Thrashers 2006 WJC preview

By Holly Gunning

The Atlanta Thrashers will likely have four prospects
participating in the 2006 World Junior Championships
in Vancouver, Kamloops and Kelowna, British Columbia,
held Dec. 26 – Jan. 5. All four are Europeans, three of whom are currently playing in the Canadian Hockey League.

Ondrej Pavelec is one of the three goaltenders
who will be in camp for the Czech Republic. He will
compete with Marek Schwarz, drafted 17th
overall in 2004 by the St. Louis Blues, and Radek
Fiala
, who was undrafted in 2004 and 2005.
Schwarz, 19, is regarded as the likely No. 1 despite
an inconsistent season with Sparta Praha. He returned
there this season after a year in the WHL, and is
7-8-0 with a .920 save percentage and 2.57 GAA.

The Czechs should not hesitate to use 18-year-old
Pavelec, however, who has been exceptional this season
for Cape Breton of the QMJHL. The rookie is first in
save percentage in the league at .927, third in goals
against at 2.51, and has a 15-10-0 record.

The Thrashers’ 41st overall pick in 2005, Pavelec
previously helped Czech Republic place fourth at 2005
World Under-18 Championships held in Ceske Budejovice
and Plzen, Czech Republic, notching 4-3-0 record, one
shutout, 2.05 GAA and .931 save percentage in seven
games. He ranked second among all tournament goalies
in GAA and third in save percentage.

Pavelec is one of a total of 15 Czech players in camp
who are playing in the CHL this season.

Defenseman Boris Valabik and right wing
Juraj Gracik are in camp for Slovakia.

Valabik, 19, is a lock to anchor the defense. The
Thrashers’ first round pick in 2004, he has four
points and 109 penalty minutes in 25 games with the
OHL Kitchener Rangers this season.

Valabik played on the Slovak team at 2005 World Junior
Championships in Grand Forks, N.D., and Thief River
Falls, Minn., notching one assist and 20 penalty
minutes in six games. The 6’6 blueliner also helped
Slovakia finish sixth at 2004 World Under-18
Championships, notching three assists and 26 penalty
minutes in six games.

Gracik, on the other hand, is not a lock, but is
likely to make the team. He will need to play well in
camp and in the exhibition games beginning early next
week. A fifth round pick in 2004, Gracik has 24
points in 29 games for the Tri-City Americans of the
WHL, and is on pace to triple or even quadruple his
output from his rookie year.

The 19-year-old played for Slovakia at 2005 WJC’s,
notching two penalty minutes and +1 rating in six
games.

Defenseman Andrei Zubarev will be suiting up for Russia. Last year he captained the Russian squad that finished fifth at 2005 World Under-18 Championships and shared third among the team’s defensemen with two points (one goal, one assists) in seven games.

Zubarev is having a very good year with Kazan Ak-Bars, with 10 points in 31 games as one of the two youngest players on the team. He was a sixth round pick by the Thrashers in the 2005 Entry Draft.

Not going to Vancouver

Center Alex Bourret, taken in the first round
in 2005, participated in Canada’s summer camp, but was
not invited to the pre-tournament camp. He was a
member of Canadian Under-18 national team
participating in 2003 Junior World Cup, notching two
points (one goal, one assist) and 16 penalty minutes
in five games. He also played for Team Canada at 2002
Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, notching one assist
and four penalty minutes in six games. Bourret was
just named offensive player of the week in the QMJHL
for the week of Dec. 5-11 and has 55 points in 32
games this season.

Left wing Jordan LaVallee, a fourth rounder in
2005, had a good showing in Team USA’s National Junior
Evaluation Camp held in Lake Placid, N.Y. last summer,
but has been injured the entire 2005-06 season. The
US team is the strong favorite for the tournament.

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