Thrashers Top 20 Prospects

By Holly Gunning

1. Kari Lehtonen, G
Age: 19
Type of player: Franchise goalie
Drafted: 2nd overall 2002
Current team: Helsinki Jokerit (Finland)
Previous rank: n/a
Comment: There is no dispute that Lehtonen is the Thrashers best prospect. He’s currently
tearing up the Finnish Elite League with a GAA of 1.46 and a .946 save percentage. His North American debut next year cannot
come quickly enough for the Thrashers organization.

2. Garnet Exelby, D
Age: 21
Type of player: Tough defensive defenseman
Drafted: 217th overall 1999
Current team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Previous rank: 9
Comment: Exelby has always been tough to play against, but his overall game is
excellent as well. He’ll be a big part of the Thrashers defensive corps for many
years to come.

3. Kirill Safronov, D
Age: 21
Type of player: Two way defenseman
Current team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Drafted 19th overall, 1999 by Phoenix
Previous rank: 2
Comment: Safronov has all the skills to be a great defenseman, but makes a good
number of mental errors.

4. Kurtis Foster, D
Age: 20
Type of player: Offensive defenseman
Current team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Drafted: 40th overall in 2000 by Calgary
Previous rank: 4
Comment: Brilliant offensively, less steady in his own end. If he can improve
in this area, he’ll be golden.

5.Ilja Nikulin, D
Age: 20
Type of player: Defensive defenseman
Current team: Moscow Dynamo (Russia)
Drafted: 31st overall 2000
Previous rank: 3
Comment: He should make the jump to North America next season.

6. Jim Slater, C
Age: 19
Type of player: Two way center
Current team: Michigan State (CCHA)
Drafted: 30th overall, 2002
Previous rank: 7
Comment: Slater is scoring fairly consistently in his second year at MSU. He’s
excellent at faceoffs, winning 63% this year. That alone could help his chances
for the NHL in an organization severely lacking in that department.

7. Michael Garnett, G
Age: 19
Current team: Greenville Grrrowl (ECHL)
Drafted: 80th overall 2001
Previous rank: 6
Comment: The drafting of Lehtonen and a poor start in the ECHL have contributed
to Garnett’s falling stock.

8. Mark Hartigan, C
Age: 25
Type of player: Second line center
Current team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Drafted: Free Agent signed in March 2002
Previous rank: 4
Comment: Hartigan is having some trouble translating college scoring success into
pro success. Needs to work harder to get his icetime.

9. Ruslan Zainullin, RW
Age: 20
Type of player: Second line winger
Current team: Ak-Bars (Russia)
Drafted: 34th overall in 2000 by Tampa Bay
Previous rank: 8
Comment: Currently injured, it’s difficult to measure his progress this season.
He remains one of the most skilled prospects.

10. Tommi Santala, C/LW
Age: 23
Type of player: 2nd line winger
Current team: HPK (Finland)
Drafted: 245th overall in 1999
Previous rank: 10
Comment: He’s scoring at fairly good clip. Look for him to make the transition
to N. America next season.

11. Libor Ustrnul, D
Age: 20
Type of player: Defensive defenseman
Current team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Drafted 42nd overall 2000
Previous rank: 5
Comment: Ustrnul is not getting much icetime in Chicago.

12. Karl Stewart, LW
Age: 19
Type of player: Two way winger
Current team: Plymouth Whalers (OHL)
Drafted: Free agent signed 2001
Previous rank: 19
Comment: Stewart looked great in camp this year but was sent back to juniors
because he’s too young for the AHL. Only 19, he’ll turn pro next fall. Meanwhile,
he’s scoring up a storm in the OHL. An undrafted free agent, he might be one
of the Thrashers best finds.

13. Joe DiPenta, D
Age: 23
Type of player: Two way defenseman
Current team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Drafted: 61st overall in 1998
Previous rank: 11
Comment: Solid all around, he looks ready for the big show as a 5th or 6th
defenseman.

14. Patrick Dwyer, RW
Age: 19
Type of player: Scoring winger
Current team: Western Michigan (CCHA)
Drafted: 116th overall in 2002
Previous rank: 13
Comment: He’s scoring at a slightly lower clip than last year.

15. Jeff Dwyer, D
Age: 21
Type of player: Offensive defenseman
Current team: Yale (ECAC)
Drafted: 178th overall in 2000
Previous rank: 14
Comment: Dwyer is a junior at Yale. He’s not a lock to be signed upon graduation, but offensive defensemen are always valuable.

16. Zdenek Blatny, LW
Age: 21
Type of player: Two way winger
Current team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Drafted: 68th overall 1999
Previous rank: 15
Comment: Blatny is much improved over last year, playing a more consistent
all-around game.

17. Derek MacKenzie, C
Age: 21
Type of player: Checking center
Current team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Drafted: 128th overall 1999
Previous rank: 16
Comment: MacKenzie gives it all, all the time, and is very effective in his
role. Unfortunately for him, there are a lot of guys like him, most of whom
have more size and more offensive upside.

18. Colin Stuart, C/W
Age: 20
Type of player: Two way forward
Current team: Colorado College (WCHA)
Drafted: 135th overall in 2001
Previous rank: n/a
Comment: A superior skater, Stuart is scoring at a higher clip than last year.
He’s got another year of school left after this one.

19. Stephen Baby, RW
Age: 22
Type of player: Two way winger
Current team: Cornell University (ECAC)
Drafted: 188th overall in 1999
Previous rank: n/a
Comment: Baby continues to score at about a point a game pace. A senior, he may
or may not be signed to a contract next year, depending on space.

20. Simon Gamache, LW
Age: 21
Type of player: Scoring wing
Current team: Chicago Wolves (AHL)
Drafted: 290th overall 1999
Previous rank: 17
Comment: Gamache is finally getting somewhat regular playing time in the AHL,
and is starting to score (6 points in 11 games). While encouraging, he’s
still a longshot to make the NHL. He falls in the ranking due to increased depth in front of
him.

Summary:

Of the 20 top prospects listed, the leagues they are playing in break down
this way:
AHL: 9
College: 5
Europe: 4
ECHL: 1
OHL: 1

Positionally, the top 20 break down this way:
Defensemen: 7
Wings: 8
Centers: 3
Goalies: 2

For more information on each player, please see the profiles on the Thrashers
main page.

This ranking was a joint effort between Matt Gunning and Holly Gunning. Comments and questions are welcomed on the HF
Thrashers board
.