2008/09: 35-41-6 – 76 pts (4th in Southeast, 13th in East)
Arrived: Nik Antropov (NYR), Pavel Kubina (Tor)
Departed: Garnet Exelby (TOR)
That playoff appearance by the Thrashers in 2007 is looking like a bigger fluke every day. They were terrible last year, finishing ahead of only the Lightning and Islanders in the East, and their two key off-season acquisitions were a pair of underachieving ex-Leafs. Goal-scoring has never been the problem in Atlanta; they ranked 5th in the East last year with 257 goals. The problem was keeping the puck out of their net as they allowed 280 goals, better than only the hapless Maple Leafs. While the addition of defenceman Kubina should help them in their own zone, their season will hinge on the health of goaltender Kari Lehtonen. The second overall pick in 2002 has only played more than 50 games once in his career, and is still recovering from off-season back surgery. The worst part about this season is it could be the last chance Thrashers fans have to see Ilya Kovalchuk wear that hideous blue jersey.
FANTASY WORTHY FORWARDS
Ilya Kovalchuk (LW) – Kovalchuk is arguably the second best fantasy left winger after Ovechkin, and can be counted on for 40+ goals with the potential for 50, and somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40 assists. He will ding you a little in the plus minus category because he plays for Atlanta, but makes up for that as a legitimate 40 goal scorer. I would also draft Kovalchuk a little higher than usual this year because he could be on his way to a contender at the deadline if GM Don Waddell realizes he cannot re-sign his sniper.
Bryan Little (C) – The former Barrie Colt did well in his first full season with the Thrashers, recording 51 points, including 12 on the powerplay. With Kovalchuk’s future in doubt, Little is the future of this franchise and should see increased responsibility this year, including more ice time with Kovalchuk. I expect a 70 point break-out season, which is certainly worthy of a roster spot.
Todd White (C) – White had not broken the 50 point plateau since his days in Ottawa but managed to put up 73 last year thanks to Kovalchuk. I expect a regression this year as Little becomes the team’s undisputed number one center, and project something more along the lines of 50 points.
Vyacheslav Kozlov (LW) – Kozlov had a tremendous year in 2008-09, recording 76 points and ranking second in the league with 43 powerplay points. He is getting up there in age but keeps producing. As a winger he provides excellent value and another 70 point campaign is not out of the question, but watch out for that plus minus.
Nik Antropov (RW) – Antropov had a solid season between Toronto and New York last year, almost breaking the 30 goal mark for the first time in his career. He will enjoy playing with fellow Russian Kovalchuk and should be able to tally 30 goals and 30 assists.
Keep an eye on: Colby Armstrong
DRAFT WORTHY DEFENCEMEN
Ron Hainsey – Hainsey was a painful -16 last year, but his 39 points qualified him for a role as a depth defenceman. It will be interesting to see how the acquisition of Kubina along with the maturating of Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian and Boris Valabik affects his ice time.
Pavel Kubina – Kubina managed to put together a decent year for a brutal Leafs team last year, recording 40 points, including 22 on the powerplay. He will be a reliable contributor in the penalty minutes department but could also cause plus minus problems.
Tobias Enstrom – The young Swede has matured into a very effective player for the Thrashers, scoring 32 points last season with a team high +14 rating. Like the other defenceman, his value will hinge on Lehtonen and an ability to maintain a strong plus minus rating.
Zach Bogosian – I believe that Bogosian is a strong sleeper candidate this year. An injury kept him out of the lineup for two months last year, but he put up 19 points in 47 games to compliment a +11 rating. I expect increased responsibility on the powerplay this year, and a 40 points campaign is not out of question.
Keep an eye on: Boris Valabik
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Kari Lehtonen – Lehtonen is one of the most maddening goalies to own in fantasy hockey. When he plays his numbers are solid, but the problem is he is way to injury prone. I would not recommend Lehtonen unless there are no other options, and you will also be forced to rely on backup Johan Hedberg if Lehtonen goes down with an injury.
Bonus: If your league awards bonus points for best nicknames, I would definitely invest in Marty “The Party” Reasoner.