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Detailed Thrashers Prospect Ranking

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I posted my personal Top 30 Thrashers Prospects on Friday. I had intended to put some comments up with the list but my vacation schedule didn't allow for it. So here is the expanded version.

A few general comments are in order first. This is entirely my opinion. I am not a NHL Scout, this not necessarily how the Thrashers see their own prospects. I will certainly be wrong about somebody on this list. I have watched NHL hockey for 23 years, I've watched nearly every Thrashers game in team history and I've attended every Thrashers Prospect camp. I think that gives me some sort of baseline for evaluating players. I have also played recreational hockey for over 20 years, mostly at defense.

It is also important to remember that the vast majority of NHL prospects will fail to land a regular NHL job. The NHL is the best hockey league in the world and only the very best make that jump. There are basically six scoring line slots, six checking line slots and six defenseman slots. If you assume Ilya Kovalchuk, Bryan Little and Nic Antropov will be in Atlanta for the next 4 years that means there are only 3 scoring line jobs open. I assume that Klingberg and Machacek will be checking line players in 3 years which means that there are only 4 checking line jobs left for the rest of the players to fight over. I assume Bogosian, Enstrom and Hainsey will all be here in three more years so that leaves just 3 defenseman slots up for grabs. All of these prospects are not only competing against one another, but they will also have to compete against Free Agents who might sign and take away a slot.

The good news for Thrashers Prospects is that the talent pool looks better than at any point in my memory. I can honestly say that I think the top 10 all have the talent to play in the NHL. Most years I could only say that about the top 5-7 guys in the system. After the top 10 there is a group of about 15 players out of which between 2-4 might make the NHL. The talent base is better than ever in part because Heatley was traded for Hossa who was traded for Esposito, Leveille (1st round pick) and Christensen (who was traded for Eric O'Dell). Thus the Hossa traded resulted in Colby Armstrong and eventually in the prospects I have ranked 11, 13 and 14 on the list.

1 Evander Kane Age: 18

NHL Role: Scoring Forward

Drafted #4 overall in a strong draft year Kane already has a NHL quality shot and skating skills. He carries the puck away from his body and uses great lateral agility to open up the ice for his own shot (much like a young Dany Heatley did). He will not turn 18 until just a few weeks before his first NHL Training Camp. He could probably survive in the NHL at age 18 but he might be better served by another year in juniors to add weight and work on his consistency. Kane projects as a power forward who can hit and score--if he comes to the NHL too soon he will have to tone down the hitting to keep from getting injured. Evander is calm, cool and collected off the ice and seems unusually mature for his age.

2 Ondrej Pavelec Age: 22

NHL Role: Goalie

Pavelec took a step back last year statistically in the NHL and AHL games. His AHL team struggled much of the year. Let me say that I am less confident in my evaluations of goalies because I've never played the position--but it seems to me that Pavelec still needs to work on letting his body make more saves. Sometimes he over-commits for the initial save and leaves himself helpless to defend a 2nd chance scoring opportunity. This is a big problem for him on the PK when where he had one of the worst PK SV% in the NHL last year. He still has tremendous upside potential if he can be more consistent in his reads and staying square to the shooter. To my mind the question is not whether he can play in the NHL but will he be a starter or backup netminder?

3 Jeremy Morin Age: 18

NHL Role: Scoring Forward

A few people questioned why I had Morin ranked so high. I rank my players on their degree of impact. In my opinion Morin already has a NHL quality release that would make Patrick Stefan envious were he around. He gets his shot away so quickly and which such velocity that it can beat a goaltender even if he sees it coming. That is a very rare talent even in the NHL. The problem is that his skating is uglier than Rod Brind'amour's face. Right now Morin's skating is not up to NHL standards and therefore he wouldn't get many shot opportunities. If I were Jeremy Morin's agent I would sign him up for every single power skating camp I could get him into over the next three or four summers. If Morin applies himself his shot will earn him a NHL roster spot and he could become the next Ray Sheppard or Andrew Brunette. I have a small concern about Morin's attitude, hopefully it nothing more than being teenager.

4 Carl Klingberg Age: 18

NHL Role: Checking Forward.

Klingberg has done nothing but impress me. When I watched him at the U-18 his physical play caught my eye. He played minutes on the 1st line for Team Sweden and his puck skills clearly didn't match the top guys. But having time to watch him more at Prospect Camp I could see that he has solid puck handling and passing skills. I wrote that I was worried about his ability to finish off chances and then he scored a goal in each scrimmage. I still tend to think that he will have trouble beating NHL goalies. He is likely to become a plus 3rd line guy on a playoff caliber team or a minus 2nd line guy on a non-playoff NHL team. He also seems to have a great attitude.

5 Spencer Macheck Age: 20

NHL Role: Checking Forward

Spencer has solid hands and skating but probably lacks the top end skill needed to play on a scoring line in the NHL. He seems to understand his future role and has worked on doing all the little the things a checking line player must do in the NHL: finish his checks, get the puck in deep, make safe passes, etc. He also appears to have a great drive which is important for any checker facing the 82 game grind of the NHL. He looked the most NHL ready of anyone at this prospect camp. My only concern is consistency. I had the chance to see him on back-to-back nights in the AHL last season and he was much better one night than the other.

6 John Albert Age: 20

NHL Role: Scoring Forward

Albert has great wheels and great hands. He appears headed for a NHL career as a 2nd line set up guy. His shot is not terrific, nor has he scored many goals in college. He also appears to have a strong internal drive and desire to succeed. The Thrashers are clearly excited about his potential as a NHL player. His speed and effort level alone make him a worst case NHL forechecker and PK guy.

7 Paul Postma Age: 20

NHL Role: Defense

Postma put up record numbers in the WHL last year and clearly showed off NHL caliber passing and skating skills. I wasn't all that blown away by his shot, but he did score a lot of goals last season, so perhaps I just wasn't watching at the right time. The big question for Postma is how he will handle the 230 lb forwards coming at him in the NHL. Tiny Tobias Enstrom has proven that size isn't everything, but Enstrom has always been small and has spent years learning tricks to counter act bigger forwards. Postma may never put on as much weight, and he will have to adjust to the weight disadvantage. But he has NHL level skills and at worst you could hide him on the 3rd pairing at Even Strength and use him on the Power Play.

8 Arturs Kulda Age: 21

NHL Role: Defense

Kulda is not amazing at any one thing but extremely solid all around player. He can make a nice outlet pass and he can hit. He reads the play very well and covers his lane. Not especially big, he has good balance on his skates that allows him him to step up against bigger guys. When he is playing his best you don't really notice him--he just cleans up the mistakes and gets the puck out of his defensive zone. He will play in the NHL, it is just a matter of when.

9 Riley Holzapfel Age: 21

NHL Role: Checking Forward

To be honest I was fairly pessimistic after watching him at last fall's NHL camp and in two AHL regular season games. He just didn't look like he was going 100% all the time to me and he was making some silly mental errors on the ice. Holzapfel lacks the elite NHL hands/shot/passing to become a regular on a scoring line on a NHL playoff team. To win one of the checking jobs he has to play with a high level of intensity every night. I watched him quite a lot at Prospect Camp this year and he showed more of that intensity--hopefully that will carry over to NHL Camp this fall.

10 Grant Lewis Age: 23

NHL Role: Defense

Grant Lewis is a favorite of mine. He has NHL size and he skates beautifully. He has NHL passing skills. The only thing really lacking is health. Injuries have cost him well over a full season of development time in college and the AHL. Some people just don't have bones and ligaments that can take the wear and tear of professional sports, I'm hoping that is not the case for Grant.

11 Angelo Esposito Age: 20

NHL Role: Scoring Foward

Simply put, I'm skeptical. He has NHL speed and NHL hands but I question his judgment and hockey sense. I've watched him make a slick move to beat a defensemen only to pass the puck to an empty patch of ice. I've seen him throw three fakes in a shootout and then hit the goalie in the chest. There is no doubt he has talent, but I'm skeptical he will ever maximize that talent at the NHL level (and I'm not the only person that feels this way). He'll get a shot at the NHL because of those skills but I question if he will qualify for a NHL pension (400 games, 5 year career).

12 Andrei Zubarev Age: 22

NHL Role: Defense

I've never watched him play. He plays for a high level team in the KHL. From what I hear he as the talent to battle for a NHL roster spot. He has one more season left on his current deal in Russia. It seems that sign-ability is the key issue--not talent--with this player.

13 Daultan Leveille Age: 19

NHL Role: Scoring or Checking Forward

I was concerned that the Thrashers reached when they took him late in the 1st round and I remained concerned today. His point totals in his freshman season at Michigan State were not impressive. Someone who follows college hockey much more closely than I do suggested that he was poorly used last year. Watching him at Prospect Camp he certainly looked quick, but I would have liked to see that quickness translated into more scoring chances. Based on historical player development curves, he needs to start scoring next year if he is going to have a shot at a top six role in the NHL. The good thing about really quick players is that they can become good forecheckers of PK guys if they are willing to embrace that role. My gut instinct is that Leveille will end up as another Sean Donovan type guy.

14 Eric O'Dell Age: 19

NHL Role: Scoring Forward

Interesting guy in that he didn't blow me away with any one attribute, but he has a nice combination of skating skills and puck handling and intelligence. He uses his lateral mobility and puck handling to create shot opportunities. It seems to me that his shot might not be all that hard but he is deceptive and was able to score by surprising goalies with a quick or unexpected release. Seems to have a plus in the hockey IQ department.

15 Ed Pasquale Age: 18

NHL Role: Goalie

I'm not a great judge of goalies, but he has great size and is willing to build on that by playing a style that fits that attribute. Goalies take longer to mature on average and I like his foundation. It will be interesting to see him after another year of working on his consistency and technique.

16 Levko Koper Age: 18

NHL Role: Checking Forward

Strongest attribute is his speed and ability to read the play. Really understands how to use his speed to put himself in good spots at both ends of the ice. Also willing to embrace the role of PKer and forechecker. Some people questioned his consistency/intensity. I liked what I saw at Prospect Camp--he stood out in a good way.

17 Zach Redmond Age: 20

NHL Role: Defense

I was a bit skeptical when the Thrashers used a late pick on an over age player at a weak college program. And yet, Zach Redmond continues to surprise me. He has a very nice balance and good passing skills. He's probably undersized for the NHL level. But there is enough potential there to keep me intrigued and watching.

18 Ben Chiarot Age: 18

NHL Role: D

The Thrashers were very happy to land him at the draft. Someone I know liked him a lot after watching him at an OHL game. I was rather unimpressed with him at Prospect Camp. Hopefully it was just a case of him being off his skates for a while. Or perhaps the inability to hit people took him out of his usual nasty game. I thought he looked slow out there and his puck skills were below average. I'm considering to road trip to watch some OHL games this coming season and I would really like to see Chiarot in game action to get a better read on his potential.

19 Vinny Saponari Age: 19

NHL Role: Scoring Forward

Has great wheels and good hands. Started off as a freshman with a strong college hockey program and earned more minutes on a quality roster. Won a National Championship. He should get more ice time next season which will provide a better measuring stick for his scoring potential.

20 Nicklas Lasu Age: 19

NHL Role: Checking Forward

I've not seen him play, but he is supposed to play with determination and grit. If he makes the NHL it will be as a checking line player. He will probably play some with Klingberg this year.

21 Jimmy Bubnick Age: 18

NHL Role: Scoring Forward

He has really good hands. Much like Jeremy Morin everything depends on him improving his skating. Having good hands will not help you in the modern NHL if you can't keep up with the play. He could be useful as a PP specialist if he is willing to stand in the crease and tip pucks. (Note: I intended to move him up before publishing my list on Friday and I have corrected the list today.)

22 Brett Sterling Age: 24

NHL Role: Scoring Forward

Has scored at every level. Willing to go to the net and mix things up, but he lacks speed and he lacks size. His AHL coach took over the NHL job and didn't bring him up even after it was clear the season was a loss. From the outside it looks to me like the Thrashes are not that excited about him anymore. He would probably benefit from a change of scenery.

23 Alex Kangas Age: 21

NHL Role: Goalie

Great rookie year followed by a big step back in his stats at least. I generally like what I saw from him a year ago. Which player will we see this coming season?

24 Jordan LaVallee Age: 22

NHL Role: Checking Forward

Has the size to be a 3rd/4th line banger, speed is good enough. Should be in the mix for that last NHL job this year.

25 Will O'Neill Age: 21

NHL Role: Defense

Much like Redmond, he's undersized for a NHL defenseman but has nice passing skills and good balance. The odds are probably stacked against him making the NHL, but there is enough potential there that if he takes another step forward he make a bid for a NHL job.

25 Andrew Kozek Age: 22

NHL Role: Scoring Forward

Never really impressed me until this Prospect Camp. Showed good speed and scoring touch. The downside is that he is undersized, not that young for a prospect and lacks elite level scoring skills. To make the NHL he would probably have to make a bid for 3rd or 4th line job. I'm not sure his is a good fit for one of those roles.

27 Cody Sol Age:18

NHL Role: Defense

I'm opposed to using draft picks on fighters (I think the pro scouts should find them not the amateur scouts), and so I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Sol appears have more skill than your typical junior hockey slugger. In fact the more I watched him the more he grew on him. The guy can play some hockey. The question is how much more will he develop? He still has a long way to go before getting a shift as a defender in the NHL, but he's started from a much higher level than other recent fighters the Thrashers have drafted.

28 Danick Paquette Age:19

NHL Role: Checking Forward

He's either really raw or just not that good of a hockey player. The Thrashers have a very poor track record in finding talent in the QMJHL and I'm not expecting Paquette to reverse that trend.

29 Niklas Lucenius Age: 20

NHL Role: Checking Forward

Why did he make the cut for the list? A strong performance at the WJC against other elite players in his age group. Frankly all the guys at this point in the list are a long shot to become NHL regulars. His regular season numbers are very uninspiring and he looked very ordinary last summer at Prospect Camp.

30 Chris Carrozzi Age: 19

NHL Role: Goalie

I'm not an expert on goaltending, but after watching him at two Prospect Camps I can't help but think that his technique is just a mess. Hopefully he looks better in regular season games.

31 Jonas Enlund Age: 21

NHL Role: Checking Forward

Enlund had a good 41 point season in the Finnish League one year ago but fell back to just 27 points last year. The Finnish League is about as difficult to score in as the AHL so that should give you a rough feeling for his offensive skills.


A hypothetical Thrashers Roster three years from now. (Assumes Kovalchuk and Armstrong re-sign). This is a bit unrealistic because the players are so young and the Thrashers will certainly sign some UFAs and sadly there will be career ending injuries...but it does give a rough idea of what the future could hold as these prospects mature.

2011-2012 Atlanta Thrashers (with ages for that season)

Forward Line 1 Kovalchuk 29 Antropov 33 Little 24

Forward Line 2 Kane 21 Albert 23 Esposito 24

Forward Line 3 Klingberg 21 Machacek23 Armstrong 29

Forward Line 4 LaValle 25 Holzapfel 24 Lasu 23

Defense Pairing 1 Estrom 27 Bogosian 24

Defense Pairing 2 Hainsey 31 Kulda 24

Defense Pairing 3 Valabik 26 Postma 23

Goalie Tandem Lehtonen 28 Pavelec 25