at the top of your game every contest.
Pavelec is improving every season and has the potential to be a star in the NHL.
Prediction: Winnipeg will have a spot for him. At age 23 he has tons of upside.
FREDDY MEYER: Defenseman
The Thrashers picked up Freddy Meyer late in the season and he performed solidly.
Meyer blocks shots and played well positionally. He also added experience to the blueline corp.
DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN: Defense
Dustin Byfuglien had a sensational year for the Atlanta Thrashers scoring six game-winning goals and making a difficult transition form forward to defenseman.
He also was selected to participate in the NHL all-star game and to the delight of many Atlanta fans scored a goal in that contest.
He did not have it easy because despite his best efforts on the blueline a number of bloggers wanted him to move back to forward. As a matter of fact that discussion became common place amongst Atlanta Thrasher hockey fans.
Proving his grasp of his defensive responsibilities Buf also had one of the teams best plus minus ratings.
His rating of minus-two was one of the best on the defense.
Luckily that move never materialized and Big Buf scored a Thrasher record 20 goals and 33 assists taking 347 shots from his position on defense while logging nearly 27 minutes a game.
The new Winnipeg GM is familiar with Byfuglien and will probably not be as careless trade-wise with a all-star defense who has just signed a multi-year deal.
Prediction: He will be a keeper.
ANTHONY STEWART: Forward
Anthony Stewart was one of those players that Rick Dudley and coach Craig Ramsay took a chance on.
Stewart had a impressive amateur career prior to arriving in the NHL, but was never able to crack a line up in Florida as a power forward.
With the Thrashers Stewart steadily improved his play with more ice time and toward the end of the season averaged about 14 minutes a game. His goal production was modest ,but he displayed several other components that NHL coaches look for in a player.
He produced 14 goals and 25 assists which was good for No. 6 on his team.
Stewart is gritty and unafraid to go into the corners in pursuit of the puck.
Prediction: Although he performed well most of the season the question will be: will Winnipeg want to pay him to re-sign or will he leave for new surroundings. 50-50.
EVANDER KANE: Forward
When I spoke to Evander Kane at the start of last season he expressed a desire to contribute more to the team in his second year. The former Vancouver junior star has what it takes to make it big in the NHL.
He surprised the whole league by knocking out Pittsburgh Penguin tough guy Matt Cooke with one punch.
He also scored 19 goals and 24 assists in his second season with limited powerplay time.
Since Kane will be only 20 in his next NHL campaign with two years under his belt already. Winnipeg will not likely entertain trading him.
His skating ability, speed and desire make him a player to watch, although he is not a natural scorer he is headed toward a 25-27 goal season in 2011-12.
Prediction: Keeper with a chance to be a star performer.
NIK ANTROPOV: Forward
Nik Antropov is a nice guy and has the ability to make thing happen on the ice.
Antropov is the remaining Russian player that the Thrashers brought in to complement Ilya Kovalchuk.
A few years ago Antropov, Max Afinogenov, and Kovalchuk played on a forward line together.
Last season Antropov scored 16 goals and 25 assists, down from the 24 goal 43 assist season he had the previous year.
Prediction: Antropov is 31 years old and although he plays center, it is not his natural position. He may not fit into the plans of Winnipeg for the long term and could be dealt if they can find takers.
CHRIS MASON: Goaltender
Chris Mason was acquired to fill the important role of back up goaltender.
With Pavelec being 23 years old Thrashers management recognized the need for an experienced backup that could provide a rest for the starting goalie, and provide some needed tutelage.
Mason was inconsistent starting the season well, but letting in a lot of soft goals.
Prediction: Unless the team can acquire a solid backup mason will be in the lineup when the new season starts.
ERIC BOULTON: Forward
Eric Boulton has been a fan favorite in Atlanta for several seasons.
Boulton scored six goals and four assists in a limited playing role with the team last season.
Boulton was primarily used as the teams enforcer. he kept the other team honest and performed his duties in a workman like fashion when he was given ice time.
Prediction: At 34 years old and primarily used in a limited role Boulton is expendable and may be dealt depending on the availability of a player with more dimensions.
JOHNNY ODUYA: Defenseman
Swedish born Johnny Oduya was acquired from the New Jersey Devils as part of the Kovalchuk trade and the team felt his loss immediately.
Oduya is a excellent skater and puck mover and plays good positional hockey often angling opposing forward out of the play. He generally logged 15 minutes and also was frequently used to kill penalties.
One of his shortcomings is despite his ability to carry the puck, his offensive output has been minimal. Last season Oduya contribute two goals and 15 assists.
Oduya was a minus-15 last season, but was a plus-two with New Jersey the previous year.
Despite that Oduya is a solid defender that many teams could use in a six-man rotation.
Prediction: 60-40. Could be trade bait if right offer comes along.
CHRIS THORBURN: Forward
Right wing Chris Thorburn is what you call a role player. he has been with the team for four years.
He does not get many minutes but can be relied on to finish his checks and occasionally score a goal or two. Last season was his best yet offensively and he produced nine goals and 10 assists.
Thorburn like Eric Boulton was primarily used to agitate the opposition.
Prediction: Could be moved out to make room for players with more dimensions in their game. However if the team needed his type of profile moving forward he could emerge in the lineup.
BLAKE WHEELER: Forward
Blake Wheeler came to the Thrashers from Boston and possesses a definite upside for the team.
Wheeler produced 18 goals with both Boston and Atlanta last season and in three years has produced 57 indicating a consistency around the net.
Prediction: At 24 years old he is a player that can develop into a solid forward. Bets are that they will keep him on the roster.
ROB SCHREMP: Forward
he has been looking for an opportunity to demonstrate that he is a legitimate NHL player.
His combined scoring in 2010-11 was 13 goals and 13 assists.
At 24 he is still young but the centerman will have to make a impact with the team early to stay viable.
Prediction: Maybe not the Great North. Unless it is the Manitoba Moose.
BEN MAXWELL: Forward
Center Ben Maxwell was obtained late in the season and produced one goal and one assist. He is 23 years old and has displayed some speed and savvy with the puck in limited playing opportunities.
Prediction: He will have to work extremely hard to earn a spot on the roster. Doubtful.
BRYAN LITTLE: Forward
Bryan Little scored 18 goals and also produced 30 assists.
A centerman with good offensive skills and instincts 68 goals in four years including a personal high of 31 in his second year on the Thrashers. He also was one of the top plus-minus players on the squad with a plus-11.
Little can skate, is a good forechecker and can make plays and does his job defensively. It is about depth and Bryan Llittle helps provide depth.
Prediction: They will keep him.
KARL KLINGBERG: Forward
Left wing Karl Klinberg has not had much actual NHL experience but has been impressive at training camps demonstrating speed and fluid moves in the offensive zone.
Klinberg should get a chance to make the parent squad this season, but if not he is only 20 years old.
Winnipeg will embrace him and appreciate his skills on the ice which some say are reminscent of Anders Hedberg.
Prediction: Probably will go to the AHL for more seasoning and then receive a call around midseason.
TIM STAPLETON: Forward
Center Tim Stapleton produced five goals in limited play with the Thrashers.
Stapleton showed signs of being the role playing annoying, pesky player other teams hate but the home team loves.
Prediction: Stapleton will have to prove he deserves a spot and needs a strong training camp to make the squad. Hopeful.
ALEXANDER BURMISTROV: Forward
Alex Burmistrov had to overcome several obstacles in order to play for the parent team Thrashers last season.
Despite an excellent skill rating by central scouting Burmistrov was looked at as not carrying enough weight to make the major leagues. Burmistrov worked hard to add pounds and muscle and received a opportunity to make the NHL squad playing limited minutes.
He displayed good skills including a unusual cool in handling the puck. On several occasions Burmistrov held on to the puck like a veteran opening up a seam and then making a pinpoint pass to a teammate.
Prediction: A keeper as last season's No. 1 draft choice.
PATRICE CORMIER: Forward
Patrice Cormier was a highly regarded junior prospect until he hit an opponent viciously and was for a while not sure whether he would do jail time.
After that ordeal was settled he then sustained a injury. His first season in the NHL was anything but good.
Cormier was acquired by the Thrashers as part of the Kovalchuk trade and after nursing a injury joined the team.
Coaches and fans wondered would Cormier's troubles with the law would psycologically affect him .
The verdict is still out whether Cormier will display that talent that made him a top choice for New Jersey.
Prediction: He will have a opportunity to make the roster, but will need a strong training camp.
RADEK DVORAK Forward
Radek Dvorak was a late season addition to the Thrashers lineup.
At 34 years old having produced 215 goals and 341 assist in 1118 games Dvorak is not likely to become a top scorer in Winnipeg.
He has experience and stays in good shape.
Prediction: Probably will not make the lineup next season.
ANDREY ZUBAREV: Defenseman
Defenseman Andrey Zubarev has played most of his hockey in Russia including the World Junior Championship series as a 18 year old.
The young Thrashers draft pick has shown tremendous skating ability and skill with the puck. He played a hand full of games for the management to get a look at him.
Prediction: Since Winnipeg wants to build the team with draft picks Zubarev should get a good look in training camp.
JIM SLATER: Forward
Jim Slater was a first round draft choice in 2002.
In 371 games with the team he has scored 47 goals and 53 assists.
Slater has been primarily a checking center that is often matched up against the oppositions top players.
Prediction: Slater's experience and role on the team give him a good chance of cracking the lineup in Winnipeg.
TOBIAS ENSTROM: Defense
Toby Enstrom elevated his game to the All-Star level last season, but it wasn't until he sustained an injury that the team realized his true value.
It wa when Enstrom was injured that the team's defense fell apart and the Thrashers took a nosedive in the standings.
He emerged as a leader on the team and his breakout passes and playmaking contributed to the Thrashers offense.
Enstrom finished the season with 10 goals and 41 assists, but more importantly he was the teams most able puck carrier, making smart plays and always getting the puck out of the Thrashers zone quickly.
Prediction: With a history of excellent Swedish players such as defenseman Lars Erik Sjoberg, and forwards Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nillson who played for the Winnipeg Jets the fans will welcome Enstrom with open arms.
ANDREW LADD: Forward
Andrew Ladd was another player that Dudley stole from Chicago and he also is a player the new Winnipeg GM is familiar with.
Ladd was appointed captain of the Thrashers and grew into the job providing his career best offensive performance.
Ladd scored 29 goals and 30 assists to lead the team in scoring. Prior to last years performance Ladd's beswt season saw him produce 17 goals and 21 assists with Chicago.
Prediction: Ladd will be a major priority for Winnipeg. At 25 years old and with good upside the team will try their best to keep him.
RON HAINSEY: Defenseman
Ron Hainsey has been a solid defenseman for the Thrashers and has played for the Montreal Canadians and the Columbus Bluejackets.
Hainsey has been used in key situations for the Thrashers including logging minutes on the penalty kill unit.
Prediction: Hainsey's $4.5 million contract could make him expendable if Winnipeg is looking to revamp the blueline corp with a more physical group.
ZACH BOGOSIAN: Defenseman
Zach Bogosian was drafted riht behind LA Kings defenseman Drew Doughty.
Both Doughty and Bogosian jockeyed for the title of the best juniors defenseman and both appeared equally skilled in the amateur ranks.
Bogosian has a lot of intangibles coaches just love. he is not afraid to drop his gloves, he has grit and a bad attitude on the ice.
He also has a big shot and good skating ability.
The puzzling thing for the Thrashers has been that Bogosian hass not seemed to be able to put a season together that reflects his obvious ability.
Prediction: Contract negotiation time is here and the big question for the Winnipeg management is: do they think Bogosian will become the stud they need on defense, or is it time to trade him while he still has some percieved value? 50-50.