Thrashers news and notes

By Holly Gunning

Amateur playoff watch

Several of the Atlanta Thrashers NCAA seniors and 2004 CHL draft picks are close to wrapping up their seasons and could turn pro. There are three NCAA seniors, one junior and three OHL players on the watch list.

Nathan Oystrick, D – Northern Michigan is playing the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the CCHA playoffs this weekend. With last night’s win, Northern leads the best-of-three series 1-0. A NMU win would be an upset.

Brett Sterling, F – Colorado College lost to St. Cloud State last night in the best-of-three series to go down 0-1. Sterling played limited time, following a leg injury last weekend.

Colton Fretter, F – Alaska-Fairbanks upset Michigan State last night in the CCHA quarterfinals by a score of 2-1. The two teams play again tonight.

Grant Lewis, D – Dartmouth hosts Yale in the quarterfinal round of the ECACHL playoffs this weekend. Dartmouth won game one by a score of 5-1. Co-champions of their league, the Big Green could go far this year.

The OHL regular season does not end until Mar. 19, so the following players would not be available for several more weeks, as all three (who are still healthy) will see time in the playoffs.

Boris Valabik, D – Kitchener is third in points in the OHL with 90, but has the misfortune of being in the same division as the league-leading London Knights. The Rangers will likely go far in the playoffs, so there will be little time left at the end of Valabik’s season.

Dan Turple, G – Turple plays with Kitchener as well, so the same reasoning applies. Also with every goalie in the Thrashers organization finally healthy, there’s really no need for extra depth.

Scott Lehman, D – Toronto St. Michael’s Majors are in third place in the Central Division and will see at least one round of the playoffs.

Forward Chad Painchaud’s Sarnia Sting are out of the playoff picture, but he’s out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

Stepp acquired, assigned to rolling Gladiators

On Mar. 1, goaltender Jani Hurme was traded to Anaheim in exchange for 23-year-old forward Joel Stepp. Stepp, who had been playing for the nearby ECHL Augusta Lynx, was assigned to the Gwinnett Gladiators. After three games with the team, Coach Jeff Pyle called Stepp “solid, a huge pickup” for the Gladiators, who were a bit short on bodies after a series of call-ups to various AHL teams.

With seven Thrasher prospects on the roster (Guillaume Desbiens, Brad Schell, Lane Manson, Adam Berkhoel, Stepp, Jeff Dwyer and Adam Smyth), the Gladiators are in first place in the ECHL’s South Division with a .750 winning percentage. Last season they lost in the conference semifinals.

The Chicago Wolves on the other hand, the team’s AHL affiliate, will likely miss the playoffs, a big letdown after losing in the finals last season to Philadelphia. It will mark the first time in the team’s 11-year history that they have not participated in postseason play.

Trade deadline

No prospects were moved into or out of the organization at the NHL trade deadline, but one moved up to the big club as the limit of a 23-man roster size ended for the year. Teams are limited now only by the salary cap, which enabled Mark Popovic and Derek MacKenzie to join the team. Popovic, 23, played in place of Garnet Exelby in Friday’s game, and received 12:16 in ice time in his sixth NHL game. Having stayed right at 20 men most of the season, the Thrashers have enough money banked to be able to carry several extras in order to rest players for the playoffs.

Kevin Cheveldayoff, General Manager of the Chicago Wolves, was in Atlanta this trade deadline week, along with many of the team’s scouts. Planning for next year is surely high on the agenda.

There can be no question Thrashers GM Don Waddell was working the phones approaching the trade deadline. He could be seen last weekend double-fisting phones up in his suite at Philips Arena – he had a land line telephone to one ear and his cell phone to the other.

Kyle on Siddall

Matt Siddall, selected 270th overall in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft by the Thrashers, has had a good sophomore year at Northern Michigan. Playing a very simple game, he has increased his point total 33 percent from last season and is seeing time on the power play.

NMU Head Coach Walt Kyle talked about the strengths of Siddall’s game with Hockey’s Future in February:

“He’s a size and strength guy, he’s a power forward. He has an exceptional shot. When he’s at the top of his game, he can be a major physical force, he can really run through people. When he’s at the top of his game, he’s banging people, he’s crashing the net, he’s doing all the things a power forward should do.”

Kyle on what Siddall needs to work on:

“Matt needs to work on his speed a little bit. I think Matt needs to work on his consistency. But I think that he’s doing that, and as he gets more experience and more time, he’ll be a guy who will continue to grow.”

Injury note

Winger Samu Isosalo, the Thrashers 230th pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft who has been battling knee injuries for years, recently re-injured his knee while playing for Tuto Turku in Finland. His playing career might be over.

Kevin Wey contributed to this article. Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.