Hockey's Future has updated their Organization Rankings and the Thrashers were rated 8th out of 30 NHL teams.
Let me begin with this caveat, I disagree with the HF criteria for a prospect. They don't consider a prospect to be graduated from the farm system until they play 65 NHL games. I think the 65 NHL games is not the best way to determine if someone has graduated. For example, HF counts both Bogosian and Valabik as prospects. Bogosian played every minute of his season in the NHL, but the his injury caused him to stay under 65 games (he played 47 games). Valabik played 50 NHL games and just 11 AHL games (for a total of 57 NHL games going back to last season). My personal opinion is that if a player dresses for more NHL games than he does AHL or junior games in a signle season--then that player has graduated.
So the bad news is that I consider two of the top five Thrashers prospects to have already graduated. The good news is that I concur with HF that the Thrashers have a deeper pool of prospects than almost any time in their franchise history. When I take a look at the the team's prospects I don't have to squint really hard to see some of these guys in a NHL jersey.
For example, I consider Pavelec, Machacek, Holzapfel, Kulda and John Albert as likely NHL players. I also would rate O'Dell, Leveille, Esposito and Lewis and Zubarev as strong candidates to make the NHL at this point in their career. Furthermore I would list Saponari, Sterling, Postma, Lucenius, LaVallee and Enlund as having some realistic NHL potential. That's a huge list of legitimate NHL prospects.
Of course, bad things will happen to some of those aspiring NHL hockey players. Already a string of injuries has hampered Grant Lewis. Europeans might choose not to sign and junior players might struggle as professionals. Perhaps half of this list of 15 will fail to achieve their NHL goal. But even if half fail that would still result in 7-8 NHL players coming out of this farm system which would be an above average return.
Five years ago the Thrashers had a brutal day at the 2004 Draft in Carolina. The 2005 Draft saw them pick a headcase in Alex Bourret, but they saved their draft by using trading down and using one of the extra picks to take their top rated prospect Ondrej Pavelec. The 2006 Draft has the potential to be the best class ever in Thrashers history (Bryan Little, Holzapfel, Kulda, Kangas, Enlund). In 2007 Thrashers had just 4 picks left after the Tkachuk trade and as of this moment all four have a legit shot at the NHL (Machacek, Lucenius, Albert, Postma). The 2008 class netted star Bogosian, but I think they reached on a bunch of players (Leveille, Paquette)--time will tell if they were right. The upshot of this brief review is that the Thrasher appear to have done very well in 2006 and 2007--those two draft years bolstered the organization's prospect depth significantly.
For a revenue poor like Atlanta developing young (cheap) prospects is not a luxury, it is essential to competing against teams with more money to spend. Atlanta drafted poorly in 2004 but did very well in 2006 and 2007. Hopefully they can repeat that success in 2009.