Atlanta Thrashers’ 2002 Draft Preview

By Holly Gunning

With the Thrashers system currently well-stocked with
prospects, this is the first entry draft that is not
“mission critical” for the Thrashers. The team has
finally entered the stage in its development when
what’s happening on the ice is more critical than the
draft itself. Therefore the fact that the 2002 entry
draft is considered by many to be weak should not
adversely effect the Thrashers for the future.

Despite finishing in last place, the team holds the
second overall pick in the draft, the result of
Florida winning the April draft lottery. Although the
draft may be weak, there are a few good players at the
top, which may make the second overall pick all the
more valuable. Last year when the Thrashers held the
first pick, they were in the driver’s seat. This
year, the second pick will cause them to be more
reactive than proactive with their decision-making,
whether it be regarding which player to take, or what
kind of trade they can make for it. GM Don Waddell
favors trading the pick for a player(s) who can make
an impact right away, but he might have to wait to
make such a trade until the day of the draft, when it
becomes clear what Florida will do with its pick.

This is Don Waddell’s fourth entry draft in his tenure
as Thrashers GM. His first round picks have largely
been no-brainers to this point, Stefan in 1999,
Heatley in 2000 and Kovalchuk in 2001. Where Waddell
has shined has been in the late rounds, picking up
2002 AHL Playoff MVP Pasi Nurminen in the 6th round
(2001), and Darcy Hordichuk, later traded for Kirill
Safronov and Ruslan Zainullin, in the 6th round
(2000). In fact, Nurminen worked out so well for the
Thrashers that it would not be surprising to see them
take more over-age Europeans, especially given that
the team could use immediate help.

The general draft philosophy of the Thrashers is to
draft for speed, skill, and character. Waddell puts
emphasis on character, noting that high character
players are self-motivated thus more likely to excel.
The team also tends to cover a lot of bases in each
given draft, taking at least one player from every
position. Expect the Thrashers to continue this
trend, which means taking another goaltending
prospect, likely later in the draft.

The Thrashers system is well-stocked with defensive
defensemen, checking line forwards, and centers.
Thus, the greatest needs for the upcoming draft are
scoring wingers and offensive defensemen. The most
likely scenarios for the first round pick are trading
it, selecting Nash, and selecting Lehtonen, in that
order (assuming Bouwmeester selected first).