I got a game-worn Jimmy Slater jersey for my wedding anniversary last year and I wave a giant Slater banner at Thrashers home games, so it’s no surprise that when my husband saw Falconer’s call for someone to pen a blog post about Slater’s recent performance, he looked to me.
I tried to protest, since I don’t have a mental list of stats and facts at the ready. I’m not enough of a hard-core hockey fan, I argued. But, my husband reasoned, I am at least a hard-core Slater fan.
One of the attributes that makes me a fan of the center seems to be a large contributor to his breakout play throughout January: non-stop hustle and an obvious passion for the sport. I realize there are plenty of "Slater haters" out there, largely because many feel that he hasn’t lived up to his first-round draft pick promise. Say what you will about talent, but no one has ever doubted Slater’s work ethic.
For the first half of the season, Slater was on the bubble of the roster, often finding himself the odd man out. He was a healthy scratch for 21 of the first 38 games of the season. That lack of consistent ice time—not to mention that demoralizing seat in the press box—is a recipe for making a player out of practice and out of spirits. Not so for Slater: fans heading to the Ice Forum to watch Thrashers practice often saw Slater on the ice after most of the team had called it a day. He worked on handling, getting pucks into the net and, yes, staying upright on his skates.
If Slater’s goal throughout January was to prove to John Anderson that he shouldn’t be on the scratch rotation, then mission accomplished. His determination and newfound confidence has turned into a stellar performance in January’s 14 games. In that time, he has scored six goals for a season total of seven. That’s seven goals in just 32 games, compared to just eight goals in 60 games during the 2008-09 season.
For those of you thinking, "Sure, he’s been playing well, but it’s a team effort," you’re right. Slater has been especially effective since Anderson drastically changed the lines. First paired with Evander Kane and Bryan Little, and now Kane and Colby Armstrong, Slater seems to have found the right chemistry to really get going. He and Kane share speed, a solid work ethic and a tendency to head for the net.
It’s a pairing that has paid off for Kane, too. He’s been trying his solo wraparound move all season, usually without result. Both of Slater’s goals against Philly were the result of Kane adding a pass to Slater after his signature wraparound. Even Army, who seems to be struggling to find his stride this year, has scored two goals and one assist while on the ice with Kane and Slater. During the five games that the trio has been together, they have earned a total of 11 points, including five goals. (And I still say this line should be called the Slayer line.)
The hustle and results the Kane-Slater-Army line has been producing should be an example to the rest of the Thrashers. It’s refreshing to see that kind of passion on a nightly basis, shift after shift.
Slater is January’s featured player in my Thrashers calendar. Mr. January, indeed. When it comes to goals, Slater has only broken into the double digits once: he scored 10 during the 2005-06 season, his first as a Thrasher. At this rate, Slater will easily surpass his previous scoring record. Here’s hoping that Slater’s January lasts well into the playoffs.