It is very rare that you can walk out of a sporting event and say "I think I just saw the best game of this guy's career" but I said exactly that after the Thrashers win over Buffalo. Colin Stuart--a guy who has not topped 30 points in two AHL seasons--lined up on Marian Hossa's line and had the game of his life.
He was plus three for the game and had a nice assist and a highlight reel end-to-end goal that was the #1 play of the night on the NHL network. Stuart now has 4 points in 5 games and is hotter than an Atlanta sidewalk in July. Will this last all season? Heck no, but let's ride this train until it stops! He certainly has contributed more than Jim Slater has this season (at about half the price) and Stuart can change directions at top speed without falling over!
In the pre-game show Coach/GM Don Waddell said they were putting him on Hossa's line because of his speed and forechecking abilities and the speed was certainly there. The question is really if he has the hands to play with Marian Hossa for longer than a week or two. I'll be curious to see how that line fares against a hard trapping team. The Thrashers have been playing teams that allow them to gain the blueline with speed but that will not last forever--we'll play another trap team sooner or later.
Did any of you watch the NHL Network's On the Fly highlight show? I love their highlight roundups and the Thrashers-Sabres received a lot of attention because there were only 2 NHL games yesterday. But one thing really stuck in my craw. The analyst on the show said "Marian Hossa is playing with two rookies" which is a pretty curious statement since Eric Perrin played a full 82 games last season (perhaps the Thrashers PR department should send him a copy of the NHL Guide and Record Book). On the one hand I can understand how a guy could make a honest mistake--on the other hand it is evidence that the color guy doesn't pay much attention to the Atlanta Thrashers (or Tampa Bay Lightning for that matter). I'll willing to bet money that he wouldn't have made that mistake when talking about any of the six Canadian franchises on the NHL's official channel.
One last point. Many people love to trash the Thrashers player development under Don Waddell. I've looked at the numbers and the Thrashers are simply average compared to other teams. But one thing I can say is the team has consistently benefited from contributions from the farm system this year. Some of our young guys have received limited ice time but almost everyone has helped the club in some way this year.
I would say that Atlanta must be in the top five of the NHL in terms of getting value out of their system so far this year (Chicago, Phoenix, Edmonton being the other teams that come to mind). Consider the list of farm system products this year:
Enstrom: best defensemen on the team as a rookie.
- Little: quality minutes, solid defense before Recchi arrived.
- Sterling: so-so NHL start but didn't hurt the team (scoring in bunches again in Chicago)
Popovic: solid 3rd pairing guy, has been much more effective than McCarthy this season.
Pavalec: several quality starts and a couple of shutouts
- C. Stuart: few games, big impact so far
- Doell: few games, doing OK on the checking line.
And we haven't even seen LaValle, Valabik or Lewis who might also be able to contribute if needed by the big club.