Today we look at the Atlanta Thrashers. Last year was a trying year forThrarshers who got off to a slow start trying to adapt to new head coach John Anderson’s style. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the season when the Thrashers actually turned things around and found their way winning twelve of their last 18 games. Ilya Kovulchuk goes for his sixth straight 40 goal season this year (yikes), and is hoping that the Thrasher’s organization gets more competitive and adds more quality to the roster as he becomes a free agent after this season is over. There were a few positives last year though. Bryan Little scoring 31 goals, Rich Peverley scoring thirteen in 39 games after coming over from Nashville. Young defenseman Zach Bogosian looking like a veteran after recovering from a broken leg early on, and of course John Anderson sticking to his game plan and getting the players to believe. The Thrashers would like to continue the momentum from last year and if they do, they will surprise alot of teams.
Here’s the breakdown:
Offense: When you have a player like Kovulchuk, you need someone to get him the puck. Nik Antropov was added to the roster this year and could be that guy. While not a gazelle on skates his size can defintely give Kovulchuk more room to work with, and together they should find a way to provide even more offense. Believe it or not only 6 teams scored more goals than the Thrashers last year! Veteran Slava Kozlov potted 26 and Todd White added 22 as did Colby Armstrong. Even Marty Reasoner scored a respectable 14 as a third liner, so you can see that scoring goals is defintelly a strength.
Defense: Last year this was an issue for Atlanta not only as a unit but as a team. The forwards must learn to backcheck and help out more with the style that Anderson expects them to play. As far as the unit is concerned, Pavel Kubina another large body was added to bolster this group. Kubina another of the not so quick will be counted on to contribute a boatload of minutes and can also provide some offense as well, getting 14 goals last year with the Leafs. Zach Bogosian will be entering year two and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to improve. He took on more responsibility as the season wore on and the sky is the limit for this kid. Tobias Enstrom and Ron Hainsey round out the top four. There will be a dogfight for the final two slots with players like Nathan Oystrick, Boris Valabik, Noah Welch and youngster Anssi Salmela all getting looks. They all have to play better and be responsible if this team is going to improve.
Goaltending: Kari (letthemin)Lehtonen can no longer ride the potential ticket! He has got to be more consistent and avoid some nagging injuries. He’s going to be 26 already this season and he should be heading into his prime. The Thrashers need him to steal some games. Backing him up will either be Johan Hedberg or Ondrej Pavelec. Capable but only for short spells. Lehtonen needs to be the guy.
Coaching: The Thrashers were 35-41-6 under John Anderson in his first year behind an NHL bench. It was an adjustment period for him as well as his players. But the last couple months of the season saw the players finally adapting and some of that may also have been the steady play of rookie defenseman Zach Bogosian. Anderson is well liked, and knows how to win. The players just needed to buy in.
Overview: Making the playoffs is a tall order for this team. While I am not expecting them to do so, I do feel that they will be an exciting team to watch and will surprise many. They can score, but they can also give them up in bunches too. If the defense overall improves look for this team to move up a notch or two, but unless the sky falls, I don’t see the playoffs as being part of the picture. At least this year.
Well, that wraps up the other teams in the Southeast. I will have my Panthers preview next week as we take an indepth look at the upcoming season for the Florida Panthers.
Thanks for reading.