Thrashers Top 20 prospects, Fall 2009

By Aubrey Chau

Top 20 at a glance

1. Zach Bogosian, D
2. Ondrej Pavelec, G
3. Evander Kane, C
4. Spencer Machacek, RW
5. Carl Klingberg, LW
6. Riley Holzapfel, C
7. Boris Valabik, D
8. Eric O’Dell, C
9. Daultan Leveille, C
10. Vinny Saponari, RW
11. Angelo Esposito, C
12. Jeremy Morin, C
13. Arturs Kulda, D
14. Grant Lewis, D
15. John Albert, C
16. Paul Postma, D
17. Andrei Zubarev, D
18. Anssi Salmela, D
19. Edward Pasquale, G
20. Alex Kangas, G

1. Zach Bogosian, D – 8.0 B
6’2, 200 pounds
1st Round, Third overall, 2008

Bogosian’s rookie season was one of ups and downs. Making the team straight out of training camp, his fortunes quickly turned sour in late October when Bogosian broke his left leg just eight games into the season. However, he recovered fairly quickly, and returned to the Thrashers’ blueline just over two months later. 

Apparently, two months on the IR did not slow him down, as he returned from injury to post nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points in the last 38 games of the season. In addition to his very good point totals, Bogosian’s saw his ice time increase steadily over the course of the season and posted a very respectable +11, good for third highest on the woeful Thrashers. 

For the 2009-10 season, Bogosian should be a top-four defenseman with power play time.

2. Ondrej Pavelec, G – 8.0 C

6’2, 180 pounds
2nd Round, 41st overall, 2005

Pavelec began the 2008-09 season with the Thrashers’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves as their starting goaltender. However, Pavelec made his way up and saw action in 12 games while starter Kari Lehtonen’s injury woes continued.  

Pavelec posted a 3-7 record with the Thrashers, a 3.61 GAA and .880 save percentage. Despite a losing record of 18-20 in the AHL, Pavelec posted a respectable 2.58 GAA and .914 save percentage. Pavelec did improve his consistency last season.
 
While Lehtonen was re-signed and Hedberg has another year to go on this contract, Pavelec could challenge Lehtonen for the starting goaltending job. 

3. Evander Kane, C, 8.0 C
6’2, 176 pounds
1st Round, 4th Overall, 2009

Kane was selected fourth overall by the Thrashers in the 2009 entry draft and shortly afterwards, signed an entry-level contract. He attended development camp over the summer and will enter training camp with high expectations. 

This fall, the Thrashers look for Kane to live up to his reputation as a gritty, hard checking, two-way forward. 

Kane should be an Atlanta Thrasher when the puck drops for the 2009-10 season.

4. Spencer Machacek, RW, 6.5 B

6’1, 182 pounds
3rd Round, 67th Overall, 2007

Machacek made the most of his pro debut with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves during the 2008-09 season, finishing second on the team in goal scoring and third in points. As the season progressed, he was given more ice time and more responsibility and did not disappoint. 

Machacek got a taste of the NHL in March when he suited up for two games with the Thrashers, going scoreless. He plays a gritty game and shows no fear when charging to the net to score the ugly goals. Regardless of where he starts this season, he will probably get the call and see some spot duty with the Thrashers on their third or fourth lines. He needs to refine his game and get stronger. 

5. Carl Klingberg, LW, 6.5 C
6’3, 205 pounds
2nd Round, 34th Overall, 2009

The big strapping winger spent most of 2008-09 with Frolunda Jr. in the Swedish under-20 league, scoring 13 goals and 13 assists in 35 games. With the Frolunda Elite team, he recorded two goals and one assist in 10 games.

Klingberg is known to be an extremely hard worker who plays a very physical game, using his large frame to drive aggressively to the net. He is projected to become a second or third line power forward who contributes at both ends of the ice. Klingberg came over for Thrashers prospect camp over the summer, but is slated to continue his development in the Swedish Elite League for another two years.  

6. Riley Holzapfel, C, 7 D

5’11, 170 pounds
2nd Round, 43rd Overall, 2006

After suffering a serious concussion in 2007-08, Holzapfel bounced back and showed a lot of potential last season. As a smaller forward who plays a finesse game, he will be challenged to continue to adjust to the bigger and stronger competition in the AHL and NHL. He posted 13 goals and 32 points in 73 games in the AHL last season, which was a bit under expectations. 

Holzapfel has great hockey sense and is a very good skater, but much of his success will hinge on his strong work ethic and ability to produce offensively. Look for Holzapfel to begin this season with the Wolves, but could get a look late in the year. 

7. Boris Valabik, D, 6.0 A
6’7, 240 pounds
1st Round, 10th Overall, 2004

After getting a short seven-game taste of the NHL during the 2007-08 season, Valabik was ready to go in 2008-09. Taking advantage of injuries to the Thrashers blueline, Valabik proved himself over 50 games, collecting five assists and 132 penalty minutes.  

Big, mean and gritty, Valabik is not a typical European. This season, expect Valabik to establish himself on the third defensive pairing. He will be counted on to punish opposing players. 

8. Eric O’Dell, C, 6.5 C
6’0, 176 pounds
2nd Round, 39th Overall, 2008

Drafted by the Anaheim Ducks in 2008, O’Dell’s rights were traded to the Thrashers for forward Erik Christensen. In his first full season in the OHL, O’Dell led the Sudbury Wolves in goals with 33, and was second in points with 63 in 65 games. 

O’Dell has decent hockey sense and shows some good offensive upside, while proving to be defensively responsible. Like many of the Thrashers’ forward prospects, O’Dell has big -league vision and the hands, but will need to get bigger and stronger and show that he is able to compete in the NHL.

This season, O’Dell is projected to return to the OHL, where he should be one of the league’s top players and lead Sudbury in scoring. 

9. Daultan Leveille, C, 7.5 D

5’11, 160 pounds
1st Round, 29th Overall, 2008

After the 2008 draft, Leveille made the jump from the Junior B St. Catherine’s Falcons of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League to the Michigan State Spartans of the NCAA. The transition from Junior B to NCAA is a big one, but Leveille wasted no time in making his mark, and was named the October CCHA Rookie of the Month.

He finished his rookie season with nine goals and 17 points in 38 games, which put him only behind senior Matt Schepke on a dismal Spartan team. Considered one of the fastest skaters from the 2008 draft class, Leveille needs to learn to become stronger on the puck, more responsible defensively and improve his hockey sense. 

Leveille is quite raw and is still years away.  

10. Vinny Saponari, RW 7.5D

6’0, 180 pounds
4th Round, 94th Overall, 2008

Saponari, a 2008 draft pick, was not only born in, but also developed in Georgia.

Saponari spent last season playing with his older brother Victor for the national title-winning Boston University Terriers, collecting eight goals and 17 points in 44 games. He has energy on the ice and tenacity when forechecking. As he progresses, he will need to improve his skating and play with the puck. He returns to BU this fall. 

11. Angelo Esposito, C, 7.5 D

6’1, 174 pounds
1st Round, 20th Overall, 2007

After three straight years of being cut from Canada’s World Juniors team, not only did Esposito finally crack the lineup, he also scored the game-winning goal to capture the gold medal. However, for the fourth consecutive season, Esposito’s production continued to decline in the QMJHL. Tearing his ACL in February, he played only 35 games for the Montreal Juniors, but was still able to score a respectable 24 goals and 42 points. 

A gifted offensive forward, Esposito has yet to display the potential many saw from him in his rookie season with the Quebec Ramparts in 2005-06. A realistic scenario has him starting in the AHL with the Wolves this fall.

12. Jeremy Morin, LW, 7.0 D

6’0, 195 pounds
2nd Round, 45th Overall, 2009

Morin spent the last two seasons with the U.S. National Team development program and helped the Americans to a gold medal at the U-18 World Championships in April. Last year, Morin lead the U.S. National U-18 Team in scoring with 33 goals and 59 points in 55 games. 

Morin’s slick hands and great shot make him a natural goal scorer. However, to be able to produce at the NHL level, Morin will need to work on other areas of his game such as his skating, focus and hockey sense. He will join the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL this fall to continue his development.

13. Arturs Kulda, D, 6.5 B

6’2, 200 pounds
7th Round, 200th Overall, 2006

Despite missing a month early on in the season with a high ankle sprain, Kulda had a promising rookie campaign with the Chicago Wolves, potting one goal and 15 points in 57 games.

Kulda is a big, physical defenseman who offers more defensively than offensively. He has a decent shot, but it’s rarely used. Most of all he needs to adapt to the speed of the pro game. 

This fall, Kulda will return to the Wolves, but he could see a call-up. 

14. Grant Lewis, D, 7.0 C

6’3, 196 pounds
2nd Round, 40th Overall, 2004

Lewis’ development was hampered by a shoulder injury early in the season, his second with the Chicago Wolves. Upon returning from his injury, Lewis continued playing a smart and responsible game and finished the year second in plus/minus on the team with a +17. He made his NHL debut in March, playing in just one game. 

Tall with good reach, Lewis is another Thrashers defensive prospect who is not afraid of playing physically while displaying hockey sense and the ability to make a good outlet pass. If Lewis is to make the next step and become an NHL regular, he will need to get stronger, quicker and eliminate mental lapses. 
 
Lewis will probably spend most of this season leading the Wolves, but could earn the occasional trip to Atlanta. 

15. John Albert, C, 7.0D

5’10, 180
6th Round, 175 Overall, 2007

In his second season with Ohio State, Albert took a big leap forward with 11 goals, 28 assists and 39 points in 42 games with the Buckeyes, good for second in team scoring and the team lead in assists. Given first line duty and power play time, Albert made the most of the opportunity and proved himself to be an offensive threat at the college level.

Albert is a small, shifty center who possesses good vision, which he is able to use to set up his linemates. Not unlike many other playmaking centers, Albert looks to pass the puck first, rather than shoot. As he continues to develop, Albert will be encouraged to utilize his quick and accurate shot. 

This fall, Albert will return for a third season with Ohio State.

16. Paul Postma, D, 7.0 D

6’2, 182 pounds
7th Round, 205th Overall, 2007

Last season, Postma scored 84 points for the powerhouse Calgary Hitmen to lead all WHL defensemen in scoring. On top of that, he posted a staggering +67, good for the WHL Plus-Minus Award. 

Postma has all the attributes you would want in a defenseman: size, mobility, great hockey sense, ability to create offense, while playing well on defense. He could stand to be less risky with the puck and to be more physical, however.

In April, Postma was signed to a three-year entry-level contract. Look for him to start the season with the Wolves. 

17. Andrei Zubarev, D, 7.0 C
6’0, 198 pounds
6th Round, 187th Overall, 2005

Since being drafted in 2005, Zubarev has been playing in the top league in Russia. After a disappointing regular season where he found himself dressing for only 35 games and recording four assists, Zubarev stepped it up in the playoffs with two goals and five points in only seven games. 

Zubarev is regarded as a well-rounded defenseman with decent mobility, a good shot and an impressive physical game.

Still unsigned by the Thrashers, it’s less and less likely that he will make his way to the NHL.  

18. Anssi Salmela, D 6.5B
5’11, 191 pounds
Trade, 2009

During the 2008-09 season, Salmela donned four different jerseys. He started the season in the Devils organization, playing for both New Jersey and Lowell. In March, he was traded for Niclas Havelid to the Thrashers, where he played in both the NHL and AHL as well. 

Salmela is known to be a fiery competitor and a physical player with a decent offensive element to his game. Although his temper has gotten him into trouble, he can usually be counted on as a solid contributor at both ends of the ice.  

As he has a bit more experience than other defensive prospects in the system, Salmela has a chance to make the NHL roster out of camp.  

19. Edward Pasquale, G, 6.5 D

6’2, 216 pounds
4th Round, 117th Overall, 2009

Despite coming close to facing the most shots in the OHL, Pasquale posted an impressive 32-21-6 record last season with the Saginaw Spirit. In this last campaign, Pasquale took over the starting job and saw a remarkable increase in playing time, going from 13 games played in 2007-08 to 61 in 2008-09. 

Pasquale has the ideal size for a goaltender and displays a knack for strong positional play. This fall, he will return to OHL and continue to get the majority of starts for Saginaw. 

20. Alex Kangas, G, 7C

6’1, 175 pounds
5th Round, 135th Overall, 2006

Last season, Kangas followed up his stellar rookie debut at the University of Minnesota with slightly disappointing numbers. His GAA ballooned from 1.98 up to 2.79 and his save percentage dropped considerably from .930 to .901. Of course, the only statistic that really matters did improve — Kangas won 17 games last season, five more than the year before. 

As a hybrid goalie, Kangas is technically sound with good anticipation. Although he could stand to improve his play with the puck, Kangas is a very solid goaltender without any glaring weaknesses. 

Although there was some thought to him turning pro early, he’ll return to the Golden Gophers and try to improve on last year’s statistics.