LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25: Alexander Burmistrov, drafted eighth overall by the Atlanta Thrashers, poses on stage during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center on June 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Now that I've had a night to sleep on it, here are some observations about the Thrashers selection of Alexander Burmistrov
The pick really addresses an organizational need at center. At the NHL level, Atlanta has Antropov and Peverley under contract for the next few years. The center position has been a real weakness for the franchise historically. Because the center plays the whole length of the ice, having strength at the C position is crucial to long term success. Teams like Pittsburgh and Detroit have built their roster around having two great centers who compete hard at both ends of the ice. Alex Burmistrov has the potential to become the best center to ever put on a Thrashers uniform (and yes, he could be better than Marc Savard).
We also learned a few things about the new GM Rick Dudley. He tends to favor big players (see the trade with Chicago and past draft picks). Some fans in Tampa and Florida accused him of having a size fetish when it comes to acquiring players. The fact that he took a player who is as small as Alex Burmistrov puts the lie to those accusations. Dudley clearly values hockey IQ, determination/competitiveness and speed over size or he wouldn't have made the selection.
The pick also shows that the Atlanta Thrashers will not avoid players from any region of the globe. The last two years the number of Americans and Swedish players have grown and the number of Russians declined. Especially after the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk, the organization might have been a bit gun shy about taking another Russian high in the draft. Clearly, this pick wasn't driven by fear.
In terms of organizational strategy, I strongly endorse taking a scoring forward with the 1st round pick. Scoring players are simply the most difficult to acquire for a reasonable price. More than any other position, scoring forwards come out of the 1st or 2nd rounds of the draft. Scorers are always expensive as UFA (unless they have flaws--see Afinogenov),therefore I think any team picking high should leverage that position into gaining an offensive player who can provide cheap offense and the right to re-sign and retain their rights.
Another observation is that Alexander Burmistrov is not Ilya Kovalchuk. There is an old saying that "generals fight the last war" which means that the human brain is hard wired to expect past scenarios/patterns to repeat themselves. Some fans might be worried thinking "great we just drafted another Russian glamor forward who will play bad defense and leave us in a few years." But Burmistrov plays a different style--he's a passer more than a shooter and he's a good defender. In my brief moments with Alex he also seemed much more extroverted than Kovalchuk. Burmistrov's decision to leave his native country to come and play hockey at age 17 in North American and his ability to learn English quickly speaks highly of his drive, intelligence and competitiveness
I was surprised that the Thrashers didn't trade down because Dudley had expressed a desire to gain more picks and I'm sure some teams were eager to draft players left on the board. But it was clear that Atlanta was very much intrigued by Burmistrov as they had him ranked very high and had spoken to him repeatedly during the season.