Fantasy Puck Preview: Atlanta Thrashers

Scott Cullen
9/5/2008 6:56:14 PM
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The Atlanta Thrashers don't appear to be a team with a great deal of direction and the result - a roster cobbled together with second and third-tier free agents - doesn't make them very appealing from a fantasy perspective.

On the other hand, let's not hastily dismiss all the Thrashers as having no value.

Certainly, Ilya Kovalchuk is one of the elite goal-scorers in the game, having tallied 146 in three seasons since the lockout. A minus rating is also part of the package with Kovalchuk, but it's not enough to completely detract from his lamp-lighting prowess.

The questions come after Kovalchuk.

Slava Kozlov was very productive in his first four seasons with the Thrashers, scoring 273 points, but then he dropped to just 41 points last year. Now 36, it's hard to bank on Kozlov turning around dramatically, but it's probably reasonable to look at an improvement on his 2007-2008 production.

Perhaps the most intriguing of Atlanta's recent free agent additions is Jason Williams, who turned in 36 points in just 43 games with Chicago last season. Williams' ability to play the point on the power play adds some value and makes it all the more likely that he'll see plenty of time with the man advantage, possibly giving him a shot at surpassing his career-high 58 points, set with the Red Wings in 2005-2006.

Colby Armstrong is a grinder, though he has some offensive upside and scored 11 points in 18 games with Atlanta after coming over in the Marian Hossa trade last season. By no means is Armstrong going to be a staple of your fantasy team, but in deep leagues, he may be worth a look as a possible sleeper who could rack up some assists if he ends up skating with Kovalchuk.

For the record, the possibility of playing with Kovalchuk is the greatest determining factor of any Thrashers fantasy value.

There are some possibilities on the Thrashers blueline, particularly in leagues that run deep. Plus-minus can be a concern because of Atlanta's potential for a subpar record, but there is some talent here.

Tobias Enstrom was a power play stalwart as a rookie and there's no reason to think he won't have an impact this year as well.

While not everyone is in love with the Ron Hainsey signing, he does tend to be underrated (playing in Columbus can do that) and that may still be the case in Atlanta. Since his penalty minute and plus-minus totals aren't ideal, though, leave Hainsey for the late rounds.

In keeper leagues or leagues that require a rookie, give Zach Bogosian fair consideration. It's rare for an 18-year-old defenceman to have a major statistical impact, but Bogosian could very well play significant minutes for the Thrashers.

If 6-foot-7 bruiser Boris Valabik lands a regular spot on the team, he'll surely have value in leagues that count penalty minutes, as he has 42 penalty minutes in seven NHL games, to go with 413 minutes in 108 AHL games. Keep him on your radar.

In goal, Kari Lehtonen looks like he could be a star, but he's had a hard time staying healthy and establishing himself as a legitimate workhorse goaltender. Having a questionable team in front of him doesn't enhance the 24-year-old's value any, either, but he's certainly worth a shot as your No. 2 in fantasy leagues.

The rest of the Thrashers are of the longshot and darkhorse variety, unless they end up on the number one line, and that may be all we need to know about the state of the Thrashers.

Coming off a 37-point season, it's hard to recommend Todd White; same goes for Eric Perrin or Erik Christensen. Let them prove they can produce before scooping them off the waiver wire if need be.

An argument can be made that young Thrashers, who played for John Anderson in the American Hockey League, may get a better chance with the Thrashers this season, so that could enhance the prospects for Bryan Little or Brett Sterling, though it's going to require a great leap of faith to draft either one based on what they did while in Atlanta last year.

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