Thrashers Top 20 prospects, Spring 2010

By Aubrey Chau

Top 20 at a glance

1. Evander Kane, LW
2. Carl Klingberg, LW
3. Ivan Vishnevskiy, D
4. Jeremy Morin, C
5. Patrice Cormier, C
6. Spencer Machacek, RW
7. Eric O’Dell, C
8. Arturs Kulda, D
9. Angelo Esposito, C
10. Daultan Leveille, C
11. Riley Holzapfel, C
12. Vinny Saponari, C
13. John Albert, C
14. Alex Kangas, G
15. Edward Pasquale, G
16. Paul Postma, D
17. Levko Koper, LW
18. Chris Carrozzi, G
19. Zach Redmond, D
20. Jordan Samuels-Thomas, LW

1. Evander Kane, LW, 8.0B
6’1, 180 lbs
First Round, Fourth Overall, 2009

In just his rookie season, Kane is being sold by the Atlanta Thrashers as the face of the future of their franchise. With the recent departure of their resident superstar Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey, the future is now. Kane, along with other youngsters, defenseman Zach Bogosian and goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, is expected to lead the Thrashers in the post-Kovalchuk era.
Kane has played in all but one game this season as a rookie, which he missed due to the flu, and has been a staple on their top two lines. Even with a respectable 14 goals and 11 assists for 25 points in 59 games, Kane is still adjusting to the size and strength of his NHL opponents. He is a great skater who has had no trouble keeping up with the speed of the NHL. His game and numbers will progress as he adds bulk and gets stronger. He will be graduate from this list before the end of the season.  

2. Carl Klingberg, LW, 7.5C
6’3, 205 lbs
Second Round, 34th Overall, 2009

Klingberg is in the midst of his rookie season in the Swedish Elite League and is proving that he belongs in one of the best men’s leagues in the world. Although he has only notched four goals and four assists in 35 games for the Frolunda HC, Klingberg has enthusiastically played a physical game. His tough style helped earn him a spot on the Swedish team at the 2010 World Junior Championships. Klingberg had only one goal at the World Juniors on a disappointing Team Sweden that was a tournament favorite to capture the gold, but settled on the bronze.   

Although his offense has been lacking, Klingberg has continued to work hard and effectively use his size. His style of play will translate well once he makes the transition to North America. Klingberg will likely spend at least one more year in the SEL before coming to North America.  

3. Ivan Vishnevskiy, D, 7.5C
5’11, 176 lbs
First Round, 27th Overall, 2006 by DAL — Acquired via trad 2010

When he was drafted, Vishnevskiy was touted as smart, smooth and flashy. But after a very average 2008-09 season with the AHL Peoria Rivermen, hopes were fading about him.
He started the season with Dallas’ new AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, but just before the Olympic trade freeze, Vishnevskiy was traded to the Thrashers for oft-injured goaltender Kari Lehtonen, and gets a fresh start. Vishnevskiy teases with his slick skating and offensive talents, but often also frustrates with his inconsistency and sub-par defensive play. Vishnevskiy, at best could become a poor man’s Sergei Zubov, but more realistically will be a mid- to bottom-pairing defenseman who is a threat on the power play. He has five NHL games to his name, all with Dallas.

Look for Vishnevskiy to spend the next season or so with the Wolves but be one of the first call-ups to Atlanta.

4. Jeremy Morin, C, 7.0C
6’0, 195 lbs
Second Round, 45th Overall, 2009

Thanks to his participation in the USNTDP, Morin captured the gold last spring with Team USA at the U-18 Championships and again at the 2010 World Championships. Too old for the NTDP this season, he moved to the OHL, and has scored a very strong 39 goals and 33 assists for 72 points in 50 games. This puts him third in scoring for the Kitchener Rangers, behind overager Chris MacKinnon and 2010 draft-eligible Jeff Skinner, but in the OHL as a whole, fifth in goal scoring and 11th in points. He was selected to play in the OHL All-Star Game with teammates Skinner and John Moore (CLB).

Morin has good offensive production, but still needs to improve his skating and round out his game. Look for Morin to spend at another season in the OHL.

5. Patrice Cormier, C, 7.0C
6’2, 205 lbs
Second Round, 54th Overall, 2008, by NJD — Acquired via trad 2010

Shortly after receiving a season-ending suspension for a controversial and brutal elbow to the head of Quebec Remparts defenseman Mikael Tam, Cormier was the return in a trade that sent Thrashers star winger, Kovalchuk to the New Jersey Devils. Such inescapable controversy and a shortened season can derail a careeer, but moving to a new organization and a fresh start might do him some good.

Just before his hit on Tam, Cormier captained the Team Canada to a disappointing silver medal at the World Junior Championships and was also part of a blockbuster trade that saw him moved from Rimouski to the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Prior his suspension, Cormier was playing well and scoring at a point per game pace and about two minutes per game in penalties. Look for him to turn pro with the Wolves next season.

6. Spencer Machacek, RW, 6.5B
6’1, 195 lbs
Third Round, 67th Overall, 2007

In his second season with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, Machacek, former captain of the Vancouver Giants, has settled nicely into a supporting role as a strong two-way winger. With the addition of a few AHL veterans such as Jason Krog and Tim Stapleton, Machacek has not had the same pressure to produce as he had last year as a rookie. Scoring 14 goals and 18 assists in 57 games, Machacek is producing relatively well with the ice time he’s been given and the situations he’s played in. He is the highest-scoring Thrashers prospect on the Wolves, seventh on the team. Machacek is not flashy, but he will play a smart, physical game with a never-say-die attitude and be counted on to be a team leader.
Machacek was called up to the Thrashers in November, but did not play. Expect him to be one of the first call-ups from Wolves if the Thrashers are short forwards.     

7. Eric O’Dell, C, 6.5C
6’0, 174 lbs
Second Round, 39th Overall, 2008, by the Anaheim Ducks — Acquired 2009

Despite sitting tied for 23rd in OHL scoring with 30 goals and 33 assists, for 63 points points in 58 games and making his second straight appearance in the OHL All-Star Game, it has been a bit of a frustrating season for O’Dell. The Sudbury Wolves have struggled to win and sit near the bottom the OHL’s central division.
As one of the few offensive options for the Sudbury Wolves, O’Dell along with linemate and second leading scorer on the team, John McFarland, receive all the attention from opponents. However, both have still produced solid numbers. Next year, the smart, slick center will likely play his fourth and last season in OHL and then a season in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves.

8. Arturs Kulda, D, 6.5C
6’2, 210 lbs
Seventh Round, 200th Overall, 2006

Kulda has been the biggest beneficiary of having legendary defenseman 48-year-old Chris Chelios with the Chicago Wolves this season. The young Latvian and Chelios, who played in the Stanley Cup finals one year after Kulda was born, are the top pairing for the Wolves. It has been a match made in heaven, as Kulda leads the AHL in plus/minus, with a strong +37. He also has 16 points in 46 games.
He is learning to make the most of his size and how to keep his game simple and mistake-free. Of course, having a future Hall of Famer like Chelios as a mentor helps. Kulda is ready for the next step and will soon challenge for a spot with the Thrashers as a fifth or sixth defenseman.

9. Angelo Esposito, C, 8.0F
6’1, 180 lbs
First Round, 20th Overall, 2007 by PIT — Acquired 2008

With his skill and talents, Esposito was on scouts’ radar screens at an early age. Almost three years after his draft, indifferent play and injuries have hurt Esposito’s stock. With season-ending knee surgery before Christmas, the story on Esposito this fall will still be the same: all-world talent with a questionable commitment to the game. He had just four points in 12 games when he went down.

Barring a reinvention of his game, Esposito does not have the size, skill set or attitude to play a depth role. He will either be a top-line scoring forward or a bust. If Esposito can approach the game anew and show the fight and dedication required to return to form after this setback, he could become a player after all.  
10. Daultan Leveille, C,7.0D
5’11, 163 lbs
First Round, 29th Overall, 2008
Now in his sophomore year with the Michigan State University Spartans, Leveille has five goals and 17 assists for 22 points in 34 games, already besting his offensive output from his rookie season last year. On another positive note, Leveille leads the Spartans in plus/minus, with a +16, which is a big improvement from last season’s -19. His improved play may also be due to finding chemistry with linemate, undrafted junior Andrew Rowe. However, he still has a long way to go before playing in the NHL. Look for Leveille to finish out his eligibility.     

11. Riley Holzapfel, C, 7.0D
5’11, 170 lbs
Second Round, 43rd Overall, 2006

In his second year as a pro with the Wolves, Holzapfel is settling into a third-line role. With his tireless work ethic, he’s continued to play a smart effective game. Although concerns regarding his lack of size and strength remain, especially if he is expected to play the center position.
With only six goals and 20 points in 49 games, Holzapfel is not make much offensive progress compared to last year, and needs to take the next step and begin developing a stronger offensive element to his game. Otherwise, he will be pigeonholed into strictly a checking-line center role, which could still be a major challenge for him.

12. Vinny Saponari, RW, 7.0D
6’0, 179 lbs
Fourth Round, 94th Overall, 2008
In his sophomore year with the Boston University Terriers, Saponari is slowly coming along and has been rewarded with improved ice time and linemates. He has been playing wing on a line with the Terriers leading scorer and San Jose Sharks prospect Nick Bonino and fellow sophomore Chris Connelly.  
Despite having top linemates and a great start to the season, Saponari suffered a prolonged mid-season scoring slump and presently sits fifth in team scoring with seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points in 30 games, which ties him for fifth in scoring for the Terriers. With his streaky production, it is Saponari’s tireless work ethic that has kept his place in BU’s lineup. Saponari will likely finish out his last two years of college before turning pro.   

13. John Albert, C, 7.0D
5’10, 180 lbs
Sixth Round, 175th Overall, 2007
After finishing his sophomore year second in team scoring for the Ohio State Buckeyes, Albert was expected to do the same this year. With 25 points in 32 games, his scoring rate is down from .92 points per game to just .78 and has dropped to third in team scoring.
Even with the stronger offensive production from his linemates, the Buckeyes are still near the bottom of the CCHA. Albert is still another season away from making the transition to the pros, which is not at all helped by the fact that he is one of several Thrasher prospects who are small, offensive, non-physical forwards.    
14. Alex Kangas, G, 7.0D

6’1, 175 lbs
Fifth Round, 135th Overall, 2006

It has been a less than spectacular season for Kangas, who is now in his junior year with the Minnesota Golden Gophers. And as a goaltender goes, so goes his team. Presently, the Gophers sit in the bottom half of the WCHA with a 15-15-2 record and there does not appear to be much hope in sight. Kangas, with a 2.62 GAA, .909 save percentage, and a 11-10-1 record, has received the majority of the workload over sophomore goaltender Kent Patterson (COL).
Despite his team’s struggles, Kangas has still shown a high level of competition and a good attitude and even been named the WCHA defensive player of the week. He’s likely to turn pro at the end of the season and enter the now more barren organizational depth chart.

15. Edward Pasquale, G, 6.5C
6’2, 218 lbs
Fourth Round, 117th Overall, 2009

Pasquale, who is in his third year with the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL and second as their starting goaltender, is seeing a lot of rubber again. So far this season, Pasquale has faced 1581 shots in 44 games, putting him fifth in the OHL for shots faced, and has a 3.32 GAA and a .912 save percentage.
Those numbers are good considering the team in front of him and the number of shots he has faced. Pasquale has a great frame and the glove to play in the NHL. The big question lies in his mental approach to the game and how calm and cool he can be when the game doesn’t go his way. Pasquale has a fall birthday, and as such can turn pro in 2010-11.

16. Paul Postma, D, 6.5C
6’3, 184 lbs
Seventh Round, 205th Overall, 2007
It has been a tough rookie season for Postma, who has been struggling with injuries. He suffered a lower-body injury, returning in late January. With nine goals and eight points in 41 games, Postma is adjusting to the speed and size of his opponents in the AHL. He is +5 and recently scored a hat trick and was named AHL Player of the Week.
Postma has the tools to be an offensive defenseman and power-play specialist. He should be a staple on the Wolves blueline for at least another season or two before graduating to the NHL. He will need to continue to work on his defensive game, and making the safe play.
17. Levko Koper, LW, 6.5D
6’0, 180 lbs
Seventh Round, 184th Overall, 2009
Koper has spent a good chunk of this season playing with Spokane Chiefs leading scorer and Calgary Flames 2008 draft pick, center Mitch Wahl. He has 24 goals and 22 assists for 46 points in 58 games, a bit off pace from last season.
With his explosive skating, and a good shot, Koper has the tools to be a player, but still needs to work on his consistency. Koper is in his fourth season in the WHL and will likely join the Chicago Wolves next fall. 

18. Chris Carrozzi, G
6’2, 185
6th round, 154th overall, 2008

In his fourth OHL season, Carrozzi is putting up good numbers with a .920 save percentage, 2.28 GAA and 17-8-5 record. But he has been unable to win the starting job outright from the draft-eligible J.P. Anderson.

Carrozzi has improved his glove hand and was named to the OHL All-Star Team this year. He will likely turn pro at the end of this season.

19. Zach Redmond, D, 6.5D
6’2, 197 lbs
Seventh Round, 284th Overall, 2008

With his improved point production, Redmond is continuing to slowly make progress as an offensive defenseman. Redmond is considered one of the CCHA’s best defensemen and has been a big part of the Ferris State Bulldogs’ success. As a junior, he has been a very capable anchor of the Bulldogs defense with six goals, 19 assists in 30 games, good for fourth in scoring among defensemen in the CCHA.
Redmond is also no slouch on defense and has been a strong presence in his own zone. The 21-year-old could stand to use his body more aggresively and become more of an intimating physical force. Redmond will finish his last year of college before going pro and most likely joining the AHL Wolves blueline.

20. Jordan Samuels-Thomas, LW, 6.5D
6’2, 190 lbs
Seventh Round, 203rd Overall, 2009

Only in his freshman season with the Bowling Green Falcons, Samuels-Thomas is already making an impact. Samuels-Thomas is tied for the lead in team scoring, with 10 goals, 12 assists and 22 points in 31 games. 
His impact on the ice has been recognized by a spot on the fan voting list for the Hobey Baker Award, along with linemate, Slovakian Tomas Petruska. Samuels-Thomas, unlike many other Thrashers forward prospects, possesses NHL size and strength, but still needs to work on is his foot speed. He will probably play another season or two in the NCAA. He will turn 20 in May.

Missing the Cut

Jesse Martin, C, 6.5D
6’0, 170 lbs
Seventh Round, 195th Overall, 2006

This season, Martin, with his wingers Anthony Maiani and Kyle Ostrow, were a servicable combination on the second line for the University of Denver Pioneers. All was going well, Martin played regularly at even strength, manned the point on the power play and was a leading penalty killer, until he injured his shoulder in a game at the end of January. As a big part of their special teams, Martin’s injury leaves a big hole for the Pioneers to fill. Before his injury, even though he was not keeping up with his linemates’ production, Martin was well on his way to having a career season with five goals and nine assists in 25 games. Like many other Thrashers forward prospects, Martin is still a season or two away from the pros.