Thrashers NCAA prospects update

By Adrian Barclay





Mitch Carefoot, C, Cornell – round 8 #237 overall 2004 NHL Entry Draft







The Atlanta Thrashers have always leaned heavily on
the NCAA for the development of their draft picks. In 2004-05, the Thrashers have
13 picks competing in the league, striving to join the ever improving NHL team
when the league returns.

 

The player having the most success at the NCAA level
so far this season is Colorado
College
winger Brett Sterling. The diminutive Californian
has continued the sniping ways that he is famous for, ranking second in the
country in points, behind only his teammate Marty Sertich.  Sterling
has already posted 15 goals and 15 assists in his first 18 games, a remarkable
clip of 1.67 points per game. Sterling
has always had to battle to overcome the perception that comes with his
5’7 frame, going unranked by Central Scouting in his draft year. Sterling responded the
only way he knows how – scoring goals. As a freshman at CC in 2002-03, Sterling scored 27 goals
and was named in the all WCHA rookie team, as well as making the Team USA squad
for the WJC that year. He followed that season with 16 goals as a sophomore,
and was named again for Team USA
at the WJC, this time scoring three goals in helping them to the title.

 

Without the interruption to his season of playing for
the USA, Sterling will be hoping to continue his high-scoring
ways. He has already passed his best career mark in assists, and his nine power
play goals and four game winning goals lead the country.

 

One team particularly enjoying the production of Atlanta draft picks is Michigan State,
with their top two scorers being junior Colton
Fretter
and Jim
Slater
. After scoring just 22 and 17 points in his first two seasons,
Fretter has already powered to 19 points in 17 games, with a team-leading nine
goals, including four with the man advantage. Fretter
is combining with Anaheim draft pick Drew
Miller
and freshman Chris Mueller
on what is being dubbed the ‘er’ line, currently the hot hands on
the team.

 

Fretter is joined at Michigan State
by highly touted 2002 pick Jim Slater. Despite currently sitting second in team
points with 18, Slater has struggled to score goals, with only six despite
having a team high 71 shots. Serving as captain for the second year at the
Spartans, Slater will definitely be looking to dent the twine more often in the
second half of the season. His usual contribution goes beyond just scoring, as
he is well known for his good two-way game, along with solid playmaking skills
and plenty of physical edge. However, he is tied for the worst plus/minus on
the team, at -8. Slater is coming off a career best 19 goals and 29 assists in
2003-04.

 

Another Thrasher prospect with the big C on his
sweater is Western Michigan’s Pat Dwyer. Dwyer is in his senior year
with the Broncos, and is one of their steady point producers and makes major
contributions away from the scoresheet. Despite his relatively small stature at
5’11, Dwyer gives plenty of effort in the corners and chasing loose
pucks. He is also known as a good playmaker, and currently has four goals to
add to his nine assists. Dwyer’s best offensive season came in his
freshman year, when he posted 17 goals and 17 assists in 38 games. The Atlanta organization will
be hoping that Dwyer projects as a solid role player in the future.

 

Also in great offensive form for his school is Michigan’s Milan Gajic. Through 18 games, Gajic
sits third amongst his talented teammates with eight
goals and ten assists. With five players missing from the Wolverines squad
whilst competing for Team USA at the WJC starting on Christmas Day, senior
Gajic will be expected to help carry the load in their absence. Michigan returns to
action at the 40th annual Great Lakes Invitational starting on
December 29 against Michigan Tech. The Vancouver native is well positioned to
better his career best of 33 points (13 goals, 20 assists) that he achieved in
2003-04, with ten more points than he had at the same point last season. One
area needing improvement from Gajic is his defensive responsibility, as he currently
has a team worst -1 rating.

 

University
of Maine

hero Mike Hamilton continues to improve
his game in 2004-05. As a freshman last season, Hamilton
posted the overtime winner against Wisconsin
in the NCAA East Regional final, and followed that 12 days later with two
assists in Maine’s 2-1 Frozen Four
semi-final win against Boston
College
. The Black Bears
are a long way from last season’s 33-8-3 record, with only 10 wins at the
Christmas break, but Hamilton’s
game has improved overall. He is currently seventh in team scoring with two
goals and seven assists in 17 games.

 

Recent years has seen the Thrashers draft many
promising young defensemen, headlined by eighth overall pick in 2003 Braydon Coburn. The college ranks are home to
some of these future stars, including big 6’3 Dartmouth defenseman Grant Lewis. Lewis rocketed into view as a freshman in 2003-04,
when he posted three goals and 22 assists, making him team points
leader amongst freshmen and defensemen, as well as equal leader in assists.
Many accolades followed his rookie year, as Lewis was named in the ECAC
All-Rookie team, as well as being the only freshman named in the ECAC
All-Conference First Team and the All-Ivy League First team. Despite these
achievements, the Thrashers were able to watch 39 players get picked ahead of
him at the 2004 draft, snapping him up with the 40th pick. This
season Lewis has compiled just the two goals and two assists for the
offensively weak Dartmouth,
making him second amongst team defensemen, but only four points behind the team
lead.

 

Another offensively gifted defensemen performing well
so far is Nathan Oystrick for Northern Michigan. Oystrick had a great sophomore year in
2003-04, where he posted eight goals and 20 assists, making him second on the
team in points. His offensive abilities do not come at the expense of his
defensive duties, posting +11 so far this season through 16 games, following on
from a +5 last season. He has combined that with five goals and four assists,
giving him the team lead amongst defensemen in points. Don’t be fooled by
his five goals as being inflated power play numbers, all of Oystrick’s
goals have come at even strength.

 

Briefly

 

Golden Gopher defenseman Mike Vannelli has plenty of offensive talent, but suffers from a
lack of playing time amongst a strong group of defensemen at top ranked Minnesota. Vannelli has
one goal and one assist through 15 games…2004 draftee Mitch Carefoot has played just seven
games in his sophomore year at Cornell, but the center has already posted six
points (two goals, four assists)…Defensive forward Colin FitzRandolph is playing his senior year at St. Lawrence where
he has one goal and three assists, and is equal fourth in plus/minus with a
+3…Center Rylan Kaip began his
college career at the University of North Dakota this season, where he
currently has four assists…2004 ninth round pick Matt Siddall is performing well in his freshman year as a teammate of Nathan Oystrick at Northern Michigan. Siddall
is eighth in team scoring with six points (three goals, three assists) and is
fifth in PIM with 32.

 

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2004 Hockey’s Future.  Do not
duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.