Thrashers 2008-09 NCAA prospect update

By Matt Eichenblatt

The Thrashers currently have eight prospects playing at the collegiate level — three centers, two wingers, two defensemen, and a goalie.

Daultan Leveille, C
Michigan State University
Drafted 2008, 1st Round (29th overall)

Leveille is one of two to be selected in the first round of the 2008 draft by the Thrashers, along with defenseman Zach Bogosian. One of the fastest skaters in the draft, Leveille has an step on almost everyone. His speed and skill has been noticeably present in East Lansing, as the true freshman has accumulated seven goals and six assists in 30 games for the Spartans. He is tied for second in scoring on the offense-challenged team.

Currently playing on Michigan State’s second line, the 5’11 Leveille is getting plenty of chances to put numbers up, and his ice time is increasing as the season progresses. His defense is still considered suspect, and though improved, his hockey sense still isn’t what you are looking for in a prototype center prospect. Leveille will need another year or two of college hockey.

John Albert, C

The Ohio State University
Drafted 2007, 6th Round (175th overall)

In his second season with the Buckeyes, Albert is having a breakout year in Columbus. Through 29 games, Albert has recorded nine goals and a staggering 21 assists centering the top line.  The addition of finisher Zac Dalpe to the line has helped Albert’s numbers dramatically.  His 30 points lead the team. One of Albert’s new responsibilities this season is getting the opportunity to participate in the team’s power play, an opportunity he has since relished.

Albert is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer, but don’t let that fool you into thinking he can’t shoot. The 5’11 20-year-old has a lightning quick release and his snapshot is better than average. Confidence will led to taking more shots as time goes on.  Albert is so far a good value for a sixth rounder.

Jesse Martin, C
University of Denver
Drafted 2006, 7th Round (195th overall)

Despite missing games due to injury in three games this season, Martin is having an improved season, having scored goals eight times and assisting on 10 more in 26 games, surpassing his totals in both categories during the entirety of the 2007-08 season. Martin is on the second line, having moved up since the beginning of the season. One of nine NHL drafted prospects on the Pioneers roster, Martin has had the opportunity to play with some spectacular talent which has helped his point totals this year.  He is somewhat of a power play specialist, which helps his point totals.

Coming out of the USHL, Martin was known mostly for his ability to dish the puck, made evident by the 37 assists he tallied in his final year with the Tri-City Storm in 2006-07. He is a very smart player who puts himself in good position in both the offensive zone and transitioning to defense which more than makes up for his skating deficiencies. Martin is a leader on the ice who has better than average vision, which is a must for any puck distributing center playing upper-echelon hockey. Martin will most likely finish up his four years at the University of Denver before entering the pro ranks, which will give plenty of time to improve his skating, and to maybe claim the top center spot for the Pioneers.

Vinny Saponari, RW
Boston University
Drafted 2008, 4th Round (98th overall)

The first ever Georgia native to be drafted in the NHL, Vinny Saponari is a legitimate prospect as well. Playing in his first year at Boston University, Saponari has gotten a large amount of playing time for a freshman on a talent-laden roster. In 26 games, Saponari has recorded six goals and five assists and has been a staple on the third line for the Terriers, playing with New York Islanders prospect Corey Trivino and the San Jose SharksJohn McCarthy.

More talented than his brother and teammate, Victor Saponari, Vinny has a unique skill set that allows him to be creative with the puck, even in tight situations. With soft hands and great stick handling, he is a natural goal scorer who in future years will light up the stat sheet once players ahead of him graduate and he gets more ice time.

Andrew Kozek, RW

University of North Dakota
Drafted 2005, 2nd Round (55th overall)

Kozek has largely been a disappointment in his senior year at North Dakota. After having a decent year for the Fighting Sioux in 2007-08 when he posted 18 goals and three assists, Kozek has since slid back into mediocrity. This high draft pick flourished in the BCHL where he lit the lamp 48 times in his final season. To date, Kozek has six goals and eight assists in 25 games for North Dakota, and hasn’t managed to climb from the third line, even in his final season.

Kozek hasn’t progressed much in four years in college. He has a very hard shot, and is quite accurate, but is often very sloppy with his play which in turn leads to turnovers. Because he wasn’t the quickest skater coming in, Kozek had to rely on smart play and the ability to retain possession of the puck to be successful, but has failed to do so and improve in those areas. While his accurate wrist and snap shot are up to par with anyone on his team, his inability to improve in the many of the facets of the game have led him nowhere. If he still holds out any hopes of becoming a professional player, he is going to need to really concentrate on getting back to the fundamentals of stick handling and skating.

Zach Redmond, D

Ferris State University
Drafted 2008, 7th Round, (184th overall)

A late-round pick by the Thrashers in this past year’s draft as an overager, Redmond has been a pleasant surprise, having a fantastic year in the ultra competitive CCHA. Through 30 games, the 20-year-old Redmond has tallied three goals and 18 assists playing on the Ferris State Bulldogs top defensive pair. One of the fastest and most fluid skaters on the team, Redmond is a very sound player in the defensive zone and can get physical when called upon to do so.

What makes Redmond so valuable is his play in many different game situations. The sophomore is very patient with the puck, makes smart passes and rarely commits a turnover. His slap shot has a lot of velocity, and his ability to create scoring chances from the blue line is a real asset to his team.  The only NHL prospect on the Bulldogs roster, Redmond is a team leader and one who his teammates respond to on and off the ice. Redmond is someone to keep an eye on in the years to come.

Will O’Neill, D
University of Maine
Drafted 2006, 7th Round (210th overall)

In his freshman year at the University of Maine, Will O’Neill is still very much considered a project defenseman. Drafted in the late seventh round, O’Neill was taken because of his unique offensive skill set. He is not the best conditioned athlete, nor is he the best skater, but with more time on a rigidly coached Bears squad, should improve. 

Through 24 games, O’Neill has two goals and eight assists, which isn’t bad for someone who has been often relegated to the last lineup on defense. What Maine did in its most recent game, a 2-1 win over the University of Massachusetts, was put O’Neill at center on the third line in effort to see what kind of playmaking ability he could have on offense. Whether or not he will make a full-time transition remains to be seen, but, it could probably only improve his chances as a prospect.

Alex Kangas, G

University of Minnesota
Drafted 2006, 6th Round (135th overall)

Another good goalie prospect in the Thrashers system, Kangas is a sophomore for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Though his numbers are down in both save percentage and GAA from the 2007-08 season, at .898 and 2.93, what has improved though since his freshman debut is his record, as he’s currently 12-9-5 in 26 games.

Playing hockey for the Golden Gophers has always been a dream for Kangas, so it’s easy to see why he is taking advantage of his opportunity to play college hockey in his home state. His work ethic and drive to improve is one of Kangas’ best attributes, and his ability to handle the pressure of a being a starting goaltender at a major university last year as a freshman speaks worlds for his maturity. He is a very smart goaltender who plays his angles better than most college goalies and is sound fundamentally, hardly ever giving up easy rebounds.