Thrashers junior prospects season review

By Holly Gunning

The Atlanta Thrashers had seven prospects in the CHL, including three Europeans this season.  They also had three in the USHL, all of whom were 2006 draft selections.

CHL

Ondrej Pavelec, G – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL)
2nd round, 41st overall in 2005

Pavelec began the 2006-07 season with some extra weight on him, but he trimmed down by December and improved his play.  He was the starting goaltender for the Czech team in the WJC, but he didn’t fare well, a demonstration of his inconsistency.

But the QMJHL season is long, and in the end the cream rises to the top. In 43 games this season, Pavelec posted a 28-11 record, .908 save percentage and 2.52 goals against average.  He won the Jacques Plante Trophy for the top goaltender in the QMJHL, measured by GAA, for the second straight year.  He was third among goaltenders in save percentage. 

In the playoffs, Pavelec’s been even better, with a 9-2 record which includes a shutout, a .930 save percentage and 1.94 GAA. 
 
Pavelec might have joined the Chicago Wolves as their third goalie if his team had finished earlier, but they are still alive.  Cape Breton is playing Val d’Or in the QMJHL semifinals and the teams are tied 1-1.

Pavelec is likely to be the starter for the Wolves next season.  A 2005 pick, he must be signed by June 1.

Bryan Little, C – Barrie Colts (OHL)
1st round, 12th overall in 2006

Little finished sixth in scoring in the OHL with 107 points in 57 games, only a slight improvement over last season.  He also played in a limited role for Canada in the World Junior Championships.  A center with good vision and slick moves, his size at 5’10 should not be an impediment provided he improve his skating, which is probably Little’s weakest area.

Barrie was swept by Sudbury in the second round of the OHL playoffs, in which Little suffered a shoulder injury as a result of a hit on Apr. 5.  He returned to play in overtime in that game, but the injury has kept him from joining the Wolves at the conclusion of this season.

Given his November birthday, Little will be eligible to play in the AHL next year, and that is his likely destination out of training camp.

Chad Denny, D – Lewiston Maineiacs (QMJHL)
2nd round, 49th overall in 2005

Denny continues to improve his offense, scoring numbers from the blue line that look like those of a forward.  He finished sixth among QMJHL defensemen in the regular season with 65 points in 59 games, and was also a solid +33.  He won several awards as defenseman of the week, and even won offensive player of the week in March as well.

In the playoffs, Denny has only increased his scoring, posting an impressive eight goals and five assists in 11 games.  Lewiston leads Rouyn-Noranda 2-1 in the QMJHL semifinals, making it quite likely that Denny and Pavelec will meet each other in the finals.

Denny is known for his intimidating slapshot, which has been clocked at 97 mph.  He’s become more accurate with it this year, which has of course helped his numbers. The 6’3, 227-pounder is a physical presence and throws a good hit.  But his size limits his mobility to some extent.  He might be well served to slim down and increase his footspeed.

Drafted in 2005, the 20-year-old must be signed by June 1. Talented, but a bit raw, Denny will begin in the minors next season, likely with the Wolves, but starting with the Gladiators would not be out of the question given what is likely to be a crowded Wolves blue line. He and Andrei Zubarev will be the youngest of the defensive prospects turning pro.

Riley Holzapfel, C – Moose Jaw Warriors (WHL)
2nd round, 43rd overall in 2006

Holzapfel broke out this season, especially in the goal-scoring department.  He had 39 goals this year, compared to 19 last year.  He finished fourth in the WHL in goals, and eighth in points. 

Moose Jaw enjoyed a better second half, but just missed the playoffs with a record of 28-41-3-0.  Holzapfel, who played in all 72 games for the Warriors, will return next season.

Tomas Pospisil, RW — Sarnia Sting (OHL)
5th round, 135th overall in 2005

Pospisil improved his scoring rate with the Sarnia Sting this year, going from .92 points per game in 2005-06 to 1.22.  His 67 points in 55 games put him fifth on the team, and his -1 was towards the low end on the team. Sarnia, after a dismal 2005-06 season, posted a 34-24-5-5 record under new head coach Dave MacQueen, who came over from the Erie Otters. 

The Czech native’s English is much improved after another year in North America.  He talks with ease, once you get him going.

On how his season went, he said "Well, til Christmas I think I did really well actually.  Then I went for World Juniors and I didn’t play a lot over there.  Then I came back and I was struggling for a while, a few games, then I got better again.  So I think the end of the year was pretty good too."

After being in the basement last year, the team made the playoffs but lost in the first round. "It was pretty hard last year, losing all the time," he said. "This year was much better and a lot more fun."

Coach MacQueen seemed to have a big influence on him. "He was really good," Pospisil said.  "He was tough, but he helped me a lot.  Not just me, all the guys.  He’s a great guy.  He’s not easy [on] anyone, you have to play every game hard and that probably helped me, I think.  Every practice even."

Pospisil joined the Wolves on an amateur tryout contract after his junior season was over. He’s likely to play there full time next season. He will need to put in time in the weight room this summer.

Arturs Kulda, D – Peterborough Petes (OHL)
7th round, 200th overall in 2006

Kulda moved across the pond from the Russian system to play for the Peterborough Petes this year.  He posted 11 points in 58 games, third among defensemen in points.  He improved his plus/minus as the year went on, finishing at -13, which was about average on the team.  Peterborough did not qualify for the playoffs.

Kulda played for Team Latvia in pool B of the 2007 WJC and had two points in five games.

Myles Stoesz, RW – Regina Pats (WHL)
7th round, 207th overall in 2005

Stoesz began the season with the Chilliwack Bruins, having been picked up in the expansion draft, and was traded to the Regina Pats on Jan. 11.  The 6’2 enforcer finished the season with a combined 11 points and 224 penalty minutes in 69 games.

While he did make moderate improvement this year, Stoesz was scratched for at least one game in the playoffs.  The Thrashers own his rights until Jun. 1, but it doesn’t look good for being signed to a contract.

USHL

Alex Kangas, G – Indiana Ice
5th round, 135th overall in 2006

Last year Kangas helped the USHL‘s Sioux Falls to an Anderson Cup title, and this year his Indiana Ice are looking strong in the playoffs as well, with just one more win needed to finish off Green Bay in the first round.

Kangas started off the season strongly, but had a tougher time later on, finishing with a 19-19-5 record and 3.31 GAA. He’s back to top form in the playoffs, with a 3-0 record, 1.94 GAA and .924 save percentage.  

The soon to be 20-year-old Kangas will begin play at the University of Minnesota in the fall.

Jesse Martin, C – Tri-City Storm
7th round, 195th overall in 2006

Martin got off to a slow start in his rookie year in the USHL, but he finished with 56 points in 59 games and ranked second on the team in scoring, seeing time on the power play. Martin is bound for the University of Denver this fall.

Will O’Neill, D – Omaha Lancers
7th round, 210th overall in 2006

O’Neill had 13 points and 73 penalty minutes in 57 games with the Omaha Lancers. He is headed to the University of New Hampshire in the fall.

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