The Atlanta Thrashers have three prospects in the WHL, one in the OHL, and one in the USHL, which include two forwards and three defensemen. Riley Holzapfel is the highest drafted of the group, taken in the second round in 2006.
The organization has none in the QMJHL, where team success in drafting has been low. Recent QMJHL draftees Alex Bourret and Jim Sharrow were both shipped out of the organization within the last year. Jordan LaVallee is the most viable QMJHL-drafted prospect in the system.
Riley Holzapfel, C – Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL
2nd round, 43rd overall, 2006
Holzapfel has had a rough start to the year, missing six games with a concussion and two games in November for a suspension for checking from behind.
Perhaps as a result, the 5’11, 170-pounder’s scoring rate is down from 1.14 points per game to just .68, made up of 10 goals and five assists in 22 games. He’s tied for fourth on his team in scoring and is +5.
Holzapfel serves as team captain for the Warriors, who acquired Keaton Ellerby (FLA) partway through the year to solidify their back line.
Holzapfel will attend Team Canada’s WJC camp this month, but he’ll have to do it with the player who gave him his concussion, defenseman Colton Teubert of the Regina Pats — a top prospect for the 2008 draft.
Holzapfel has already been signed by Atlanta, and if Moose Jaw have an early playoff exit, could see time with the AHL Chicago Wolves in the spring. The Warriors have a 15-9-4 record.
Spencer Machacek, F – Vancouver Giants, WHL
3rd round, 67th overall, 2007
Machacek has gotten off to a great start this year, which is unusual for the normally late-season performer. By all accounts, his play has been outstanding. The 6’0, 182-pounder has been showing his good offensive instincts on the Giants top line with Mario Bliznak (VAN) and Michael Repik (FLA), where the three developed good chemistry.
Machacek’s versatility in scoring and defending was known, but he’s shown another side of it by moving from right to left wing this year and not missing a beat.
Last year’s Giants captain, Milan Lucic, stuck with the Boston Bruins this year, so the C went to the now 19-year-old Machacek. Always a hard worker, he’s become more confident physically this year and developed more of a mean streak. He even recently got into a fight with alternate captain Jon Blum (NAS) at practice.
Machacek is difficult to move off the puck, and is being used on the side wall this year on the power play instead of in front of the net. He has increased his scoring rate from .71 points per game last year to 1.00 points per game this year, with 18 goals and 13 assists in 31 games. This puts him third on his team in scoring behind Repik and Blum.
Machacek took part in the ADT Canada-Russia Challenge last month, but was not invited to Canada’s WJC camp.
Arturs Kulda, D – Peterborough Petes, OHL
7th round, 200th overall, 2006
Kulda had a late start to the season, due to a recurring injury from last spring. Last March he broke his kneecap, but it didn’t completely heal the way the doctors expected and he hurt it again in camp for Peterborough. After the Traverse City tournament where he played for the Thrashers, he had surgery on the knee, and returned to playing just three weeks later on Oct. 18.
The 6’2, 194-pound Kulda has five goals on the season, four of which were scored on the power play, where he shows off the slap shot that helped get him drafted by the Thrashers.
He has increased his overall scoring from .19 points per game last year, to .45 points per game this year, including five goals and four assists in 20 games. He’s the second highest scoring defenseman on his team behind Zach Bogosian, and is –8 on a 12-17-0 team. The hard-working defenseman will fight, and has 37 penalty minutes on the season.
Kulda will play for Latvia in the Pool B World Junior Championships, held in his home town of Riga from Dec. 12-18. Latvia was relegated to Pool B in 2006, so this will be an important tournament for them to use their home ice advantage get back into the A pool, where the top 10 hockey nations play. In July at Thrashers prospects camp, Kulda was optimistic about their chances.
Kulda must be signed by Atlanta by June 1, 2008.
Paul Postma, D – Calgary Hitmen, WHL
7th round, 205th overall, 2007
Postma started the year with the Swift Current Broncos, for whom he had played the last two seasons. But after two games, he was involved in a four-player trade to the No. 1 ranked Calgary Hitmen, closer to his home in Red Deer.
The good-skating defenseman has 18 points in 31 games, increasing his scoring rate from .34 points per game last year, to .58 this year. He is second in defensive scoring behind Karl Alzner, and is +5.
Postma, drafted at 173 pounds, is now listed at 182, which is more reasonable for his 6’3 height.
Will O’Neill, D – Omaha Lancers, USHL
7th round, 210th overall, 2006
O’Neill remains in the USHL this year, working on academics to prepare for college. O’Neill was going to attend Univ. of New Hampshire, but due to academic and conditioning issues following a knee injury, was dropped before he started there. He’ll head off to Univ. of Maine this fall instead. He’ll be 20 when he finally begins college.
In 18 games, the 6’1, 205-pounder has five assists and 25 penalty minutes.
Glen Erickson contributed to this article.