Thrashers 2008-09 rookie review

By Jared Perlman

The Atlanta Thrashers have only been in the playoffs once in their nine-season existence. Being out of contention early again this year gave opportunities to young players. There were 11 Thrashers players that fit the NHL’s rookie criteria this past season.

Goaltender

Ondrej Pavelec, G
Acquired 2nd round, 41st overall, 2005

Pavelec played 12 games with Atlanta this season, winning three. He looked brilliant in some outings and painstakingly average in others. With good use of his tall frame and a remarkable calmness, he has the ability to earn the position of a No. 1 goaltender in the near future. A brilliant young goaltender with endless potential, Pavelec is most likely the future of the Thrashers as far as goaltending is concerned.

Pavelec was able to capitalize on injuries to Kari Lehtonen this past season. Pavelec was stunning in some outings but needs to remain consistent. It’s likely that one of the two will be traded in the offseason, so the remaining will gain the No. 1 job next year.

Defensemen

Zach Bogosian, D
Acquired 1st round, 3rd overall, 2008

Atlanta’s top prospect coming into the 2009 season, Bogosian played a total of 47 NHL games this year, managing 19 points and finishing fourth on his team in average ice time. Early on in the season, he missed 29 games as the result of a broken leg and afterwards spent five games with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL as part of a reconditioning stint.

At only 18 years old, Bogosian has already proven to be an integral part of the Thrashers lineup. He can put up points, isn’t afraid to play a physical game and has shown a great defensive upside with a plus/minus rating of +11 this past season.

Nathan Oystrick, D
Acquired 7th round, 198th overall, 2002

In his rookie season, Oystrick managed 12 points in 53 games. He has already demonstrated an offensive upside to his game but his plus/minus rating of -2 shows that he still needs to improve his play in his defensive zone. Though not big, Oystrick is not afraid to play a physical brand of hockey and is not one to back down from challenges. He participated in four fights this past season and was ranked third on the team in hits with 91.

Oystrick is a decent seventh defenseman, assuming that they re-sign him in the off-season where his contract is due to expire.

Grant Lewis, D
Acquired 2nd round, 40th overall, 2004

Lewis played in only one NHL game this season. With good skating and an eye for offense, Lewis is the kind of player who should thrive in an offensive system like the Thrasher play.

Lewis was a standout player in his college days and is vying to become a permanent two-way defenseman for the Thrashers. Lewis can put up points and play a physical game in his defensive end as well. He should see some more time next year.

Boris Valabik, D
Acquired 1st round, 10th overall, 2004

Valabik only put up five points in 50 games this past season, but as a defensive defenseman, this is not surprising. At 6’7 and 240lb, Valabik has already proved himself to be a physical presence on the ice. He frequently uses his large frame to his advantage, managing 78 hits this season.

Due to his size and physical nature, he is often compared to Slovak countryman Zdeno Chara. However unlike Chara, Valabik has limited offensive upside and needs to continue to work on his skating. He missed six games late in the season due to a shoulder injury.

Anssi Salmela, D
Acquired from the Devils in 2009 in exchange for Niclas Havelid and Myles Stoesz

Salmela is growing into a reliable two-way defenseman. He is mobile offensively and has excellent defensive foresight. He put up six points in 26 NHL games this season and was +1 for the 2009 season.

Not one to back down from challenges despite his somewhat small stature, Salmela laid out 24 hits this season yet also demonstrated discipline by racking up only eight penalty minutes. He missed five games late in the season as the result of a head injury.

Clay Wilson, D
Acquired from the Blue Jackets in 2009 in exchange for Jason Williams and a 2009 sixth round draft pick

Wilson is known to play a somewhat physical brand of hockey but he needs to step up his defensive play in order to make a serious impact in the NHL. He was -3 this season with one point in seven NHL games and six hits.

Wilson put up a large number of points in the AHL but has not been so consistent in that regard at the NHL level. With the large number of talented young D-men on Atlanta’s roster, Wilson will have to wait and improve his game in order to see more NHL ice-time.

Scott Lehman, D
Acquired 3rd round, 76th overall, 2004

Lehman played in only one NHL game this season and was held pointless. His opportunity came about due to a rash of injuries. The other likely call-ups, Lewis and Arturs Kulda were both injured as well, so Lehman got the call by default. He only played about three minutes.

After a year of bouncing back and forth from the ECHL to the AHL, Lehman managed to retain a permanent position in the AHL in 2009. This may be the only NHL game he plays in his career.

Forwards

Joey Crabb, RW
Signed as a free agent in 2006

Crabb’s first season in the NHL was largely spent traveling back and forth between the Thrashers and the AHL Chicago Wolves. This speedy sniper was used mostly for emergency call-up purposes only in 2008-09, playing in 29 NHL games and producing nine points.

The Thrashers were able to pick Crabb off of the free-agency market after the Rangers opted not to sign him. Although he’ll probably never amass a lot of points in his NHL career, he can provide some depth and is a good locker room addition.

Spencer Machacek, RW
Acquired 3rd round, 67th overall, 2007

Machacek played in two NHL games this season where he went scoreless. He is a gritty winger who scores some ugly goals, and will be looking for a greater opportunity to prove himself next year. Despite his somewhat lanky stature, Machacek isn’t afraid to charge to the net and throw everything he has into the game.

Machacek, 20, has already proven that he can retain a leadership role; replacing current Boston Bruins star Milan Lucic as captain of the WHL Vancouver Giants in 2008. He was an integral part of the Giants’ 2006 Ed Chynoweth Cup and 2007 Memorial Cup victories.

Brett Sterling, LW
Acquired 5th round, 145th overall, 2003

Sterling was given every opportunity to make the team last fall, but didn’t stick. he accumulated only one point in six NHL games this season. He puts up decent point numbers when playing at a minor league level, but he needs to keep up with the pace of the NHL and prove that he can consistently play at a high level.

At 5’7 and 185lbs, Sterling is one of the smallest players in the NHL. Sterling put up high point totals in college and in the AHL and draws a lot of penalties due to his willingness to take a beating near the net.

Jordan LaVallee, LW
Acquired 4th round, 116th overall, 2005

This young power-forward already had two games of NHL experience coming into this season. In 2008-09, LaVallee played in two NHL games and was held pointless. LaVallee brings about an aggressiveness to his game that enables him to shake and rattle opponents. LaVallee put up decent numbers in terms of points and hits in the minor leagues.

LaVallee likes to crash and bang opponents hard and isn’t afraid of physical altercation. He’s now at the end of his entry-level deal and is an RFA.