Southeast Division Preview: Atlanta Thrashers

Atlanta Thrashers 2010-2011 Preview

Acquisitions/Signings
LW Fredrik Modin, signed for 1 year
D Freddy Meyer, signed for 1 year
LW Eric Boulton, re-signed for 1 year
G Chris Mason, signed for 2 years
RW Nigel Dawes, signed for 1 year
RW Patrick Rissmiller, acquired in trade with Rangers
LW Andrew Ladd, acquired in trade with Blackhawks
D Dustin Byfuglien, acquired in trade with Blackhawks
D Brent Sopel, acquired in trade with Blackhawks
RW Ben Eager, acquired in trade with Blackhawks
C Akim Aliu, acquired in trade with Blackhawks

Departures
LW Clarke MacArthur, signed with the Maple Leafs
D Pavel Kubina, signed with the Lightning
RW Colby Armstrong, signed with the Maple Leafs
LW Todd White, traded to Rangers
D Ivan Vishnevskiy, traded to Blackhawks
D Mike Verance, traded to Sharks
C Marty Reasoner, traded to Blackhawks
LW Jeremy Morin, traded to Blackhawks
RW Slava Kozlov, free agency
LW Maxim Afinogenov, went to KHL

Atlanta came very close to making the playoffs last year but came up just short, mostly thanks to a tough schedule down the stretch. That and they put themselves into a big hole earlier in the year. The Thrashers were a team that was pretty fun to watch but they lacked defensive depth and that got them into trouble. Anytime you have to call up 47-year-old Chris Chelios to play defense then you know things aren’t going well. The Thrashers go into the 2010-11 season as a completely different team. With new GM Rick Dudley and new coach Craig Ramsay, Atlanta is hoping to get themselves back into to respectability.

When I look at the Thrashers roster, I don’t see one definite stand out. There’s a lot of good players, a few potential stars but no one I see being the face of the franchise. With the former face of the franchse, Ilya Kovalchuk, now in New Jersey, the Thrashers will be looking for one player to market so they can fill up the seats in the Phillips Arena. On the hockey side of things, this is a pretty decent team they’ve assembled. A good chunk of the players they acquired from Chicago, who needed to make cap room. The biggest players they got were Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien, the latter likely being played as a defender for this year.

The Thrashes offense consists of a few veterans and a lot of young forwards that can have potential breakout seasons very soon. The most notable being Niclas Bergfors, who was acquired from the Devils in the Kovalchuk trade. Bergfors was playing top-6 minutes in Atlanta and has the potential to be a 20+ goal scorer. Same can be said for Evander Kane who had a pretty good rookie season despite missing about 20 games. With Maxim Afinogenov bolting to Russia, Bryan Little and Rich Peverley will likely see a lot of action on the top line since them and Nik Antropov appear to be the biggest scoring threats.  Andrew Ladd could also play top 6 minutes as well despite mainly being a depth player in Chicago. He adds a lot of grit and leadership to the team and has a strong offensive upside. The rest of the offense looks like mostly depth players. Nigel Dawes, Fredrik Modin and Ben Eagler were all brought in to fill those roles. There’s a possibility that Patrice Cormier and Patrick Rissmiller could be called up, as well. If Cormier learns to play clean then he should fit in with the team well.

Zach Bogosian remains the future of Atlanta’s defensive corps but Tobias Enstrom is now the best defender on the team. Enstrom brings a solid all-around game and put up 50 points last year. He will probably take Kubina’s place on the powerplay. Him and Bogosian should be a great pairing if Bogo has that breakout year we’re waiting for. Moving back to the blue-line is Dustin Byfuglien where he’ll likely be paired with Johnny Oduya. Byfuglien is only as good as the talent around him and he was playing with Toews and Kane in Chicago. He is physical and has a big body and probably wouldn’t work well as a forward in Atlanta, so moving him back to defense is a pretty smart move. That and the Thrashers have enough forward depth as it is. Playing the bottom pairing is Brent Sopel and Ron Hainsey with Freddy Meyer filling in every now and then. There’s also a chance that Arturs Kulda might make the team, so be on the look out for him. He’s young but he’s capable of being a great shutdown defensemen soon.

Atlanta’s biggest upgrade came at goalie with the signing of Chris Mason. He has been very reliable as the Blues net-minder for the past two years and can carry a big workload. The organization still has confidence in Ondrej Pavelec but he struggles with staying consistent and has a habit of overplaying pucks. He could be the starter in a couple of years, but it’s Mason’s turn right now.

One thing the Thrashers need to work on is their powerplay, it was one of the worst in the league last year and losing Kovalchuk didn’t help. This is where they hope Bogosian and Bergfors to contribute more.  Enstrom can also work the point on a powerplay pretty well, too.
Honestly, if you’re in the East then you have a pretty good playoff chance no matter who you are. The Thrashers will be doing a lot of scoring by committee and winning close games, so I wouldn’t be shocked if they found their way into the post-season. Their roster has definitely gotten an upgrade over last year and there’s a handful of players that could turn into potential stars. This year, I see them fighting for playoff contention and taking one of the last two spots. They will need to rely on a l0t of young talent to get there, though.

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