One of the most exciting things about this years' version of the Atlanta Thrashers has been the much-improved team play. In previous years, there was a general feeling that, well, maybe everyone wasn't on the same page. Lackadaisical play and very little communication on the ice were symptoms of the malaise that hampered Atlanta in recent years. Only after they were eliminated from the playoffs last season, did everyone find their roles and the team truly began to take shape.
Lately we've been hearing a good deal about many of these Thrashers: Captain Ilya Kovalchuk's tremendous play through injury; Zach Bogosian's scoring stampede; Rich Peverley's virtual omnipresence on-ice and in the media (well, for Atlanta hockey, anyway). But let's look at some Thrashers who may not be getting the same kind of attention their teammates are enjoying.
(more after the jump)
A lot has been made of the Thrashers' offensive defense recently, but one player who manages to elude the spotlight has been Pavel Kubina. Though the big Czech D-man is currently day-to-day with "lower body soreness" (he may be back Thursday, vs. Boston) , Kubina has been been a steady producer on the blueline. He opened the season with a nifty four-game assist streak, and then added a three-game goal scoring streak to open the month of November. Pavel has also seen his power play time increase, giving him even more offensive opportunities. Defensively he's blocked 30 shots - second on the team to Zach Bogosian, who has 31. He's a true top-four defenseman for Atlanta with a quality of competition rating of .077, and his relative +/- rating is 2.49, good for tops in the Thrashers d-corp. Additionally, Kubina has been using his size to great advantage, clearing the crease of pucks, opposing players, and just generally taking up space. Considering the Thrashers gave up Garnet Exelby and Colin Stuart to aquire him from Toronto, Kubina has been a huge boon to the Thrashers back end.
|2009 - Pavel Kubina||16||3||5||8||7||16||2||0||0||0||32||9.4|
It truly was a good day in Blueland when The Party signed a 2 year contract extension this past summer. Last season, Marty Reasoner was a new face in the locker room, having signed a one year contract during the off-season free agency period. Though his name may have been unfamiliar to many Eastern Conference hockey fans, he would soon make his presence felt as an important part of the Thrashers lineup. He brought clutch goal scoring (remember the OT game-winner over his former mates in Edmonton?), mad face-off skills (52.8%, and only Todd White lined up for more draws), and a consistent and unparalleled work ethic. This year, little has changed. Marty hasn't found the goal column just yet, but his faceoffs (54.7%) and work ethic are as strong as ever. Reasoner has lined up most often with Colby Armstrong & Evander Kane as the Thrashers' "third" line - maybe not as well known as the first line, but just as dangerous. Reasoner has also helped lead the charge on Atlanta's much-improved penalty kill unit, averaging 3:27 of short-handed ice-time per game, and boosting their effectiveness to 84.5%; good for third-best in the NHL.
|2009 - Marty Reasoner||17||0||8||8||6||4||0||0||0||0||9||0.0|
Toby Enstrom had his breakout year in 2007-2008, coming over from MODO Hockey in the Swedish Eilite League and appearing in all 82 games. Toby picked up a total of 38 points to lead the Thrashers defensemen offensively. Since then, the Thrashers' own 8th round draft miracle has been a busy blueliner. Enstrom currently leads the Thrashers D with a quality of competition rating 0f .098 and his average ice time of 22:16 is second only to Zach Bogosian. His left handed shot has given him prime positioning on the right point of the Thrashers power play, and he's spending more time there than any other Thrashers defenseman. Toby's 12 points in 17 games this year puts him on pace to hit 58 points this year - though he'll probably end up in the 45-50 point range. His late-draft selection and his four-year extension that kicked in this season (a $3.75 mil/year cap hit) are really a feather in the Thrashers' cap.
|2009 - Tobias Enstrom||17||2||10||12||3||10||1||0||0||0||25||8.0|
If you think that Maxim Afinogenov hasn't been an important part of the Thrashers' winning ways, think again. Max has made his way up to a point-per-game this season, and his 7 goals are good for 4th on the team. With 17 points, Max is 3rd on the team in scoring. Last year, it took him 41 of his 48 total games to reach that total. Max is also averaging over seventeen minutes of ice time compared to the fourteen he averaged last year - it seems playing this guy results in production. He's on pace for 82 points - a feat he's clearly capable of, having once hit 73 points (05-06). Mad Max is playing with the right line mates at the right time, and we're being rewarded with some of the most exciting hockey we've seen in a while.
"Max seems like he's got a second life in hockey... He's one of the hardest working I ever see. Off the ice he's in the gym every day and he's preparing himself. Johnny trusts him and put him in key situations. He feels more comfortable and he gives you results... He's every day, he's smiling, and that's the most important thing."
|2009 - Maxim Afinogenov||17||7||10||17||1||10||2||0||0||0||41||17.1|
BWA writer Timmy F also contributed to this report.