Nik Antropov led the Thrashers in scoring and firmly established himself as a legitimate number one center in the NHL–although probably a second liner on your fantasy team. The hulking center scored 24 goals and 67 points while mostly playing with Maxim Afinogenov and Ilya Kovalchuk. He played excellently after Kovalchuk moved to New Jersey and continued to do so regardless of his linemates.
Afinogenov also enjoyed a return to to NHL prominence. The 29-year-old enjoyed his greatest season in four years after uniting with his Russian comrades. He will enjoy a raise on his 800k salary, as he saw his contract become one of best bargains all season… if not the best.
The main piece of the Kovalchuk deal, Niclas Bergfors, found immediate chemistry with his new lineup. Playing top line minutes with other skilled forwards like Bryan Little helped the young Swede continue his scoring ways. Those two coupled with Rich Peverley and Evander Kane represent a strong young core that will make an impact in a few years as they continue to add players into the mix.
Tobias Enstrom established himself as a top offensive defenseman with his 6 goals and 50 point campaign. A whopping 44 assists will help any fantasy team helping to offset his minus-5 ranking. Although not overly physical, he did manage 30 PIM while matching points totals with Sergei Gonchar and outscoring Nicklas Lidstrom. In short, the kid can quarterback a powerplay and will continue to do so.
Interesting how Enstrom outproduced all Atlanta defenseman since they have options. Former third overall pick Zach Bogosian registerd 19 goals through his first 1.5 seasons but lost most of his powerplay time after only scoring two goals for the second half of the season. He led the league in the same category through the season’s quarter-mark for the record.
Pavel Kubina and Ron Hainsey both outproduced the young Bogosian. Still his upside should guarantee him an opening night spot alongside Enstrom– ensuring him as a gigantic sleeper. Keep in mind Kubina is a UFA and Hainsey slid only five pucks over the line as a 28-year-old.
Ondrej Pavelec split the majority of the starts, appearing in 42 games. The Czech native held a 14-18-7 record with a 3.29 GAA and .905 SV% in his rookie season and could be considered the goalie of the future. His counterpart, Johan Hedberg, played much better in his 47 starts with a .915 SV% and 2.62 GAA. Neither netminder represents a healthy option to roster but played much better during their hot streaks.
On the Bench:
Currently unoccupied. John Anderson provided a strong offensive system which put additional pressure on his goaltenders. He was criticized for his lack of leadership and ability to control his players. Veteran Slava Kozlov expressed his opinions regularly, clearly unhappy with his lengthy press box view.
The Bottom Line:
The young players grew and the team received an identity after trading fan favorite Kovalchuk. Expect a slight improvement on this season, which will place them near the playoff race but still on the outside looking in.