Alex Burmistrov tops prospect pool for Atlanta Thrashers

By Kyle West
Photo: A top-10 draft pick from 2010, Alex Burmistrov made an instant impact on the Thrashers. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

With Alex Burmistrov about to graduate, Atlanta will soon be looking for a new top prospect. Angelo Esposito has been downgraded to an F rating. Akim Aliu has also dropped in the ratings while Ivan Telegin continues to rise. The top part of the list however remains mostly the same from the fall.

1.(1) Alex Burmistrov, C, 8.0C
Acquired: 1st round, 8th overall, 2010

Just a few games away from graduating from the ranks of the prospects, Burmistrov has not looked out of place in the NHL most nights. A swift and elusive skater, Burmistrov has shown that he has the ability to use his superior speed and hockey sense to great advantage, negating any concerns over his slim build. Averaging almost 15 minutes of ice time, Burmistrov has produced five goals and 12 assists without playing on the power play and has shown flashes of his elite level skill-set. With Atlanta in a desperate battle to make the playoffs this year the Thrashers may want to curtail the ice time of their younger players, however in Burmistrov’s case he may just be too good to keep off the ice.

Burmistrov was recently felled with a lower-body injury although he should be expected to return before the end of the season.

2. (2) Carl Klingberg, LW, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, 34th overall, 2009

The big winger from Gothenburg gave Thrashers fans a taste of what to expect in the World Junior Championships and left them wanting more with a performance that showed off all his game has to offer. Crashing the crease, running over defenders and snapping in deadly shots from all angles, Klingberg was a gap-toothed menace throughout the tournament. Standing at 6’3 and still bulking up at 205 lbs, he is a raw-boned, rangy winger with deceptive speed who seems to genuinely enjoy mixing it up and getting rough. More than just a crash and bang type, his arsenal of shots is extensive and he seems to have the hockey sense to get in the right spots to use it. Uncertain as to when he might come to Atlanta, Thrashers fans can only hope it is soon.

3. (3) Patrice Cormier, C, 6.5B
Acquired: Trade with New Jersey, March 2010

The prized acquisition in the Ilya Kovalchuk trade, Cormier had his debut with the Thrashers after just 11 games of seasoning in the AHL. Injured in the pre-season while blocking a shot, Cormier missed 24 games before suiting up for the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. His dedicated two-way play earned him a quick promotion to the Thrashers and a regular spot on the checking line. Celebrating his first NHL goal in a home game against the Leafs was a highlight, tempered by the fact he Thrashers were on the receiving end of a lopsided loss in that game, as were the six shots that he took in that game. Averaging around 12 minutes a game, Cormier seems to have made himself a fixture on the Thrashers for the foreseeable future.

4. (4) Spencer Machacek, RW, 6.5B
Acquired: 3rd round, 67th overall, 2007

In his third professional season, often a make or break year for prospects, Machacek shows no signs of letting up in his pursuit of regular NHL action. Recalled for a four game stint with the Thrashers this year, Machacek showed a reliable third line presence and worked hard at both ends of the ice. The former captain of the Vancouver Giants is the ultimate team-first player who will run through walls to get the win. Currently on pace to exceed his scoring totals from last year, Machacek had added more of a physical side to his game and has taken on a leadership role with the Wolves, all of which will stand him in good stead when he does make the breakthrough to the NHL.

Currently Machacek has 16 goals and 26 assists in 49 AHL games and is pointless in seven games with the Thrashers.

5. (7) Paul Postma, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 7th round, 205th overall, 2007

The gold star candidate of the Thrashers scouting department, Postma has evolved from a lanky kid with an awkward skating stride to an offensive dynamo who runs a power play with aplomb. The top scoring blueliner on the Chicago Wolves this year with nine goals and 29 assists in 57 games, Postma is integral to the club’s offense and uses an array of weapons to good effect. Still somewhat on the lanky side, he is adding mass to his 6’3 frame and learning to cut down on defensive miscues in his own zone. His progression continues to be steadily upward and the overall potential of this seventh round pick makes the Thrashers scouts pat themselves on the back and smile with satisfaction.

6. (5) Arturs Kulda, D, 6.5B
Acquired: 7th round, 200th overall, 2006

Called up recently to the Thrashers after Atlanta’s Freddie Meyer suffered a concussion, Kulda is the first name on the shortlist to the NHL after some sterling work at the AHL level this season. Penciled in as a starter out of training camp this year, the stocky Latvian made his name playing alongside Chris Chelios last year, leading the AHL in plus minus rating. His combative style may not have much of an offensive upside but he takes care of business in his own end very well. He has since returned to the AHL where he has two goals, seven assists, and 62 penalty minutes.

7. (12) Ivan Telegin, C, 6.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 101st overall, 2010

A player with exciting upside, Telegin has the size, speed and slick moves to pull fans out of their seats. After a sizzling start to his rookie year last season, he cooled off and also missed the top prospects game with an injury, helping to ensure he was still available in the fourth round for the Thrashers. This year Telegin is playing more of a distributor role for the Saginaw Spirit, one of the top contenders in the OHL, dishing out 33 assists to go with his 16 goals in 48 games. Telegin celebrated a WJC gold medal with the Russian squad in January, although he saw limited time on the third line. Standing 6’3 and showing no reluctance in crashing the net and finishing his checks, the man they call "Drago" is becoming a force to be reckoned with.

8. (6) Eric O’Dell, C, 6.5C
Acquired: Trade with Anaheim, March 2009

Just glad to be playing again, O’Dell spent most of the past six months recovering from emergency heart surgery to repair a potentially serious defect. Signed to a three year entry deal in June, O’Dell was primed to compete for top line min
utes in the AHL and continue his progression in the pro ranks. Since returned to the Sudbury Wolves, O’Dell thankfully shows no lingering ill-effects of the procedure and continues to produce at a point-per-game pace despite playing for one of the OHL‘s weaker teams. A polished playmaker with quick hands, O’Dell has the ability to be a gamebreaker and with his heart problems hopefully behind him for good can now take the next steps on his development path.

9. (10) Daultan Leveille, C,7.0D
Acquired: 1st round, 29th overall, 2008

The slippery center continues to be a key player in all situations for the Michigan State Spartans, a program on the rebound after losing key players to graduation last year. Now in his junior year, Leveille continues to produce consistent offensive numbers while playing in all situations. The slightly built center has the quickness to avoid checks however concerns over his ability to hold off bigger defenders at the next level remain. Another year with the Spartans seems in order to continue his development.

10. (11) Julian Melchiori, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 87th overall, 2010

The big defender has played a solid defense-first game as an OHL rookie with the Kitchener Rangers. Melchiori’s intention was to pursue an NCAA hockey education but has looked right at home with the Rangers, a contender in the OHL. His 6’4 frame has been filled out to just under 210 lbs and he has been learning how to use that size to battle in both ends of the rink. A plus-19 rating is impressive given the learning curve in adapting to the OHL and although he has only 17 points in 56 games, the Thrashers will be more than pleased with his solid play.

11. (13) Vinny Saponari, RW, 6.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 94th overall, 2008

Biding his time in the USHL, Saponari is waiting to regain his NCAA eligibility after being cast out from the Boston University program last season. Committed to joining the Boston College program next year, ranked 4th overall in the NCAA, Saponari has been refining his game in a starring role for Dubuque where he wears a letter for the Fighting Saints. The top scorer on the team with 49 points in 42 games, Saponari has been the passmaster from the wing on the top line, his 36 assists leading the team by a wide margin. A clever playmaker with quick hands, Saponari seems to be growing in confidence during his time in the USHL and the ejection from BU may yet be a good thing for his development.

12. (19) Zach Redmond, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 7th round, 184th overall, 2008

A workhorse defenseman for the Ferris State Bulldogs of the CCHA, Redmond serves as the current captain of the team and is a leader in every sense of the word. The top scorer on the team with seven goals and 20 points in 26 games, Redmond also leads the team in hits and blocked shots. Big and mobile, Redmond impressed at the most recent Thrasher’s training camp and was reportedly offered a contract by GM Rick Dudley but turned it down to finish his degree. Projecting as a solid blueliner with some offensive upside, Redmond may yet be a pleasant surprise in the pro ranks.

13. (18) Jordan Samuels-Thomas, LW, 6.0C
Acquired: 7th round, 203rd overall, 2009

The hard-charging winger was a sensation as a freshman with Bowling Green State University and continues to be the Falcons leading scorer through 29 games this season. The poster boy of the program, Samuels-Thomas is a key player for the Bowling Green program as they try to recapture some of the glory days of the past. The team won just five games last year and has tagged the exciting power forward as the player to build around and although they have fared little better this year as a team, the man they call JST is getting a chance to play in every situation and enjoying his hockey.

14. (8) Angelo Esposito, C, 8.0F
Acquired: Trade with Pittsburgh, March 2008

Assigned the dreaded F grade, Esposito has little chance of realizing the potential that once labeled him a "can’t miss" prospect. Blessed with the size, skill and hands to make him an elite player as a junior, Esposito hasn’t been able to dominate a game like he used to for some time. Suffering consecutive injuries to the same knee, Esposito has at least stayed healthy for the most part this season. However, three goals in 39 games isn’t going to get him into the NHL anytime soon. At 21, there is still time to rescue a career gone astray, but time is running out fast.

15. (9) Akim Aliu, RW, 6.5D
Acquired: Trade with Chicago, June 2010

Downgraded as a Hockey’s Future prospect, Aliu is more likely to achieve the projection of a 3rd line energy winger. A second round selection of Chicago in the 2007 draft, Aliu was initially thought to possess game-breaking abilities due to his superior speed and heavy shot. Since then he hasn’t been able to produce with any degree of consistency. Recently demoted to the ECHL for the second time in his development, Aliu was never able to settle in to a regular slot with the Wolves and produced only four goals in 43 games. Scoring five times in his first four ECHL games, Aliu’s demotion might actually benefit his confidence over the long term. He currently has eight goals and five assists through nine ECHL games.

16. (14) Alex Kangas, G, 6.5D
Acquired: 5th round, 135th overall, 2006

From all-conquering great to outright poor in four years, Alex Kangas‘ career with the University of Minnesota has mirrored the decline of the once all-powerful hockey school. The Golden Gophers were WCHA champions in Kangas’ freshman year and he was stellar throughout, posting a 1.98 goals against average and a .930 save percentage. This year Kangas was 3.71 and .894 in nine games before shutting down his senior year to have season-ending hip surgery. Declining to be red-shirted and return to the Gophers next year, Kangas is looking for a pro contract and a chance to start fresh away from a program in decline.

17. (15) Edward Pasquale, G, 6.5D
Acquired: 4th round, 117th overall, 2009

Off to a very fast start as a rookie pro in the AHL with the Chicago Wolves, Pasquale’s game has hit some speed bumps and he has since struggled at times in the ECHL. Benefitting from some extra playing time at the start of the season when Thrashers starter Ondrej Pavelec collapsed, Pasquale was briefly looking like he would steal the starter’s job in Chicago. Since demoted to the ECHL upon the return of Peter Mannino from recall and Drew MacIntyre from injury Pasquale has shown that there are major areas of his game to improve upon, especially his lateral quickness and rebound control.

18. (16) John Albert, C, 6.0C
Acquired: 6th round, 175th overall, 2007

The Ohio native has carried his homestate Ohio State Buckeyes on his back all season, leading the CCHA contenders in scoring with 12 goals and 34 points in 33 games. In his senior year and playing for a pro contract, the quick and clever playmaker brings an energy and enthusiasm to the game that is appreciated by his teammates as much as his inspired passing. A skilled distributor of the puck, Albert also logs top minutes on the penalty kill, shadows the opposition’s top centers and takes all the key defensive faceoffs. Undersized at 5’11 and 180 lbs, Albert has the quickness to survive at the next level, a challenge he should be looking forward to.

19. (18) Fredrik Pettersson, LW, 6.5D
Acquired: Free agent, July 2010

The little buzzsaw of a winger was given a long look at Thrashers training camp after signing as a free agent in the summer but was unable to win a spot on the parent club and was reassigned to the Wolves. Having played in the WHL for two seasons, Petterson was expected to adapt relatively quickly to the AHL game, however the 5’10 Swede has failed to make much of an impact. With just six goals in 46 games, and one of the worst plus/minus ratings on the team, Petterson has yet to really force the Thrashers to reconsider their decision to send him down. While he has improved his play recently, he still is a long way from pushing for a recall.

20. (20) Danick Paquette, RW, 6.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, 64th overall, 2008

A player on the edge of out of control, Paquette seemed to have found some balance between being an agitator and being a liability in his final year of junior. Regaining that balance will be his first priority as a rookie pro in the ECHL. Paquette has spent 145 minutes in the sin bin in just 48 games this season and has also scored 10 times. A player no one likes to play against, Paquette can also hurt his team with ill-advised penalties. Regaining his self-control will be the key to his progression this year.