by Dan Perrault
The hockey season is 2 weeks from its start and the Thrashers have some big decisions to make. A lot of players are under close evaluation as the pre-season camp and games are currently undergoing. Ilya Kovalchuck, the team’s 1st choice and, 1st drafted overall in this year’s expansion draft, is impressing quite a few so far, and so is last year’s first pick for the Thrashers, (2nd overall) Dany Heatly.
The team lacks experience and most of the battles for spots on the team, will be between young guns. The only true veteran, leader Ray Ferraro, is most unlikely to reproduce the numbers he put up last year, one of his best season’s in his career. Someone needs to put up numbers for this team, who has many prospects.
Let’s take a look at every position and who stands a chance to make the team:
Tomi Kallio and Lubos Bartecko, are talented veterans who have a spot on the team. Dany Heatley, stands quite a big chance to make the team this season. He is much more talented than both Bartecko and Kallio, but possibly lacks experience. Scouts say he was the best sniper in the 2000 draft, and has shown fans on Monday, in an exhibition game, against Nashville, a small touch of what he can do. He scored 2 goals, including the game-winner in a 4-3 win over the Predators. Shean Donovan and Jeff Odgers should compete for the remaining spot on the team, unless Brad Tapper explodes with energy in the week to come.
Patrik Stefan, who was a top pick in the 1999 draft, has not showed what he is capable of doing yet. After 2 seasons in the NHL, he is quite disappointing, hopefully this season he can show us a bit more of talent. Ilya Kovalchuk, is the franchise player, the Thrashers have needed since their existence, 3 years ago. A hard checker, with amazing skills and a good shot, Kovalchuk is the nhl’s best prospect. Even though he has a bad attitude, he is still the key player in this organization. If he doesn’t make the team this season, then it will be another boring season for Atlanta fans. Other youngsters competing for spots on the left, include Zednek Blatny and Darcy Hordichuk. Hnat Domminecheli has a spot on the 2nd or 3rd line. He played last season with the Thrashers putting up 27 points in 63 games. He is capable of much better.
The center spots are pretty much complete. With the acquisitions of Bob Corkum and Tony Hrkac this summer, the chances for a prospect to make the team, are slim. Ray Ferraro and Andreas Karlsson have a spot on the 1st and 2nd line respectively. Kamil Piros and Simon Gamache are the only 2 decent centermen presenting themselves at camp this season. Although both of them are “long-shots”, the Thrashers signed Gamache to a three-year contract a few weeks ago, adding a $400,000 signing bonus. Gamache who was talked of a lot in Canada this season, (being junior player of the year in Canada) perhaps stands a chance if Hrkac or Karlsson don’t stand up to expectations or if a player gets injured through out the season. But him and Piros are worth the look. Many people argue on Gamache. Some say he was selected too late in the draft to ever become a key player in the NHL, while others say he could pop-up like Brad Richards did last season for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Gamache doesn’t stand a chance this season, but possibly next season, after he has developed properly, elsewhere.
Daniel Tjarnqvist is trying out for a spot on the blue line. The team already has a few decent defense like Slegr, Kaberle and Buzek. Last season was terrible on defense, when key defencemen were injured for most of the season. Tjarnqvist is 24 and he should step in quite soon. He’s got the skills to make a 4th or 5th defensemen.
This is one of the weak spots of this team. Not only is it weak in prospects at this position, but also on their pro roster. Damian Rhodes will have to prove that he is capable of stepping back as the number 1 goalie, after a year off. A goalie like Rhodes, in this situation would need a good back up. Milan Hnilicka proved he was capable of playing international level, but has yet to prove his skills in the NHL. Pasi Nurminen and Michael Garnett don’t stand a chance on making this year’s roster, unless Rhodes is injured once more.
The Thrashers have done a few changes and acquisitions over the summer. Andrew Brunnette, Steve Staios, Dean Sylvester and Donald Audette (traded in March 2001), were a big part of last season’s roster. In December of 2000, Don Wadell’s team, had the chance to make the playoffs, but from there, the team went on a loosing streak. Over the summer, in came, Lubos Bartecko, Bob Corkum, Tony Hrkac and Ilya Kovalchuk. If Kovalchuk makes the team and can lead this team like he claims he can, it will be the first good accomplishment of this team, in its short history. The team is all about youth. The team’s season will depend on which youngsters are selected on the team this season.
Don’t expect the Thrashers to make the playoffs, but do expect them to develop their prospects. Expect Kovalchuk and Heatley to make the team, along with Ustrnul and Blatny. Kovalchuk is a serious contender for rookie of the year.