Atlanta Thrashers junior prospects big on size and physicality

By Kyle West
Photo: Ivan Telegin started the 2010-11 season slow but is now producing at a point-per-game clip. The big-bodied forward is also second on the team with a plus-15. (Photo courtesy of Holly Gunning/HF)

The Thrashers boast six prospects in the CHL, four in the OHL and two in the WHL. There are also two prospects playing in the USHL, 2010 draft pick Tanner Lane, and exiled collegiate prospect Vinny Saponari. Of the Thrashers group of junior prospects, four including Lane were drafted in 2010, none before the third round.


WHL

Jimmy Bubnick, C, Calgary Flames
Acquired: 6th round (155th overall) in 2009
January 19th, 1991. Ht: 6’2, Wt: 190 lbs.

A consistent, hard-working center who excels at a shutdown game, Bubnick was a key player for the Calgary Hitmen in their long playoff run after being traded from the Kamloops Blazers toward the end of the season. With just two goals in 23 playoff games last year it would be easy to dismiss his efforts as marginal, however the strong skating center was a key penalty killer who was also matched against the opposition’s top lines. The sixth round pick also added 12 assists in the playoff run, mostly by taking the puck to the net and driving hard at opposition defenders.

In his final year of junior, Bubnick shows no signs of an offensive explosion but his industrious and effective game continues to be appreciated by his coaches and teammates.

Levko Koper, LW, Spokane Chiefs
Acquired: 7th round (185th overall) in 2009
October 5th, 1990. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 180 lbs.

The Thrashers seventh round pick in 2009 is off to a great start with a point-per-game pace. A strong skater with a heavy shot, Koper’s game seemed to regress slightly last year as he became more involved in the agitating side of his game and less implicated as a playmaker. A regular in the post-whistle scrums, Koper enjoys getting under opponent’s skin and has the makings of a checking-line winger who can unsettle the opposition skaters. A solidly built forward with good balance and speed, Koper will challenge for an AHL spot when his career with the Spokane Chiefs is finished.

OHL

Ivan Telegin, C, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 4th round (101st overall) in 2010
February 28th, 1992. Ht: 6’4, Wt: 188 lbs.

Having bolted from the gate last season, Telegin is taking a much steadier approach to the early season games in the OHL. Named the rookie of the month for October and November last year, Telegin tailed off sharply and seemed to be out of gas come March. This year he has 6 goals and 21 points in his first 18 games and is taking a regular shift centering the top line. Combined with 2011 draft prospect Brandon Saad, also a power forward who likes to drive the net, the two have been a fearsome sight for opposition defenders.

At 6’4 Telegin has the size and strength to muscle the puck along the boards and his quick and accurate shot should start to yield more goals for the man called “Drago” by his teammates. As the young Russian continues to adapt to the North American game, his ceiling as a power forward with a good scoring touch will only continue to rise.

Ben Chiarot, D, Guelph Storm
Acquired: 4th round (120th overall) in 2009
May 9th, 1991. Ht: 6’3, Wt: 222 lbs.

One of the toughest players in the OHL, Chiarot is a regular star of fight videos from that league. Standing 6’3 and wearing in at nearly 230 lbs, “Big Ben” has the physique to play in the pros but will continue to need to work on his skating and mobility as he transitions to the pro game. In a one-game stint with the Chicago Wolves last year, Chiarot was assessed four minutes in penalties, both of them of the needless variety. In the 2010-11 season thus far, he has two goals, six assists, and 58 penalty minutes including four fights.

Projecting as a stand-up tough guy, Chiarot may transition to the wing when he turns pro next year.

Julian Melchiori, D, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 3rd round (87th overall) in 2010
December 16th, 1991. Ht: 6’3, Wt: 195 lbs.

Initially committed to go the college route, Melchiori had a change of heart after being drafted by the Thrashers in the third round of the 2010 entry draft. Asked by the University of Massachusets at Lowell to defer his scholarship for another year, Melchiori and the Thrashers brass opted for the junior route. Now suiting up as an OHL rookie with the Kitchener Rangers, Melchiori has his first major-junior goal and 10 points in 22 games. The increased workload and professional-level schedule can only help the smooth-skating defenseman strengthen his all-round game. A key offensive catalyst with his Junior A club, Melchiori has the skills to run a power play. He can also play a physical game when needed, an attribute that will become more evident as he continues to grow into his 6’3 frame.

Cody Sol, D, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 5th round (125th overall) in 2010
February 11th, 1991. Ht: 6’4, Wt: 215 lbs.

Melchiori’s teammate on the Kitchener Rangers is 6’5 pugilist Cody Sol, a prospect remarkably similar in size and style to Thrasher’s prospect Ben Chiarot. Gaining an inch or two but giving up five pounds on Chiarot, the two have yet to tangle in competition but they will have to fight for the same roster spot when they turn pro next year. Sol may also be moved to the wing to keep his limited mobility from being exposed by speedy opponents to the outside, but wherever he plays he will be counted on to protect his teammates. In 17 games this season he has already dropped the gloves three times, including a recent bout with Erik Gudbranson (FLA).

USHL

Tanner Lane, F, Fargo Force
Acquired: 6th round (160th overall) in 2010
August 13th, 1992. Ht: 6’2, Wt: 180 lbs.

Having scored nearly two goals per game with his Minnesota high school, Lane is finding the USHL a tougher proposition. The rookie winger with the Fargo Force has scored but once in his first 17 games and hopes he would show up
well at the next level have been diminished somewhat. Having had things all his own way as the undisputed scoring star of Detroit Lakes, Lane must now adapt to being a much smaller fish in a much bigger pond.

The learning curve will continue next season, as Lane has committed to the University of Nebraska-Omaha. The Mavericks are moving to the WCHA next year and will be coached by Dean Blais, fresh off winning the gold medal with the USA’s U-20 squad. The Thrashers brass hope a strong coach and a little patience will see some of that offensive dynamism returning to Lane’s game as he takes the next steps in his development.

Vinny Saponari, RW, Dubuque Fighting Saints
Acquired: 4th round (94th overall) in 2008
February 15th, 1990. Ht: 6’1, Wt: 195 lbs.

Kicked out of Boston University at the end of his sophomore season, Saponari will be returning to the city of Boston next year with Boston College. Going back to the scene of his crimes having switched allegiance to the arch-rivals of his former alma mater makes for good headlines, in the meantime Saponari has to spend a year in exile. Doing much more than just passing time in the USHL, Saponari has been named captain of the Dubuque Fighting Saints and posted 21 points in his first 15 games.

A dynamic winger with a good motor and quick hands, Saponari stands to benefit from the top-line ice time in the USHL and will be given the opportunity to develop his leadership abilities. The 20-year-old will be highly motivated to prove his worth with the Eagles next season, especially when they play the Terriers.