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Fantasy Puck Preview: Atlanta Thrashers

Scott Cullen
9/5/2009 7:35:57 AM
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Fantasy interest in the Atlanta Thrashers begins with Ilya Kovalchuk, the prolific Russian sniper who has topped 40 goals in each of the last five seasons. Though Kovalchuk remains a plus-minus liability, he offsets that somewhat with excellent power play production, tallying at least 30 power play points in each of the last five seasons.

The good news for the Thrashers is that they now have more at their disposal than just Kovalchuk.

Free agent signee Nik Antropov has been much-maligned throughout his career, but scored a career-best 28 goals and 59 points last season. The big winger won't lack for chances in Atlanta, provided he can stay healthy.

Last season turned out to be something special for 34-year-old pivot Todd White, who ended up centering Kovalchuk and picking up a career-high 73 points. A playmaking spot on Kovalchuk's line, not to mention the power play where White scored 34 of his points, is a valuable spot at which to line up.

Promising young winger Bryan Little emerged as a finisher in his second season, tallying 31 goals as he skated primarily on White's right wing. He could easily add to his point total by adding more assists, something that has been part of his game (ie. don't expect him to be an annual Cy Young candidate).

Veteran winger Vyacheslav Kozlov put up 76 points last season, after scoring 41 the year before, so there is an element of risk involved in picking the 37-year-old, but he's a premier power play producer who can't be ignored.

Speaking of ignored, it's safe to say that virtually every fantasy player had ignored Rich Peverley until he showed up in Atlanta midway through last season and suddenly put up 35 points (and a plus-16 rating!) in 39 games with the Thrashers. Expecting that kind of production over a full season is optimistic, but Peverley seems set to be a productive second line centre in Atlanta.

On the blueline, the Thrashers have one of the league's most promising young defencemen in Zach Bogosian, who may get overlooked because he missed significant time in his rookie season due to a broken leg. Bogosian was a force late in the season and he plays a well-rounded game, so he'll put up respectable point totals but also add some penalty minutes and a decent plus-minus.

Tobias Enstrom was underused early in his second season, but re-established his credentials in the second half and should continue to play a prominent puck-moving role in his third season. With regular power play time, 40 points isn't out of the question.

Brought in from Toronto, veteran rearguard Pavel Kubina can be hit-or-miss on the plus-minus scale, but he's put up a career-best 40 points in each of the last two seasons, while racking up a total of 210 penalty minutes. His booming shot should find him a spot on the Thrashers power play, which should ensure continued production.

Kari Lehtonen is a very talented puck stopper, but has played more than 50 games just once in his first four NHL seasons, making it tough to count on him for fantasy purposes. Backup Johan Hedberg is more of a stopgap measure at this stage, with third stringer Ondrej Pavelec possessing more upside over the long term.

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