Thrashers 2008-09 AHL/ECHL review

By Jared Perlman

After winning the Calder Cup in 2008, the Chicago Wolves had a disappointing 2008-09 outing under new head coach Don Granato, finishing sixth in their division and missing the playoffs by just five points. Despite the results, there were a few players that shined this past season and may even see themselves in an Atlanta Thrashers uniform as early as next season.

Forwards

Joey Crabb, RW
6’1, 191lbs
Acquired via free agency in 2006

Crabb, a frequent 2008-09 NHL call-up, played 42 games in the AHL this season where he put up a respectable 29 points. He is an aggressive, defensive-minded forward, who finished the AHL season with 62 penalty minutes, four fights and a plus/minus of +13. He has been very consistent throughout his AHL career averaging roughly 30 points a season over a three season period and maintaining a steady presence on the penalty kill.

Crabb has a legitimate chance at earning a spot on the Thrashers starting roster next season. He is a very solid and reliable third or fourth liner who isn’t afraid to make himself noticeable on the ice by throwing a big hit or dropping his gloves. Crabb is very responsible defensively and provides much needed depth to the Thrashers organization.

Riley Holzapfel, C
5’11, 170lbs
Acquired 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2006

Holzapfel put up 32 points in 73 games as a rookie in the AHL. Holzapfel is an intelligent hockey player who makes usually makes the right decisions while in the offensive end. He usually plays on the first or second line and although he is somewhat small by NHL standards, has good skill and work ethic.

Holzapfel isn’t afraid to go into the corners or charge the net and is not usually one to back away from a challenge. He will need to bulk up in order to reach his full potential in the NHL but he is one of the Thrashers’ top prospects.

Rylan Kaip, C
6’1, 188lbs
Acquired 9th round, 269th overall, 2003

With only three points in 42 games this past AHL season, Kaip confirmed that he isn’t on the roster for offense. He is however a tenacious, aggressive forward who has been known for his defensive plays, particularly while killing penalties, at UND and now as a pro.

Kaip may never even reach the big leagues, but he is a solid third or fourth-line type of player and his physical style of play is the kind every team needs.

Jordan LaVallee, LW
6’3, 211lbs

Acquired 4th round, 116th overall, 2005

LaVallee spent the majority of the 2008-09 season in the AHL where he amassed a total of 30 points in 64 games. He is an aggressive third-line power forward who is known for his powerful hits. LaVallee’s defensive awareness can improve, however. His plus/minus of -14 was the lowest on the Wolves. He missed a few games midway through the season for personal reasons.

LaVallee, who is not afraid of confrontation, fought four times this season and led the Chicago in penalty minutes with 94. LaVallee’s entry-level contract expires this summer.

Spencer Machacek, RW
6’1, 182lbs

Machacek played 77 games in 2008-09 and finished third on the Wolves in points with 48. With only 23 penalty minutes, Machacek is a team leader and a disciplined player that won’t take reckless penalties that put his team in jeopardy. His plus/minus of +10 was the fourth best on his team and he maintained a steady presence on the power play. Machacek missed three games early this year after taking a puck to the knee in practice.

Although he is likely to have an impact on the Thrashers’ roster in the near future, he still needs to bulk up in order to compete in the NHL. His leadership and all-around game will benefit the Thrashers greatly within the next few years and definitely open up some eyes.

Tomas Pospisil, LW
6’0, 185lbs
Acquired 5th round, 135th overall, 2005

Pospisil had a very disappointing 2008-09 season. He started the year with Chicago where he played 31 games but was then loaned out to the Albany River Rats in March where he played 17 games. In junior, Pospisil was always one of the top goal scorers on his team, but this past season he only managed to score two goals and finish the season with a total of six points.

Pospisil put up good offensive numbers in 2007-08 in the ECHL, but faltered considerably when given a chance to play at a higher level. He still has another year remaining on his entry-level contract.

Matt Siddall, RW
6’1, 205lbs
Acquired 9th round, 270th overall, 2004

In 2008-09, Siddall played 40 games for the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators and 20 for the Wolves. In the ECHL he put up 37 points and finished the season with 153 penalty minutes.

He finished fourth on his team in points and third in penalty minutes. In the AHL however, he only managed to tally one assist in 20 games and definitely showed that he isn’t quite ready to be promoted. Siddall is a tough customer and fought ten times this season for Gwinnett but at the next level only fought once.

Brett Sterling, LW
5’7, 185lbs
Acquired 5th round, 145th overall, 2003

Sterling played in six NHL games in 2008-09, but spent the majority of the season in the AHL where he finished fourth on Chicago in points with 39 in 52 games. Sterling is one of the smallest players in the game, but regardless, he is fearless and intense. Despite his small stature, Sterling is not afraid to crash the net and takes a lot of abuse.

Sterling already has a total of 19 games NHL experience between this season and last. He is an AHL scoring champion (2006-07) and the type of player that will do whatever it takes to win. His time to stick in the NHL is quickly fading, however.

Defensemen

Chad Denny, D – 6’3, 227lbs
Acquired 2nd round, 49th overall, 2005

Denny is a large, aggressive defenseman who is known for a booming shot and is capable of dishing out a big hit. In 2008-09, he tallied ten points in 40 AHL games and finished with a -2 plus/minus rating. But, Denny is not very agile at all on his feet and can’t seem to put his game together.

Denny suffered from minor injuries at the start of the season, and was a healthy scratch for a good part of the season as well.

Arturs Kulda, D
6’2, 194
Acquired 7th round, 200th overall, 2006

This Latvian-born defenseman is solid at both ends of the ice. Kulda mostly bases his game around being a physical defensive-defenseman but he isn’t afraid to shoot either. He finished the 2008-09 AHL season with 15 points in 57 games and a plus/minus of +7.

He is a good all-round defenseman, but will need to see some ice time on a call-up basis before thinking about making the roster outright. Kulda missed about a month of playing time due to a high ankle sprain in November.

Grant Lewis, D
6’3, 193lbs
Acquired 2nd round, 40th overall, 2004

Lewis had a phenomenal year in the AHL in 2008-09. In only 54 games, he had 22 points (all assists) and finished the season with a plus/minus of +17, the highest among defenders on the Wolves. Lewis proved to be solid offensively as well as defensively this past season. He has shown that he is capable of playing his position, putting up points and is not afraid of physical challenges. Lewis missed about a month’s worth of ice time early on in the season after injuring his left shoulder.

He has earned himself the opportunity to make a case for himself to the Thrashers in 2009-10 training camp. He will almost definitely see some ice time next season, even if it is just on a call-up basis, but Lewis has NHL ability.

Scott Lehman, D
6’1, 195lbs
Acquired 3rd round, 76th overall, 2004

Lehman finished the 2008-09 season with six fights and 86 penalty minutes. He only managed to contribute five points for the Wolves in 50 games.

Lehman is supposed to be a physical stay-at-home defenseman, but he ends up mostly taking bad penalties and proving to have very little upside to his game. He suffered an upper body injury midway through the season that kept him out of the line-up for a short period of time. He is an RFA this summer.

Acquired 3rd round, 67th overall, 2007

Anssi Salmela, D
5’11, 191lb 

Salmela spent the majority of the season with the Lowell Devils of the AHL before being traded to Atlanta and being assigned to Chicago. Salmela showed offensive upside with 24 points in the 40 games this year and isn’t afraid to throw his weight around and play a physical game.

Salmela is the sort of two-way defenseman that teams find so useful and he will most certainly be given the opportunity next season to be a part of the Thrashers starting roster. He missed five games late in the season due to a head injury.

Acquired from the New Jersey Devils in 2009 in exchange for Niclas Havelid and Myles Stoesz

Clay Wilson, D
6’0, 195lbs
Acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009 in exchange for Jason Williams and a 2009 sixth round draft pick

Wilson split the season between the Syracuse Crunch and the Wolves where he finished the year with a total of 45 points in 70 games. Wilson has very good offensive upside at the AHL level, but has not been very effective when given a chance in the NHL. Wilson still needs development in order to be given more ice time.

Goaltenders

Ondrej Pavelec, G
6’2, 200lbs
Acquired 2nd round, 41st overall, 2005

Pavelec spent the majority of 2008-09 in the AHL where he played 40 games. Pavelec has the tendency of playing phenomenally one game and then only so-so the next. He finished the year with a GAA of 2.58, three shutouts and finished 18th overall in the league in save percentage with .914. Not terrible results by any means, but Pavelec is capable of better.

Pavelec was called up to the Thrashers this season while Kari Lehtonen was injured. He is likely to see a lot more NHL ice time next season, but where is the question, as it is likely that either he or Lehtonen will be traded.

Dan Turple, G
6’6, 220lbs
Acquired 6th round, 186th overall, 2004

Turple spent the majority of the 2008-09 season along with Brent Krahn and Robert Gherson, as one of Pavelec’s backup goalies in Chicago. His GAA of 2.92 and save percentage of .897 were the worst on the team. Turple has good size and is quick for a person of his size. He also played ten games in the ECHL for both the Gladiators and Utah Grizzlies where he had a combined GAA of 3.79.

Turple is a RFA this summer.