Thrashers Draft Review Part 2 — The Picks

By Matt Gunning

An overall analysis of the 2002 Draft was done in Part 1 of this series of articles. This article will focus on each pick individually.

Kari Lehtonen, G
6’3" 190 lbs
1st Round, 2nd Overall
Jokerit, Finnish Elite League

With the second overall selection the Thrashers took the player they had rated number one on their list. Finnish goaltender Kari Lehtonen posted phenomenal numbers (1.79 GAA .941 SV%) last year playing against men in Finland’s best hockey league. Lehtonen improved upon those numbers (1.17 GAA .943 SV%) at the World Junior Championships playing against players his own age. He capped off his season by leading Jokerit to the Finnish Elite League Championship and winning the playoff MVP award. It is difficult to see what Lehtonen could have done better in his draft eligible year.

Central Scouting describes Lehtonen as “a tall goaltender with impressive quickness and excellent reflexes.” He is primarily a stand up goaltender but he “plays a very strong butterfly when needed.” His style has been compared to Nikolai Khabibulin by some scouts.

Given this high praise it might be tempting to bring him straight to the NHL. Lehtonen himself indicated a desire to play in the league as soon as next year. However, he will need to adjust to the North American language, culture, smaller rinks and style of play. So it is not surprising that Thrashers GM Don Waddell has indicated that Lehtonen would probably start off playing in Chicago (AHL). Nevertheless the Thrashers indicated that they think he is close to playing in the league. 

Jim Slater, C
6’0" 190 lbs
1st Round, 30th Overall
Michigan State University, CCHA

Slater was a player that the organization had been targeting for some time, as Waddell had mentioned his name earlier in the spring. He was acquired with a pick acquired from Columbus.

Prior to last season, Slater played for the Cleveland of North American Junior Hockey. There he posted outstanding offensive numbers, piling up 61 goals and 87 assists over two seasons (104 games played). In 2001-02, he continued to post solid numbers playing for hockey powerhouse Michigan State University in the competitive Central Collegiate Hockey Association. He posted 9 goals and 18 assists over 32 games played and racked up 48 penalty minutes. He made his collegiate debut at the “Cold War” game between MSU and U of M where he scored two points, including the tying goal, earning the MSU Player of the Game Award.

Slater was Michigan State’s first line center, playing between upperclassmen Adam Hall and Brian Maloney. Slater said that “playing with Hall and Maloney and on the power play and killing penalties is more than I expected.” Legendary MSU coach Ron Mason said of Slater, “when he’s on his game, he’s got great speed…he’s got the two or three gears that most great players have.” Slater still could improve in some areas, Coach Mason; “Where he has to improve is in understanding the game. He’s been able to do so many things with his physical skills, but at this level it’s different. You have to learn what you can do and what you can’t do and how to play without the puck.” As for the origins of Slater’s physical banging style, “When I was growing up, I was usually the smallest player on the team and I got banged around a lot…then when I got taller and bigger, I started banging people around. I really like that style" (Lansing State Journal 3/21/02). Perhaps not surprising for the son of an NFL lineman.

Scouts love Slater’s competitive attitude and his solid two-way game. While he lacks size or elite skill, he has a solid combination of skills. Slater is an all-purpose forward who can play both the power play and penalty kill, he can score, take key faceoffs and will block shots. Central Scouting described him using the following phrases: “A very good skater with tremendous acceleration and impressive breakaway speed…a tenacious forechecker who is very aggressive around the opposition’s net… a highly motivated player and an honest worker.”

The upside of Slater is probably something like a Mike York. A strong two-way second line center who can score 20 goals a year and put up 50-60 total points while playing on both special team units, posting a good plus/minus and winning big faceoffs. If Patrick Stefan is moved or fails to develop, Slater could be the Thrashers number two pivot in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, he will return for his second year at Michigan State which has a excellent reputation for developing players.

Patrick Dwyer, RW
5’10" 170 lbs
4th Round, 116th Overall
Western Michigan University

Dwyer is a scoring forward who lacks both size and weight. At 5’10” 170 the odds against him becoming an effective NHL player are long. Dwyer was rated rather low by Central Scouting which placed him as the 166th North American skater. Dwyer amassed nearly a point per game last year totaling 33 points in 36 contests. Before coming to Western Michigan Dwyer played for Great Falls, Montana in the American West Hockey League. He won the league MVP and finished second in league scoring with 33G 57A 90Pts in just 49 games. Dwyer won the rookie of the year award in the CCHA for 2001-02.

While it is clear that Dwyer has a good scoring touch, his size makes him a real longshot. Players his size usually need some outstanding quality in order to make it in the NHL. Time will tell whether this pick will pan out.

Lane Manson, D
6’8" 225 lbs
4th Round 124th Overall
Moose Jaw, WHL

The most obvious thing about Lane Manson is that he simply huge. At 6’8” he is one of the largest players ever drafted by a NHL club (tallest in this draft). He was rated as the 167th North American skater by Central Scouting. He totaled 7 points and 88 penalty minutes over 67 games for Moose Jaw. Most very large defensemen take a while to develop and there is nothing to indicate otherwise for Manson. Expect him to remain in juniors until his eligibility runs out.

Paul Flache, D
6’6" 205 lbs
5th Round 144th Overall
Brampton OHL

Flache was originally selected by Edmonton 152nd overall in the 2000 Entry Draft, but went unsigned and back into the draft. He put up some very nice numbers totaling 9 goals, 35 assists and 148 PIM in 68 games for Brampton last year. His best assest is his size. For someone his size, he is fairly mobile. He is uses his size effectively. He handles the puck decently, and importantly, he also possesses a rare right-handed shot.

Brad Schell, C
6’0" 172 lbs
6th Round 167th Overall
Spokane WHL

There was no consensus on Schell heading into the 2002 draft. He was ranked as the 29th North American by Central Scouting, but other rankings varied widely. The descrepancies continue in the narrative reports on him, worse than the normal amount. Central Scouting called him "a very good skater…has exceptional passing skills and sees the ice very well…has a quick accurate shot…a hard worker."

He plays the point on the power play. His biggest drawback is lack of physical play. He made major strides in his 2nd season for Spokane, although a broken bone in his foot kept him out of the playoffs.

Schell likely lacks the skill to play on the top two lines, so he will need to bulk up and improve his physical play in order to be an asset to the Thrashers 3rd or 4th line.

Nathan Oystrick, D
5’11" 195 pounds
7th Round 198th Overall
South Surrey BCHL (Tier II Juniors)

Oystrick is a fearless, hard-hitting defenseman who blocks shots and gets into the occasional fight. He quarterbacks the power play and plays on the penalty kill. Oystrick’s favorite NHL player is Scott Stevens, so this is presumably who he models his game after. He is also the captain of his team. The areas of concern to scouts include his quickness and lack of size.

Oystrick fell from 103th North American skater to 135th in the rankings last year.

Right now Oystrick is a star in his league, a big fish in a small pond. This fall he will attend Northern Michigan, which will allow him to test his abilities against a higher level of competition. If Oystrick passes this test, he should have a decent chance of making the NHL.

Colton Fretter, RW
5’10" 187 pounds
8th Round 230th Overall
Chatham WJHL (Tier II Juniors)

Fretter is a natural goal scorer who excels at finding open space. He’s good in traffic and around the net. The one knock on him is that he does not play a very gritty game. Skating used to be a knock as well, but he has improved greatly in this area. He will attend Michigan State in 2002-03.

Tyler Boldt, D
6’1" 185 pounds
8th Round 236th Overall
Kamloops WHL

Boldt came up through junior hockey as an offensive defenseman, but has become stronger in his own end recently, since he was not asked to fill an offensive role. So his offensive abilities are probably more than his numbers indicate. He has a strong shot and his skating is good. Willing to get involved physically. Strong work ethic. Models his game after Scott Niedermeyer and Darryl Sydor, because they were "good with the puck and strong in the defensive zone." Played for Canada in the Under-18 World Championships in 2001, winning the gold medal.

Pauli Levokari, D
6’5" 226 pounds
8th Round 257th Overall
IFK Helsinki Finnish Elite League

Levokari is huge, but doesn’t seem to have a whole lot more going for him. He’s not physical enough and doesn’t skate well, not surprising for a large man. At age 24, he’ll have to turn his game around quickly to ever have a shot in the NHL. This is a questionable pick by the Thrashers, probably made on a gut feeling by the Finnish scout.

Holly Gunning contributed to this article. Comments and questions are welcomed on the HFBoards .