Thrashers 2007 draft preview

By Holly Gunning

Thrashers Top 10 prospects

1. Ondrej Pavelec, G
2. Bryan Little, C
3. Brett Sterling, LW
4. Mark Popovic, D
5. Grant Lewis, D
6. Boris Valabik, D
7. Riley Holzapfel, C
8. Andrei Zubarev, D
9. Nathan Oystrick, D
10. Tobias Enstrom, D

The Atlanta Thrashers go into the 2007 NHL Entry Draft with no first-round pick for the first time ever in their nine years at the draft table.  They are one of seven NHL teams with no first-rounder next weekend. 

The Thrashers would have picked 24th in this draft, by far the lowest ever, based on their finish in the standings. Near the bottom of the first round, they wouldn’t be getting as good of a player as they had in past years. Instead of a Bryan Little, they would be getting someone like last year’s No. 24 Dennis Persson (BUF), 2005’s T.J. Oshie (STL) or 2004’s Kris Chucko (CAL).

The team’s first rounder was traded in March along with a third rounder to St. Louis in the Keith Tkachuk deal.  Coming the other way, the Thrashers received a third rounder from the NY Rangers in the Pascal Dupuis/Alex Bourret deal.

A team generally considers itself to have had a successful draft year when it gets two NHL players out of it.  With just five picks, starting at No. 67, that will be a challenge for the Thrashers.

There’s no Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, or even Marc-Andre Fleury in the 2007 draft class – it’s not of great quality at the top.  Any of about five players could go first overall, but they are not of the same caliber as past years.  Trading to get one of the top picks would be cheaper than other years, but that’s because it’s less desirable.  Don’t look for the Thrashers to be making any moves into the top five.

Team needs

Only a handful of draftees step immediately into the NHL each year, so "team needs" is always more relevant for trading than drafting.  The Thrashers biggest need continues to be an offensive centerman.  If the right top four blueliner came along, a deal could be made, but the team isn’t going to get far into a bidding war in a tight defensive market. 

The only position the Thrashers won’t be looking to upgrade on their current roster is goaltending, with Kari Lehtonen and Johan Hedberg firmly in place.

The Thrashers could use defensive prospects, an area of strength, as bartering chips in a deal for a center.

Organizational strengths

Although the organization’s top three prospects are not defensemen, the Thrashers prospect pool is very deep in this area. Eight of the team’s top 14 prospects play defense. Nathan Oystrick, Tobias Enstrom and Chad Denny are all potential power-play quarterbacks. Mark Popovic and Grant Lewis are two-way defenders, while Boris Valabik is a stay-at-homer.  Between the pipes, Ondrej Pavelec is starter-caliber and is the team’s top prospect.

Organizational weaknesses

With Brett Sterling and Bryan Little nearing graduation to the big club, the Thrashers need to restock the pipeline with offensive talent.  Forwards with size, particularly up the middle, would complement the talent already gathered.

Goaltending depth has quality with Ondrej Pavelec, but lacks depth.  After Pavelec, there’s no one else in the system who will be turning pro soon.  Alex Kangas has four years at the Univ. of Minnesota ahead of him, so there’s a need to keep the system stocked in the meantime.  This is not a good year for goaltending at the top of the draft, but perhaps a late-round pick would be used to select someone who would be ready to turn pro in a couple years. If they do pick a goaltender, look for a bigger one, hedging bets in case hockey’s nets get bigger in the future.

Draft Tendencies

Character has always been a very important criterion for the Thrashers in player acquisition.  But if anything, they may be even more focused on it this year given the realization that some players weren’t vetted as well as they could have been in past years.

The NHL Central Scouting Service began attempting to measure a prospect’s character at this year’s Combine. A psychological evaluation was added in response to teams’ requests for a mental assessment of the potential draftees. The evaluation consisted of a two-part computer test of approximately an hour’s length. It included a long series of questions about the prospect’s personality (including mental toughness and coachability), and went on to a more grueling mental efficiency test, which measured spatial awareness, decision speed, decision accuracy, concentration, and rates of mental fatigue.

The results of this will no doubt be useful, but there’s no substitute for meeting the player face to face and getting to know them. Despite the lack of first and second-rounders, the team still interviewed dozens of the 106 players at the Combine, held each year in a hotel outside of Toronto.

The Thrashers tend towards high-risk, high-reward picks, and the placement of their picks low in the draft should have them swinging for the fences even more than usual.  As far as other past tendencies go, all bets are off this year.  With two former first rounders traded out of the organization, it would have been surprising if events of the past year hadn’t caused some soul searching.

The strengths and weaknesses of this year’s draft class will certainly make an impact on who they walk away with as well. Although it’s a particularly bad year in Europe, the WHL and QMJHL have lots of quality players, as do US high schools and the US National Team Development Program.  Surprisingly, given GM Don Waddell’s involvement with USA Hockey, the Thrashers have never taken a player out of the USNTDP (although Jim Slater did play three games for the team in 1998-99 before moving to Michigan State).  It would be a good year to finally take a player from the program.

The picks

The Thrashers currently possess only five picks, which, if that does not change, will be the fewest ever for the team in a draft year.  But Waddell picks up additional picks during draft weekend virtually every year, and there’s no reason to think this year would be an exception.

The team’s first pick is early in the third round at No. 67, and they pick again 11 spots later at No. 78.  Both third rounders they possess are higher than Atlanta’s own third rounder (traded to St. Louis) would have been.  The 67th pick was acquired from the Minnesota Wild in the Petteri Nummelin trade.

Current picks:
No. 67 Edmonton’s 3rd round selection (From Minnesota)
No. 78 NY Rangers’ 3rd round selection
No. 115 Atlanta’s own 4th round selection
No. 175 Atlanta’s own 6th round selection
No. 205 Atlanta’s own 7th round selection

The Thrashers traded their second rounder to Anaheim in 2006 for defenseman Vitaly Vishnevski, a deal which also included Karl Stewart and a 2008 conditional fourth-round pick. Atlanta’s fifth rounder was traded to Vancouver, in the Tommi Santala deal, in which that pick was swapped out for Atlanta’s 2007 fourth rounder, previously traded to the Canucks in the Steve McCarthy deal. 

The draft itself will be structured differently this year, mostly for broadcast reasons.  Before the lockout, the first three rounds were held on Saturday, and Rounds 4-9 were held on Sunday.  Under the new CBA, there are seven rounds of the draft instead of nine. In 2005 and 2006, all seven rounds were held on Saturday, but this year, Round 1 will be held on Friday night during primetime (7pm ET), with the remaining rounds on Saturday.

Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result:
No first round pick.

Leslie Treff contributed to this article. Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.