Here at SB Nation we hockey writers are conducting a Mock Draft as we head up to the real Draft next week. While I don't know which player the Thrashers will take at #8, I think the odds are very high that they will take one of three forwards from the WHL (Western Hockey League). I think they prefer Nino Niederreiter, but in our mock he was off the board by the time Atlanta picked--I wouldn't be surprised if the that happened in the actual draft as well.
That leaves a choice between RW Bret Connolly and C Ryan Johansen and I went with Connolly (but Johansen would be a fine choice too). The reason I went with Connolly is that there is widespread agreement that were it not for a hip injury that wiped out most of his season, Brett would certainly be picked in the top 5 of the NHL Draft. He has a good sized frame at 6'2" and terrific hands. He scored at an impressive rate as a 16 year old playing in the WHL. When I spoke to Thrashers Director of Scouting Dan Marr he made the comment that their area scout had "never seen him have a bad game" which is a pretty strong statement about the teenagers consistency.
The key question regarding Connolly is his health. He sprained one hip and tried to play through the injury--but he overcompensated and injured the opposite hip. He then proceeded to miss almost the entire WHL season. When he did return to the ice in late spring he played at a lower level then before. Was it a case of Connolly trying to do too much? Is it a permanent change? Or was it a case of Connolly being behind everyone else after missing nearly the entire regular season?
When I spoke to Dan Marr about this last year in scouting he made the observation that he had never seen so many injuries to key prospects his 20 years of following young players. I mentioned Connolly as an injured prospect and he replied that it was crucial for a club to do their homework and assess the situation. He sounded confident that Atlanta had done precisely their due diligence. In 1999 there were some questions regarding Patrick Stefan because he had suffered a concussion--the Thrashers did not pass over Stefan after conducting their own medical assessment.
It is hard to predict who will be left on the board for Atlanta at #8. My personal belief is that the Thrashers will take one of the WHL forwards and if Niederreiter is gone, I don't think the Thrashers will pass over Connolly based on his injury situation. If they think he is the best player available, they will take him.