Thrashers AHL prospects update

By Holly Gunning

Eleven Atlanta Thrashers prospects are currently assigned to the Chicago Wolves. Below is an update on their respective seasons.

Goaltenders

Kari Lehtonen – Thanks to better conditioning and lack of injury, Lehtonen is playing a much higher percentage of the Wolves games this season. He is third in minutes played in the league this season at 2032:07, behind only Maxime Ouellet of Portland and Ryan Miller of Rochester.
Lehtonen has had some bad games, but overall his numbers are good, almost exactly what they were last year: 2.35 GAA and .927 save percentage in 35 games, compared to a 2.41 GAA and .926 save percentage in 2003-04. The difference, however, is that the team in front of him is simply not as good as last season. The Wolves are in second place in their division, with much thanks to their No. 1 goaltender.

Michael Garnett – Last season Garnett played in 13 games with the Wolves and put up respectable numbers, a 2.63 GAA and .914 save percentage. This season he has really struggled at times, and currently has a 3.31 GAA and .903 save percentage in nine games. If the NHL lockout ends soon, Lehtonen would be gone and Garnett would be left in Chicago. He needs to play better starting right now to demonstrate that he can handle the added responsibility, and not cause Chicago to look elsewhere for help.

Defense

Paul Flache – The move to the AHL has definitely suited Paul Flache. Last season’s nine-game stint eased his transition and feeling more confident to step up into the play as he likes to do, he’s now third on the team in scoring among defensemen with 14 points in 41 games. Flache is playing key roles on both special teams and recently has been paired with Kyle Rossiter at even strength. Effective and physical on defense, he has the highest plus/minus among Thrashers prospects on the team at +3.

Brian Sipotz – The 6’6 Sipotz has improved by leaps and bounds in the past several months and is playing a key role on the Wolves blueline. The rookie out of Miami has been playing much of his time with Tim Wedderburn. Sipotz manages to be physical and effective without taking a lot of penalties, only 17 in 39 games. His style is that of a much bigger Chris Tamer, including the tendency to chip the puck out of the zone off the glass rather than look for a pass. Because of this, it’s no wonder that his point totals are so low. With four points on the season, he has almost matched his career totals at Miami of five points.

Libor Ustrnul – Ustrnul has once again had an injury-plagued season, suffering a concussion in November. He has two assists on the season in 27 games and is –2 with 35 penalty minutes. He’s not yet back in the line-up. He desperately needs this season to get his development back on track.

Jeff Dwyer – Dwyer has suffered a nagging groin injury all season, coming back now three times from the injury. He disappeared in the third period of Saturday’s game and did not play on Sunday, so it’s likely he’s injured again. The 24-year-old’s first priority will be getting healthy before the season passes him by. When Dwyer has played, he has been given a good deal of ice time, on both special teams. In nine games he has two assists and is –1.

Forwards

Derek MacKenzie – MacKenzie’s 2004-05 season has seen a step back offensively. He has 18 points in 43 games compared to 35 points in 63 points in 2003-04. He continues to log a lot of minutes, especially on the penalty kill. The 23-year-old continues to play smart and use his quickness, sharing second in the league with three short-handed goals. His recent linemates have been Karl Stewart and Brian Maloney.

Karl Stewart – Stewart bulked up over the summer, but it’s hurt his game more than helped him. A small player who relied on speed for his opportunities, Stewart has lost some quickness with his added weight. The 5’10 forward’s offensive production is down, with only 15 points in 44 games. In fact, he went 16 games without scoring any points. Last season Stewart had 42 points in 72 games. He has matched last season’s goal total as last year however, at 10. Added to this, he is –4, the worst on the team. Stewart could develop into a good pest, but right now takes more penalties than he draws, currently with 163. He leads the league with 44 minor penalties, not something to be proud of. He’s been playing on a line with Derek MacKenzie and Brian Maloney, and on the penalty kill.

Colin Stuart – A rookie out of Colorado College, Stuart has not seen much ice time with the Wolves. He has two assists in 18 games and is even. Sent to the Gwinnett Gladiators for five games in January, Stuart is now back with the Wolves and in the line-up.

Stephen Baby – Baby is smoother in both skating and puckhandling than he was last year, his rookie year. His offensive production is way down, however, from 26 points in 68 games with the Wolves last year to five points in 42 games this year. He has been seeing time with Kip Brennan and Kevin Doell. Baby has nearly matched his penalty minute total from all of last year as he’s taken on some of the duties on a team that lacks a true enforcer.

Kevin Doell – The eight games Doell played with the Wolves last season were not enough to prepare him for the transition full-time to the AHL this year, where he has struggled. The 5’11 center looks overmatched on the ice, trying to survive the AHL, not compete in it. The 25-year-old isn’t nearly as effective at this level as he was in the ECHL, where he won the Rookie of the Year award. He’s been playing on a line with Stephen Baby and Kip Brennan, and some on the penalty kill. Doell has finally started scoring, with 10 points in 39 games.

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