After the off-season shake up instigated by new GM Rick Dudley, the Atlanta Thrashers depth chart looks much different than last season. Big wingers who can crash the net and defenseman who can drop the gloves are in abundance on the Thrashers depth chart and there is strength in goal now as well. However the depth chart at center falls off quickly, especially with the potentially long-term absence of Eric O’Dell and the declining returns of Angelo Esposito.
The signing of free agent Fredrik Pettersson and the strong season of Jordan Samuels-Thomas has enhanced the left-wing depth for the Thrashers, although Carl Klingberg remains the top prospect at that position. Klingberg plays a crash and bang style that may be better suited to the NHL but remains in Sweden for the time being. Petterson signed with the Thrashers in the summer and impressed in training camp with his high-energy game. Assigned to the Chicago Wolves to start the season he is top of the list for a call up to the Thrashers.
Nicklas Lasu, another Swedish winger, remains in Sweden for the time being and the hope is he will accompany his teammate Klingberg over to Atlanta next year.
Jordan Samuels-Thomas had an exciting freshman year at Bowling Green State, with 25 points in 35 games, and has followed up his strong showing at the Thrashers rookie camp with a point-per-game start to the CCHA season. The man they call JST is a powerful skater with quick hands and will be the go-to guy for the Falcons this year.
Levko Koper is back with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL and the 2009 seventh rounder is looking for a significant improvement this year while Michael Forney has started the season with the Chicago Wolves after spending most of last year in the ECHL.
Alex Burmistrov is the Thrashers new top prospect and first among centers on the depth chart. The clever playmaker has started the season in Atlanta and not looked out of place in the NHL thus far, playing a sound two-way game.
Unfortunately, none of the other top centers in the organization have gotten off the ground yet this year. Patrice Cormier has yet to play a game after breaking bones in his foot while blocking a shot in the preseason while Angelo Esposito has been a healthy scratch for the Wolves appearing in only one game this year. Eric O’Dell has also had his pro debut put on hold after being diagnosed with a heart condition and the status of the gifted playmaker remains uncertain.
Ivan “Drago” Telegin is by far the biggest prospect at center for the Thrashers, although his size and strength may be better suited to a winger’s game, and is off to a strong start in the OHL with the Saginaw Spirit.
In the college ranks, Daultan Leveille scored in his first game as a junior with Michigan State, senior John Albert has four points in three games with Ohio State and Jesse Martin, a senior with Denver State, has 3 points in 4 games.
Spencer Machacek was first in line for the spot vacated by free agent Colby Armstrong over the summer, however he finds himself back in the AHL for a third season after being pushed back down the depth chart by summer acquisitions Dustin Byfgulien and Anthony Stewart. Machacek has had two solid seasons with the Wolves and is being counted on to be one of the leaders on the team this year.
One of the players Machacek will be mentoring is the mercurial Akim Aliu, an imposing winger with good speed who has yet to put all the tools together and has been slandered by former teammates for being too much of an individualist. Acquired from the Chicago prospect pool, if Aliu can get his game together the Thrashers could have a real gem on their hands.
Vinny Saponari is another prospect with high upside who has had off-ice issues, having been suspended from Boston University last season. Switching to the USHL in order to retain college eligibility, Saponari has dominated in the early exchanges. Unsure where he will play next year, his talent remains evident and the Thrashers are standing by him.
One player who causes trouble on the ice is agitator Danick Paquette, who has started the year in the ECHL with the Gwinnett Gladiators. Jimmy Bubnick turned heads on a long playoff run with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL last year, playing a responsible two-way game and chipping in some offense on a checking line, and has started strong with Calgary this year. Andrew Kozek has to be looking over his shoulder with all the strong talent at the right wing position striving to take his spot with the Wolves and needs a much-improved season to stay with the organization. Yasin Cisse is in his freshman year at Boston University and the power forward will look to stay healthy after missing most of last season while Tanner Lane has begun to adjust to the USHL with the Fargo Force with his future college commitment still uncertain.
Another player who had a place with the Thrashers penciled in only to be rubbed out by late acquisitions is defender Arturs Kulda. The stocky Latvian led the AHL in plus/minus rating last year and looked good in a cameo in Atlanta, however free agent Freddie Meyer took his place in the NHL and he finds himself starting his third AHL season with the Wolves. First in line for a call-up, Kulda will provide cover for the more offensively minded Paul Postma who scored 15 goals as a rookie last year.
Summer signing Andrei Zubarev is in his rookie AHL season and although a minus five in four games, the 23-year-old hopefully has the skills and smarts to adapt to the North American game in short order. A more promising start to the rookie season is under way in the OHL, where Julian Melchiori has made a strong start with the Kitchener Rangers. Initially slated to go the college route, Melchiori can only benefit from the increased workload of the OHL season and will learn how to use his size and mobility to greater effect.
College defenseman Zach Redmond and Will O’Neill are entering critical seasons in their development. O’Neill is a junior with the University of Maine and will be counted on to anchor the blue line for their hockey program while Redmond is in his senior year with Ferris State University and will be taking on a leadership role with that program.
In the WHL, Swedish defenseman Sebastian Owuya has made his debut with the Medicine Hat Tigers and his physical style has made him look right at home. Kendall McFaul is in his second year with the Moose jaw Warriors and continuing to earn praise for his no-nonsense play.
Rounding out the Thrashers depth chart on defense are a pair of hulking stay-at-home types; Ben Chiarot and Cody Sol. Both are remarkably similar in size and statistics and both are projected to move to the wing at some point due to concerns around mobility. Both are also finishing up their junior careers, Chiarot with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL and Sol as a teammate of Melchiori with Kitchener.
Goaltending depth has become a strength for the Thrashers with the continued progress of Edward Pasquale and Chris Carrozzi. Pasquale has taken over the starter’s job in Chicago after Peter Mannino was recalled to Atlanta has performed superbly. In three games, Pasquale has allowed just five goals and posted a sterling .943 save percentage.
Chris Carrozzi has made an equally strong start to his pro career with the Gwinnett Gladiators of the ECHL and the pair of former OHL standouts will make it difficult for the previous top goalie prospect Alex Kangas to find employment when he turns pro next year.
Kangas has been the starter with the University of Minnesota through the recent decline of that program and has remained a solid performer despite the Gopher’s struggles in recent seasons. Swedish goalie Fredrik Pettersson-Wentzel will contend for the starter’s job with Sweden’s junior team and the Thrashers must be content to let him develop at his own pace in his native country.