Thrashers European prospects season review

By Holly Gunning


Tobias Enstrom, D

8th round, 239th overall, 2003

Enstrom had a very good 2006-07 season.  His team, MoDo, won the Swedish Elite League championship.  He was eighth among league defensemen in points on the year with 28 in 55 games.  Seven of those were goals.  Swedish national team coach Bengt-Ake Gustavsson said that Enstrom was the best defenseman in the league after New Year’s.   Thus it’s no surprise that Enstrom was a key part of the Swedish defense in the recent World Championships.

The 5’10, smooth-skating defenseman was a former eighth-round pick of the Thrashers. Last summer he turned down a contract offer from the Thrashers, deciding to stay in Sweden another year.  But this seems to be the year he’ll make the transition.  According to Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet, Enstrom’s agent Kalle Bodén told MoDo in mid-April not to set aside money for him, that the plan was to sign with Atlanta.

As a 2003 European pick, the deadline to sign Enstrom is June 1, and a contract is still being negotiated at this point.  If not signed, the 22-year-old would become an NHL free agent. 

Enstrom has a brother eligible for the upcoming 2007 NHL entry draft, Thomas, a 5’6 forward who played for MoDo’s junior team this year. Like his brother, Thomas is a good skater, but a long-shot to be selected. 

Andrei Zubarev, D
6th round, 187th overall, 2005

Zubarev’s team was successful in its league as well, AK Bars made it to the Russian Super League finals. Zubarev did not have as much impact as Enstrom on his team’s success, however.

Thrashers GM Don Waddell recently likened the 6’1 Russian to a young Garnet Exelby mostly for his ability to hit, but Zubarev probably has more offensive upside and is a better skater.  He had no points in 20 games this season, but this is not a good indication of his offensive upside since he did not receive much ice time, plus the Russian league is very low-scoring. 

Though he had a tough going with his regular team, Zubarev had a very good World Junior tournament, scoring two assists in six games and posting a +5.  Sergei Ogorodnikov (NYI), who played with him on the Russian national team in the past, was effusive in his praise for Zubarev, both as a player and a teammate, earlier this year when he visited Atlanta with the ECHL Pensacola Ice Pilots.

Zubarev’s lack of ice time with AK Bars could bode well for his eagerness in coming over to North America.  He speaks English and is interested in coming over.  His contract with Kazan ends in 2008.

The Thrashers would have lost 20-year-old Zubarev’s rights on June 1 if Russia had signed the IIHF agreement. But because they haven’t, the NHL will likely continue to extend the rights to Russian players to the NHL teams who drafted them until such time as Russia signs the pact.

Ironically, it’s because of the problems with the IIHF pact that the Thrashers were able to pick up Zubarev in the first place.  In 2005, NHL teams were very leery of taking Russians in the draft, foreseeing problems bringing them over.  The first Russian wasn’t taken until the third round, and Zubarev fell all the way to the sixth round.  He was too good to pass up at that point.  And he’s too good not to get under contract at some point as well.  But the Thrashers might actually favor waiting until next season, given the number of rookie defenseman coming into the system this fall.

Mikka Tuomainen, C
7th round, 204th overall, 2004

It was Tuomainen’s first full season in the Sm-liiga, and he was a little better than in the previous season. He was often among the team’s finest in difficult games but could never keep it up for long periods. He has good size at 6’4, 210 lbs., and could improve by playing a bit more aggressively.

He played virtually all of his season at the senior level, scoring 14 points in 54 games for Lukko Rauma.  The newly-turned 21-year-old also played five games for the junior team.   He’ll likely continue with Lukko Rauma next season.  The Thrashers have until 2008 to sign him.

Tuomainen has been invited to the Thrashers July prospects camp, held at the practice facility in Duluth, Ga. 

Jonas Enlund, C
6th round, 165th overall, 2006

Despite the Swedish name, Enlund is Finnish. He played most of the year with the senior Tappara team, with just three points in 46 games.  In eight games with the junior club, the 19-year-old had seven points.

Enlund has been invited to Thrashers prospects camp, but he also has yet to serve his mandatory six or more months in the army.  Army service can be done during hockey season as well, living in a barracks near the team they play for, with time off given for practice and games.  Kari Lehtonen served his time this way, but most hockey players like to get as much done during the summers as they can.

Head European Scout Bernd Freimueller said of him, "Enlund had a good second half of the season and played more for his senior team then. He’s not a flashy player by any means but very reliable and smart. [He] has to work on his strength and acceleration over the summer."

Denis Loginov, C
7th round, 203rd overall, 2003

Loginov was in a serious car accident in late 2006.  He had just joined his new team, Nizhnekamsk Neftekhimik of the second division, when the accident happened.  He and his mother were in a taxicab that collided with another car on a highway. The injuries to all involved were serious, but Loginov’s recovery is going very well as his new team took great care of him.

As a result of the accident, Loginov played no games at all during the 2006-07 season. He plans to resume his playing career, but it seems unlikely that he’ll ever make it to the NHL.

Juraj Gracik, RW
5th round, 142nd overall, 2004

The Thrashers’ rights to Gracik, who played two years in the WHL before returning to Slovakia this season, will expire on June 1. 

Notes

Twenty-five-year-old defenseman Ilja Nikulin is no longer a prospect according to HF criteria due to age, but he is still lurking in the shadows and remains a candidate to join the team this fall.  He was originally a second-round pick of the Thrashers in 2000.
 
Nikulin played on AK Bars with Zubarev this year, posting 25 points in 54 games, and also played for Russia in the World Championships.

The longer Nikulin remains unsigned, the less likely it is to ever happen, but this year could be his best possible chance of grabbing a roster spot, and surely he and his representatives are aware of that. 

The Thrashers continue to hold the rights to Nikulin only by way of the Russian federation’s refusal to sign the IIHF agreement.  He is not free to sign with another NHL team besides the Thrashers.  The IIHF agreement includes a yearly deadline for players to decide where they will play, but without an agreement, there is no deadline.

New European scout

The Thrashers added a new scout this season in Europe: Shin Larsson. He’s a pro scout, concentrating on players who can be signed as free agents.  The amount of time between the drafting and free agency of players has gotten shorter under the new CBA, so NHL teams having pro scouts, not just amateur scouts, in Europe will likely become more common. 

Interestingly, Larsson is of Japanese-Swedish origin, and played all over the globe during his career — Sweden, the QMJHL, Japan and in Britain — retiring in 2004. Larsson lives in Leksand, Sweden.

While most of Larsson’s work is pro scouting, he does a bit of amateur scouting as well (players eligible for the draft). It’s a good year to add more manpower in Sweden, as it’s thought to be a decent crop of Swedish prospects, in what is generally a poor year in Europe. The addition of Larsson makes for a total of three scouts in Europe: Freimueller, based in Austria, and Evgeny Bogdanovich, based in Russia.

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