The Thrashers junior prospects are known for their size and physical prowess, however there are some skilled players in the junior ranks as well. The Thrashers have six players in the CHL who project as tough, hard-nosed enforcers however the playmaking skills of Eric O’Dell and Vinny Saponari complement those blunter weapons with a more refined toolbox.
Ben Chiarot, D, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 4th round, 120th overall, 2009
Notable for his size and toughness, Chiarot improved his overall game this season by leaps and bounds and was rewarded with a pro contract. Posting five goals and 24 points in just 39 games, the 6’4 blueliner showed he can do more than just clear the crease and drop the gloves. Throwing his 222 pound frame around will make him an impact player, though Chiarot has also done a much better job of picking his spots and playing his position with a bit more finesse. In the OHL playoffs, he has assumed a leadership role on the defense corps, playing top minutes against the best opposition players. In the second game of the second-round series against Windsor, Chiarot scored a power-play goal to tie the game and then assisted on the eventual game winner, finishing with a plus-two rating and was named third star.
Julian Melchiori, D, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 3rd round, 87th overall, 2010
A quietly effective rookie on a stacked Rangers blue line, Melchiori played solid minutes without doing anything flashy and used his size (6’4 and 210 lbs) and mobility to good effect in his own zone. Drafted as a defender with offensive upside out of the OJHL, Melchiori scored just once this season and added 18 assists in 63 regular season games while playing in only three of the Rangers seven playoff games. Slated to play in the NCAA after being drafted, Melchiori opted for the OHL when UMass-Lowell asked him to play another year in the OJHL before reporting for duty on campus. With a full season under his belt and the Rangers blue line backlog certain to clear up next year, Melchiori should start to assert himself more offensively in the coming season.
Eric O’Dell, C, Sudbury Wolves
Acquired: Trade with Anaheim, March 2009
Having been diagnosed with a potentially serious heart defect just before training camp, O’Dell had to put his plans to turn pro and win a spot on the Chicago Wolves on hold while he dealt with recovery from surgery. Able to resume playing after the New Year, O’Dell returned to the Sudbury Wolves and showed no lasting after-effects of the heart scare. His 20 goals and 44 points in 39 games paced the Wolves into the playoff picture and he was a key performer in the first round sweep of Ottawa. O’Dell has scored five times in six playoff games and added four assists, he has also been instrumental on both special teams and shown an increasing ability to fight through traffic. The Wolves of Sudbury have benefitted from O’Dell’s return, the Wolves of Chicago stand to benefit next from his vision and quick hands.
Cody Sol, D, Kitchener Rangers
Acquired: 5th round, 125th overall, 2009
Another big and tough blueliner coming through the ranks, Cody Sol has less upside than Chiarot due to his limited mobility and awkward skating. One of the super heavyweights of the OHL, Sol stands at 6’5 and weighs in at 245 lbs. Required to chuck knuckles on a regular basis, Sol has worked hard to develop other aspects of his game and has been a solid third pairing guy all season for the Rangers and played in all seven games of their opening playoff round loss to Plymouth. Realistically Sol’s upside is as an enforcer and he will have to work hard on his skating to make sure that he is an NHL enforcer and not a minor pro one.
Ivan Telegin, C, Saginaw Spirit
Acquired: 4th round, 101st overall, 2010
The big Russian has applied a more consistent effort in his second year in the OHL. Telegin was named rookie of the month for the first two months of the season last year and then fizzled out as the season wore on. This year Telegin has played a solid game at both ends of the ice and responded to coaching efforts to use his size and speed in a defensive effort. His 61 points in 59 games was good for fourth in team scoring and his plus-14 rating an improvement over his rookie numbers. As Saginaw battles the Windsor Spitfires in the second round of the OHL playoffs, Telegin has been invaluable as a physical checking line center and chipped in a goal and five assists in eight playoff games. Projected as a winger when he turns pro, the man they call "Drago" has shown overall improvement in his game and enough hockey sense to be a versatile performer for the Thrashers some day.
Levko Koper, LW, Spokane Chiefs
Acquired: 7th round, 185th overall, 2009
The gritty winger has had an outstanding season for the Chiefs. His 82 points in 72 games was a dramatic improvement and his 32 goals were second only to scoring star Tyler Johnson (TB) on the Chiefs final tally. Koper has made a name for himself as an agitator and a pest who can chip in some offense, however projections have been raised this season thanks to his improved touch around the net. While he may have benefited unduly from playing alongside Johnson, Koper remains a good prospect for at least a third line energy role thanks to his speed and high work rate.
Kendall McFaull, D, Moose Jaw Warriors
Acquired: 6th round, 155th overall, 2010
A stay-at-home type who takes care of his business in his own end first, McFaull will never put up many points on the board. His value to his team is in the way he protects the crease and the hard-nosed style he brings to puck battles in his own end. Playing on the second pairing with 2011 hopeful Joel Edmundson, McFaull has actually seen his offensive production decrease this year, scoring just once and adding only six assists in 69 games. No one on the Thrashers staff is worried however, as his projection will never be to quarterback the power play.
Sebastian Owuya, D, Medicine Hat Tigres
Acquired: 6th round, 169th overall, 2010
The big Swede came to the CHL to test his physical game against the toughest kids in North America and held his own all season long. He even earned grudging respect for his strength along the boards and his ability to lay out fearsome hits. While dropping the gloves was sometimes a painful learning experience, what he lacks in technique he makes up for with brute strength and an ability to shrug off a punch. Although he didn’t score all season, his first goal came in a crucial playoff encounter and he has added three assists in eight playoff games. While his first WHL season was an adjustment at times, he remains an exciting prospect due to his size and toughness.
Tanner Lane, RW, Fargo Force
Acquired: 6th round, 160th overall, 2010
A prolific scorer in high school, Lane has found the scoring opportunities in the USHL to be harder to come by. In 57 games, Lane has tallied just four times and added nine assists while rating a minus-seven on the year. Due to join the University of Nebraska-Omaha next season, Lane has good size and quick hands however he remains a long-term project and his development has taken a step back in the past season.
Vinny Saponari, RW, Dubuque Fighting Saints
Acquired: 4th round, 94th overall, 2008
On a one-year sabbatical in the USHL, Saponari has worn a letter for the Fighting Saints and been laying out opportunities for his younger teammates all season long. Playing alongside 16 year old wunderkind Zemgus Gurgensons and 17 year old scoring sensation John Gaudreau, Saponari has dished out 46 assists in 56 games and added 18 goals. The top seed in the Western Conference, Dubuque can anticipate a run for the Clark Cup and Saponari and his teammates confidently await the winners of the first round. Suspended from play by Boston University last season, Saponari plans to take his revenge on the Terriers when he suits up for the Boston College Eagles next season.
Peter Stoykewych, D, Des Moines Buccaneers
Acquired: 7th round, 199th overall, 2010
The rangy blueliner from Winnipeg showed some flashes of potential this season with Des Moines, scoring five goals and adding 10 assists while moving the puck well and using his size and mobility to good effect. Playing for a team that struggled to score goals all season long, Stoykewych was able to generate some offense from the back playing on the second PP unit. Committed to Colorado College next season, this long-term project should receive plenty of opportunity to develop the offensive side of his game with the Tigers high-octane attacking style.