The Atlanta Thrashers selected at their lowest
position ever, No. 10, in the 2004 Entry Draft, thanks to a best ever regular
season performance. The team made nine selections, one in each round,
including three defensemen, four wingers, one center and one goaltender. Four of
the nine picks were from the Ontario Hockey League, which has not been a popular
league for the team in the past. The increase can perhaps be explained by
the addition of a full-time OHL scout to the staff in 2003, Mark Hillier.
In addition, the team also drafted their first player out of Slovakia in Juraj
Gracik. Below is an in-depth look at each player.
Boris Valabik, D
Weight: 210 lbs
1st round, 10th overall
Valabik left Slovakia to play for the OHL Kitchener Rangers in
2003-04 so he could play the more fitting North American game and get on a more
inside track to the NHL. He played for the Slovak Under 18 National Team in 2003 and
2004 and in the 2004 CHL Top Prospects game.
He might be the meanest European defenseman to ever come over to the OHL.
Valabik uses his 6’7 frame to make life miserable for opposing forwards. He had
18 fighting majors in 2003-04. His makes a good first pass and has good shot
Thrashers GM Don Waddell said about Valabik at the draft, “(He’s) obviously is a guy we had our eye on for a long time. We really felt we needed that another big physical player back there on defense to protect our young players. He’s a great kid. I give him a lot of credit coming over here to North America as a Slovak player, not speaking English. He’s a real high character player.
He brings so much to the table with his size and reach. He might be OK in another two years to play for the team.
The guy they compare him to is (Zdeno) Chara at his age, they think he’s further ahead with skating and all that. We have a good history with this player, we liked him there (in Slovakia). Every time he went on the ice in Slovakia last year he’d get a penalty because of the way he played. He had to come to North America. It was the best move he made.”
An anonymous NHL scout told Hockey’s Future prior
to the draft, “He played at the U18
in Belarus but couldn’t really play his game because every time he touched
someone he went to the penalty box. I don’t see him being a top 10 pick,
people compare him to Chara but he doesn’t move the puck as well or skate as
well as Chara did at that age. His decision-making is a little suspect. He’s a
big guy who’s tough to play against and in front of the net he’s a
A second NHL scout offered another opposing
viewpoint. “I see a lot of similarities to Chara
except Chara moved the puck better. Valabik is a lot further away from moving
the puck at the level that Z was at the time. He’s way meaner and way tougher
than Chara was. Chara had to learn to fight and discovered he liked it but
Valabik just has a switch that goes off, he loves it. Off the ice you can’t
help but love him because he’s a wonderful, enthusiastic, well spoken and
proper man and yet the second he steps on the ice the switch flicks. There are
not many guys that have that ability. He’s got some ways to go with the puck
Valabik will remain with the Kitchener Rangers
for the 2004-05 season.
Grant Lewis, D
Weight: 190 lbs
2nd round, 40th overall
Lewis had an outstanding rookie year at Dartmouth where he amassed 25 points (3 goals, 22 assists) playing in all 34 games. His 25 points was the second highest points total among freshmen in a single season in Dartmouth history. He also led all Dartmouth defensemen in
points and his 22 assists tied him for first on the team in that category. He was twice named ECAC Rookie of the Week and earned a spot on the ECAC All-Rookie Team. He also earned a spot on the ECAC All-Conference First Team, the only freshman to do so. He was also the only freshman to be named to the All-Ivy League First Team as well as the New England Hockey Writers All-Star Team.
Prior to arriving at Dartmouth, Lewis played part of the 2002-03 season for the Pittsburgh Forge (NAHL) where he
had nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 50 games played. In the early part of the 2002-03 season, he played midget hockey. He was twice named to Mid-American teams (16 and 17-year-olds) that participated in the United States National Selects Festivals.
Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet said to Hockey’s Future about Lewis before the
draft, “He’s an offensive defenseman but he’s a solid defensive player as well. He was a kid that when he came in, we felt that he had real good abilities, but we were actually pleasantly surprised to see how quickly he developed. Just the feel for the game I think is probably his biggest asset. He’s a good skater with excellent lateral movement. He sees the ice tremendously well. He’s got real good hockey sense. He shows a lot of patience not only with the puck but defensively as well. He doesn’t run around a lot. He is a smart passer and his shots get to the net. He has a good point shot as well as a good wrist shot. He has the ability to put the puck on people’s sticks. He played on our top power play unit this year. He is a guy that hits and finishes his checks. He’s got a side to him that likes to mix it up. He’s also a tough kid in that he’ll play through injuries (just as he did in the ECAC playoffs). He’s got a good frame, but he’s not physically mature yet, but he’s getting there. He’s worked really hard and continues to work hard in getting physically stronger. As he gets stronger, he will be even more dominating and a real physical presence on the blueline.”
Thrashers GM Don Waddell said about Lewis at the 2004 draft, “Grant Lewis had a good freshman year. We like his program there, we like what the coach does there with the players, they’ve had other first round picks there, other pretty good players there, prospects. You draft college players and you let them just develop. He has great hockey sense, good individual skill. Lewis will be an offensive defenseman in the NHL. He’s going to run your power play for sure.”
Lewis will remain with Cornell for the 2004-05
Scott Lehman, D
Weight: 194 lbs
3rd round, 76th overall
Lehman was named to the OHL All-Rookie Second Team in
2002-03, but beyond that honor was little known going into the 2004 draft.
Although the pick meant that the team selected all defensemen on Day 1, they
Thrashers GM Don Waddell said this about Lehman at the 2004 draft, “Scott Lehman is a good two-way defenseman that finishes his checks, plays hard. Again defense is always where everyone starts to look. We had him rated a lot higher. The plan wasn’t to take three defensemen in our first three picks, but when the player is there and you had him ranked about 20 spots higher, you couldn’t go by him.”
St. Michael’s OHL
St. Michael’s OHL
Lehman will remain with Toronto St. Michael’s for 2004-05.
Chad Painchaud, LW
Weight: 172 lbs
4th round, 106th overall
The Thrashers did not own the 106th overall pick
going into the draft. On Sunday morning they acquired the pick from the
Carolina Hurricanes and selected Chad Painchaud, the first non-defenseman in the
Painchaud was an OHL rookie in 2003-04. He was invited to the 2004 CHL Top Prospects game for the
40 best 2004 eligibles from the CHL’s three leagues. In the skills competition he won the 150’ dash and finished fourth in the puck control drill.
He continued his strong play throughout the rest of the season and finished
sixth in the OHL for rookie scoring for the regular season, and fifth for the playoffs. He proved himself to be a great two-way winger as well, easily leading the IceDogs in plus/minus.
His +23 rating during the regular season led all OHL rookies.
Painchaud is a capable two-way winger with a never-quit attitude, excellent
skating, and he has a decent shot with good playmaking ability and vision.
Painchaud has fantastic acceleration and when he does find some open ice he is very fast. That, combined with his good puck control,
leads to rushes along the outside, finished with a direct route to the net to shoot or pass off late.
Even with his speed and skill, Painchaud is not a soft player by any means. He has a feistiness that shows he is a determined competitor, and he is not afraid to drop the gloves, though it happened a few more times in the playoffs when intensity and emotions ran higher. But even with fighting minutes, his regular season and playoff total for penalty minutes was only 48.
About the only obvious downside to Painchaud is his size. He’s quite small, but he still plays bigger than his playing weight. Another drawback is that sometimes he can become invisible in games outside of his own end, watching plays develop and waiting for something to happen instead of initiating offensive opportunities.
Thrashers GM Don Waddell said of Painchaud on draft day, “(He’s) a hard nosed forward. He’s going to score goals, but he’s also a tough kid, gritty forward, two-way player that is only going to get better. He had a good year this year for his first year, a young player in the OHL and is only going to get better.”
Painchaud has a chance to be a good second-line winger, or at least a third liner at the
pro level in a few years, but will have to get stronger first. He will
remain with Mississauga for the 2004-05 season.
Juraj Gracik, RW
Weight: 187 lbs
5th round, 142nd overall
Gracik started out the year with Topolcany’s junior club, where he put up a near goal-a-game pace. This got him a quick promotion to the senior club (1st division), and Gracik continued to demonstrate his scoring acumen as he played games for both the senior and junior clubs. He finished with 17 goals in 29 games for the senior team (including one hat-trick), and 22 goals in 29 games for the junior squad. Amongst all of that activity, he was starring on the top line for the Slovakian squads at the Viking Cup, the Four-Nations tournament, and World Under-18 Championships.
Gracik is a ‘shoot first and ask questions’ later type of power forward. He is not afraid to let off his quick-release shot from anywhere and everywhere, and he has demonstrated a natural nose for the net. He has the skill level that is expected of a Slovakian-trained forward, and has excellent puck control in tight quarters.
Gracik is somewhat of a fitness nut who has a strict off-ice regimen that has helped him develop incredible lower-body strength. He uses this strength to his advantage and opposing defenders have an awful time trying to keep him away from their goal area. His off-ice work ethic extends onto the ice as well, and he is a player that will quickly fall into any coach’s good books. Gracik should be able to add on the additional upper body weight that NHL scouts have said is lacking.
On the downside, Gracik is not much of a playmaker, and has a hard time creating chances (other than his own rebounds) for his linemates. He is at his best when paired with a playmaking center, and this aspect of his game is remarkably similar to countryman Richard Zednik. Unlike Zednik, Gracik does not possess breakaway speed, and will always do his best work in the lower third of the
As long as Gracik is paired with a skilled playmaker, his work ethic, nose for the net, and shooting acumen give Gracik a good chance at succeeding at the pro level.
Thrashers GM Don Waddell said of Gracik on draft day, “Gracik is a real talented European
player. Real skilled, high end player that’s going to be a top six forward. Great individual skill. Young, going to have to develop.”
Thrashers European scout Bernd Freimüller on draft day said, “Gracik is a potential power forward. Played this year in the second level, senior Slovak league. Scored tons of goals. He had a four-goal game and in the junior league he had a six-goal game. He played all the time, three to four games a week. Got a little tired towards the end. But scored tons, close to 20 goals in the senior league. Tall, pretty competitive, good around the net. No problems with the physical game. Has to work a little bit on his skating, although it’s fine. And his decision-making has to get better, but I like him. I saw him with the national team Under 18, Minsk was not his best tournament, but he played some good tournaments. He came over with the national team in December to North America, played here very well too.”
An anonymous NHL scout told Hockey’s Future prior
to the draft, “He needs to work on his skating. He’s got a big body and he uses it well down low.”
Another said, “Gracik was certainly good and he’s a big kid. There’s something about his skating that doesn’t make it attractive and you wonder if he’s got first step and all out speed and yet he gets to it all the time. I don’t know if he’s a natural finisher but he can score goals.”
Gracik has adapted very quickly to the pro game in Slovakia, but could benefit from a move to the CHL to see how his game translates in the smaller surface.
He has been selected in the CHL Import
Draft by Tri-Cities, but may stay in Slovakia next year.
Dan Turple, G
Weight: 210 lbs
6th round, 186th overall
Turple was traded from Kingston to Oshawa in November 2003, which did him a world of good as his numbers improved dramatically. He also played well in the OHL playoffs, playing all seven games for the Generals, posting a 2.57 GAA with one shutout, and a .922 save percentage.
Thrashers GM Don Waddell said of him on draft
day, “Turple is a big 6’5 goalie that our guys like a lot. He takes up a lot of net. There’s not a lot of room when you’re shooting there. I watched him late in the year. He’s a 19-year-old player and you hope that his development continues. We’re very lucky to have a guy like Lehtonen, but these young goalies, you draft them and they take time. Let them finish out their junior career, turn pro and then let them take a step up.”
Turple will likely continue with Oshawa in 2004-05.
Miikka Tuomainen, RW
Weight: 210 lbs
7th round, 204th overall
Whereas most talented players in Turku play for the powerhouse TPS, Tuomainen has remained loyal to the second tier organization TuTo. The organization does have a first-tier junior B team, so he skipped the junior A level entirely and split the 2003-04 season between junior B and men’s second tier. A Viking Cup winner in 2004, Tuomainen has been a national team regular.
To no one’s surprise, the big and burly winger drew more attention among NHL scouts than his equals on international ice have. A decent skater for his size, Tuomainen has been able to score often enough to warrant his role and hype. His potential isn’t impressive, and one shouldn’t expect more than a utility player out of him.
Thrashers GM Don Waddell said of him on draft day, “Tuomainen is a big power forward from Finland. What we’ve seen so far of this player, we think he’s going to be in the National Hockey League in the next couple years. He can really skate. He’s an effective player, a forechecker.”
Thrashers European scout Bernd Freimüller on draft day said of Tuomainen, “He’s a banger, a physical player. A grinder, very good size. Typical Finnish player really. Doesn’t back down from anybody. Always a physical component for the Under 18 national team, had a very good second half of the season. Also played with the national team here in December in North America, played very well, even had a hat-trick game, but he’s more of a grinder, don’t expect too much scoring from him. He also played in the Finnish second level, senior league, and he will continue to do so. He’s a physical player. His hands are good enough, but we don’t tag him as a scorer.”
Moving across the pond “prematurely” would make more sense for Tuomainen than for most, as he could turn himself into a North American type that way. Men’s second tier is still a most suitable level for him in 2004-05, and when the need arises, transfer to another team is no big obstacle.
Mitch Carefoot, C
Weight: 210 lbs
8th round, 237th overall
In his rookie season at Cornell he amassed seven points (six goals, one assist) in 31 games played. In the 2002-03 season, Carefoot played for the Salmon Arm Silverbacks (BCHL) where he amassed 55 points (19 goals, 36 assists) in 56 games played.
Carefoot is a forward with very good size who has the potential to become a very good defensive forward. He uses his size very well and plays with good amount of grit. He utilizes his large frame particularly well in areas such as providing screens in front of opposing goaltenders, clearing the front of his own net and shot blocking. He is a decent skater with good acceleration. His play along the boards and down low is also quite good. He possesses a quick release. He is good in penalty killing situations and reads plays well. His passing and overall puck skills are also good.
Thrashers GM Don Waddell said of Carefoot on draft day, “Carefoot is in his second year at Cornell. We have a lot of history with him prior to going to Cornell this year. He didn’t play a whole lot this year as a freshman. He’s at a very good program there, we’ve had other kids at Cornell like Stephen Baby. Talking to the coach, they’re relying on him to play a big role on the team which we is important to us to know what the coaching staff thinks about players. We’ll see where he is three years from now.”
Carefoot will likely finish out his college eligibility at Cornell.
Matthew Siddall, RW
Weight: 205 lbs
9th round, 270th overall
Siddall was the oldest player selected by the
Thrashers, turning 20 in September. He spent the 2003-04 season with Powell River of the
Siddall is a solidly built guy, strong on his skates and good at protecting the puck. He’s a good
hitter, a power forward type player. Siddall is good at banging home rebounds, but
doesn’t have a great deal of puck skill or defensive awareness. He’s also known to take selfish
penalties. Very inconsistent player, but he was a better, much more aggressive player in 2003-04 than the year before.
Thrashers GM Don Waddell said of Siddall on draft day, “A big kid, he only played 45 games this year, he had some injuries, but 60-some points, 200 some minutes. He’s a 6’3 player that is going to be a project, but he’s got some pretty raw skill to begin with. He’s going to a pretty good program, that I’m pretty familiar with, with a pretty good coach that develops players. You put him in there and he’s got four years. We have four years before we have to make a decision on him. If he’s ready to turn pro before, fine, but if not, you put him there and you’re talking about a ninth round pick who has a chance of playing.”
Siddall will be a freshman at Northern Michigan University in 2004-05.
DJ Powers, Jes Golbez Ursulak, Glen Jackson,
Jason Ahrens, Jay Thompson, Brian Weidler and Pekka Lampinen contributed to this report.
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