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The New Guys Part I: Defense

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I've now had a chance to see the Thrashers play two exhibition games and here some thoughts on the defense so far. Since it is just two games these comments come from a small sample size which means I'm likely to be wrong about something in the long run. Nevertheless as someone once said: "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

Oystrick: I know that the family and friends of players may end up reading this blog entry if they google his name, but I have to say that so far Nathan Oystrick has just been a mess in terms of his positioning on the ice. In both the Nashville and St. Louis games he made an error that directly contributed to a goal by the opposition. Sometimes he runs around trying to do too much when he should just stay in his lane and let the play come to him. Other times he seems to just stop skating and watch his partner. I must say I'm amazed that he could have played a full season in Chicago last year and look this bad in the Thrasher games so far. Maybe he is trying too hard to impress and is getting away from what made him successful last year.

Klee: In the interest of full disclosure I was not at all excited when Atlanta signed him this summer. I watched the young Ken Klee in his early days with the Washington Capitals and he seemed little more than a journeyman defenseman. I was very concerned about his footspeed after a season where Sutton and de Vries were members of our top four defensive rotation for most of the year. Now it is just one exhibition game, but I have to say that I might have been wrong about this one. Nobody will confuse Ken Klee with a speedskater but he seemed adequate against some hard charging kids last night. But what really impressed me the most was the small things he did to facilitate the offense. He was very decisive in the way that he distributed the puck. In the offensive zone he showed a good awareness of who was open and made accurate passes to get the puck to that person. By the way the stats back up this observation, when Klee was on the ice his team's offense was more productive than normal last year.

Pilar: His lumbering skating style is frighteningly reminiscent of Andy Sutton. Pilar did some nice things in the game at Nashville but I just don't think he is mobile enough to be a regular in the post-lockout NHL. With the current rules on obstruction I can just see guys like Briere and Alfredsson undressing him like a cheap mannequin. He is guy you would only want to see on the ice against the opposition's third or forth lines.

Enstrom: I praised him in a full post this week so I'll try to keep this one short lest I be accused of developing a man crush on him. In both the Nashville and St. Louis games he played stronger each period. His puck handling skills are simply better than any other defensemen on the team aside from Zhitnik. His puck position skills are such that he looks like we just stole him from the Detroit Red Wings: tape-to-tape passes, no stupid dump plays, hitting people in stride, etc. He briefly changed positions on the power play and made two perfect passes that led directly to Kovalchuk one-timers. How many times last season did we see Kovalchuk decline to attempt a one-timer on the power play because the puck was not placed right in his wheel house. If those two guys end up being a blue line combination expect a nice assist total for Enstrom and more PP goals for Ilya. Again, he is so small that the Thrashers will likely give up some goals against every now and again because of it, I'm willing to take that chance.

McCarthy: (OK so he's not a new guy but I have a comment) With Zhitnik and Enstrom around McCarthy might not see much time on the power play unit anymore. In the past, Hartley has also entrusted Havelid with some power play time and Ken Klee might have more offensive upside than McCarthy. The Thrashers defense could be significantly better this season as Zhitnik/Klee/Enstrom replace Sutton/de Vries/Vishnevski and McCarthy might have to fight for his ice time.

Valabik: It is no secret that I'm not a big fan of his but he has stayed away from unnecessary penalties so far in the pre-season. He was paired with Oystrick in Nashville and I'd like to see what he looks like playing with a veteran partner rather than a struggling prospect.

Popovic: He hasn't dressed in either game that I've seen so I'm looking forward to seeing him in action this week.