Thrashers Draft Review – Part 1 Overview

By Holly Gunning

The Thrashers talked trade going into the draft, but didn’t find a deal for the #2 pick which would adequately fill the immediate needs of the organization. Therefore, when it came their turn, they took Finnish goalie sensation Kari Lehtonen. The organization’s talk of trade served a good purpose nevertheless. Their perceived unpredictability enabled them to pick up extra picks from the Florida Panthers to pass on Jay Bouwmeester and take the player they had decided they were going to take anyway in Lehtonen. Lehtonen will likely return to Finland for 2002-03.

One of the biggest needs for the Thrashers this offseason was to find a center for the number one line of Dany Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk. They were able to solve this need on draft day by acquiring Slava Kozlov from Buffalo. Kozlov is a left wing, but by moving Heatley to center, GM Don Waddell thinks he can put together a potent top line. Importantly, Kozlov will also bring a veteran presence to a very young team, and as a fellow Russian, hopefully will serve as mentor to Kovalchuk. Even if he serves only this purpose, then it was a good trade for the Thrashers, who gave up only a third rounder and a swap of second rounders to acquire him.

The only other notable move that the Thrashers made in the draft was to acquire the #30 pick and select lass=”HFlinkstyle” id=”HFlink” href=”/prospects/jim_slater”>Jim Slater, a center out of Michigan State. Waddell has had his eye on this guy in particular for months, and made sure that he got him, while not overpaying for the opportunity. The Thrashers traded the 41st selection and the 96th selection for the 30th to select Slater. The impact of this selection is likely two years away.

The Thrashers 2002 draft class was 10 players large and included five defensemen, four forwards and one goaltender. The Thrashers continue to get even deeper at defense. Defensemen make up only 30% of a roster, but 48% of the prospects in the system are defensemen.

Size seemed to be the order of the day in this reportedly weak draft. Three defensemen taken are 6’5" or taller, including the tallest player in the draft, Lane Manson at 6’8". This continues a trend of taking towering defensemen, a trend started with Ilja Nikulin and Libor Ustrnul, and continued last year with Brian Sipotz. When the Thrashers roll the dice late in the draft, size is often the factor they decide to take a chance on.

Putting 2002 in Perspective

Waddell and chief scout Dan Marr now have four entry drafts under their belt at the helm of the Thrashers. At this point, tendencies in drafting can be noted: increasing age of draftees, heavy concentrations of draftees from certain leagues, and a fondness for Michiganders as well as twins.

Age of Draftees

Birth year does not of course match up perfectly with age of eligibility, but this is fine as a rough indicator of how far along this draft class is in its development. Of the ten 2002 picks, the years of birth broke down this way:
1978: 1
1982: 4
1983: 2
1984: 3

The youngest players taken were Brad Schell, Lane Manson, Tyler Boldt and Lehtonen. As predicted, the Thrashers did take one overaged European, Pauli Levokari, who is 24. The age breakdown for 2002 is about a half a year older than in 2001, and over one year older than in 1999 and 2000. The Thrashers draft classes have gradually gotten older each year.

Michigan connection

The Thrashers selected two players who play for Michigan colleges this year, Slater from Michigan State and Patrick Dwyer from Western Michigan. While these are the first draft picks from Michigan colleges, the organization has already shown a fondness for this demographic, a product, no doubt, of Don Waddell’s own background. Waddell grew up largely in Michigan and played for Northern Michigan back in the day. But he respects the programs of former rivals, acquiring players from teams all over the state. Thrasher players fitting this mold: Damian Rhodes and Andy Sutton (Mich Tech), Chris Tamer, David Harlock and Jason Botterill (U of Mich), Mike Weaver, Steve Guolla, Dean Sylvester and Kevin Adams (Mich State), JP Vigier and Ward (N. Mich). This works out to mean that almost 14 percent of all Thrasher players have had a Michigan college connection.

Solo twin

The Thrashers acquired another twin in the 2002 draft, but this time did not pick up both brothers. In 2000, the Thrashers drafted twins Mark and Matt McRae out of Cornell University. This time they drafted Paul Flache, who has a twin brother Peter. Both brothers were originally drafted in 2000, Paul by Edmonton and Peter by Chicago, but both went unsigned. Only Paul was redrafted this year. Interestingly though, Peter too has a Thrashers connection. He was drafted by Chicago in 2000 with a 9th round pick that was acquired from Atlanta for the rights to Ben Simon.

League of Origin for Thrasher Draftees (1999-2002)

From 1999-2002, 43 total draftees have been selected by the Thrashers. The leagues of origin break down this way.

Major Juniors: (19)
WHL: 11 players (including Blatny, who is Czech)
OHL: 6 (including Ustrnul, who is Czech)
QMJHL: 2

Europe: (10)
Finland: 4
Czech Rep: 3 (includes Stefan, drafted out of IHL, but not Blatny and Ustrnul)
Russia: 3

College: (9)
CCHA: 5
ECAC: 3
WCHA: 1

Lower juniors/high school: (5)
BCHL: 2
WJBHL: 1
USHL: 1
High School: 1

A few things are interesting when the data is broken down this way. First is the history of drafting a relatively large number of Finns, and the tendency to draft players out of the WHL over the other major junior leagues. Both Finland and the WHL are known for their gritty style of play. Even more interesting is that the Thrashers have never in their history drafted a player out of Sweden, despite the fact that Swedes make up about 6% of the draftees (using 2001 as a typical year). If the Thrashers selected at an average rate for Swedes, they would have drafted 2.53 Swedes by this point. There are two Swedes on the Thrashers roster, however, Per Svartvadet and Daniel Tjarnqvist, both acquired via trade.

Comments and questions are welcomed and encouraged on the Thrashers HFBoards . An article analyzing each selection in the 2002 draft will be forthcoming.