Thrashers 2009 draft preview

By Jared Perlman

Top 10 prospects

1. Ondrej Pavelec, G
2. Riley Holzapfel, C
3. Spencer Machacek, RW
4. Angelo Esposito, C
5. Paul Postma, D
6. Grant Lewis, D
7. Eric O’Dell, C
8. John Albert, C
9. Daultan Leveille, C
10. Danick Paquette, RW

The Atlanta Thrashers hold the No. 4 pick in the 2009 NHL entry draft, and eight in total.  The fourth overall pick is high enough that it can be used to acquire immediate help via the draft.  The Thrashers have stated — rightly or wrongly — that they hope to take someone who can help the team immediately.

Team Needs

Three years ago, the Thrashers finished first in their division and made the playoffs for the first time.  Since then they have had one of the worst records in the NHL, finishing consistently near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. 

In 2008-09 Atlanta started the year with a new head coach in John Anderson. But the Thrashers did not improve in the standings, finishing fourth in the Southeast Division for the second year in a row.  The Thrashers finished the 2008-09 season with the ninth-highest goals for in the league, with a total of 250 and the second-highest goals against in the league with an average of 3.40 a game. Only two defensemen finished the season with a positive plus/minus (Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian).  A top-four defenseman, specifically of the stay-at-home type, is a need this offseason.

Given the Thrashers’ record, there are many needs. Offensively speaking, the Thrashers need another top-line goal-scorer, preferably with some size, since they are small up front. Some goaltending depth also wouldn’t hurt, so that when injuries happen there is a similar level of play. 

Organizational Strengths

They have a few defense prospects that should help turn around that aspect of the team’s game in the future. The defensive prospect depth is solid with both offensive and defensive-minded prospects.

The center position is also a point of strength, featuring draftees Riley Holzapfel, Daultan Leveille, and John Albert. Centers Angelo Esposito and Eric O’Dell have also been added through trades.

Organizational Needs

On the wings, Spencer Machacek and Vinny Saponari rank near the top of a relatively weak position. Depth on the left wing is especially lacking.

The absence of a blue-chip forward is compounded by the question marks surrounding some of the Thrashers top forward prospects, such as Esposito and Brett Sterling.

Atlanta needs to stock up on some forwards who are capable of playing a two-way game.  The draft is not the time to go for safe picks, however.

The 2009 draft is not a good one for goaltending, so don’t be surprised if the Thrashers pass at that position, despite a need to restock.

Draft Tendencies

The Thrashers have managed many times to pick a star player in the first round, starting from a very high position. 

Atlanta has a tendency of drafting mostly Canadian and American players and not as many Europeans.  They tend to avoid drafting Russian (they’ve selected only two in the last seven years) and most of their draft picks have been selected from the CHL and to a lesser extent the NCAA.  As far as size in concerned, they’ve gotten away from the habit of drafting towering defenders now that the league calls for different skills.

GM Don Waddell is likely to retain the fourth overall position so he can obtain a top player.  But if the right trade came along that helped the club next fall, the Thrashers aren’t so enamored with one prospect that they would pass that up. 

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: No. 4 Evander Kane C – Vancouver (WHL)

Kane would satisfy two of the Thrashers’ needs: scoring and size. Kane is a hard-nosed center at 6’1.  He finished the 2008-09 season with 96 points — half of them goals — and 89 penalty minutes in 61 games in the WHL and was part of team Canada’s gold-winning 2009 WJC roster. He could provide the Thrashers with a much needed offensive boost and physical edge.   

The picks the Thrashers hold going into the draft:
1st round: 4th overall
2nd round: 34th overall and 45th overall (from Anaheim)
3rd round: (no selection – to Montreal)
4th round: 95th overall
5th round: 124th overall      
6th round: 154th overall and 176th overall (from San Jose)
7th round: 184th overall