When you're building an organization, nothing is more vital to your long-term success than the entry draft. Throughout the history of the National Hockey League, it has been proven that every team's success has started with the draft. You can look at the Canadiens in the 1970's, the Islanders and Oilers in the 80's and the Red Wings and Devils in the 1990's. From GM Don Waddell's standpoint, it made perfect sense to follow a similar blueprint. Winning the Calder Cup in the AHL last season will go along way in the development of many of these prospects.
After ten years at the draft table, the Thrashers are beginning to see the fruits of their labour pay dividends. The team was going in the right direction having not squandered many of their early picks. However, they did have veer off the track a after trading away first round picks Braydon Coburn and Alex Bourret. Perhaps the calculated risk that may come back to haunt them was the acquisition of Keith Tkachuk, which cost the Thrashers first, second and third round picks.
Up front, they have a group of skilled forwards and potential role players led by Daultan Leveille, Angelo Esposito, Riley Holzapfel, Spencer Machacek, Danick Paquette and Andrew Kozek. Because of the number of games played as a professional, Brett Sterling had to be moved off the prospect list early this season.
They have a few NHL ready defencemen and decent depth with Scott Lehman, Chad Denny, Paul Postma and Arturs Kulda. The trio of Nathan Oystrick, Zach Bogosian and Boris Valabik showed they are capable of playing at the NHL level as rookies this season, which was a boon to the blue line. (Due to games played as a professional, Oystrick had moved off the prospect list early this season). The Thrashers could use another high defenceman to groom since Bogosian and Valabik will be off this list by the start of next season.
Between the pipes, the Thrashers have one elite prospect in netminder Ondrej Pavelec, who looks to have the capacity to play in the NHL. They also have late round pick Alex Kangas at the University of Minnesota who has shown some promise.
Considering the Thrashers traded away a few assets and picks the scouting staff has done a good job finding prospects. With another high first round pick in the 2009 NHL draft the Thrashers are in a great position to add another potential dominant franchise player.
1. Zach Bogosian – Defence, 18 (1st round 3rd overall 2008)
Currently with Atlanta (NHL)
A smart, two-way defenceman that thinks the game quickly and plays two paces faster than everyone else. His hockey sense and vision are elite level and he can make the right choices under duress. Bogosian's puck skills are excellent, as he can stickhandle to create time and a quick pass out of his zone. He's an excellent skater who shows quickness and agility, especially when maintaining gap control against the rush. Has good low hard shot from the point that gets on net because of his patience and ability to find seams. He is as steady as you will find in the defensive zone by reading the developing play and taking away options. Bogosian breaks to the right position quickly without hesitation and locks in with great body position to neutralize a player. He uses his stick well to tie up players and by getting in into the passing lanes. To his credit, he makes safe decisions and does not force bad plays. Bogosian has shown a mean streak on occasion and does not go out of his way to make big hits. Do not be fooled, because if he catches you in the trolley tracks it is going to hurt. He is a coachable player with the ability to be a number one defenceman in the NHL.
2. Ondrej Pavelec – Goalie, 21 (2nd Round 41st 2005)
Currently with Atlanta/Chicago (NHL/AHL)
No longer a lanky goaltender at 6 foot 2 and 200 pounds, he filled out and got stronger to handle the daily grind. He has the potential to become a starter in the NHL and the Thrashers will be patient. In 92 regular season games in the AHL, Pavelec has a 51-36-5 record with a respectable save percentage. He is athletic and mobile and rarely gets flustered under pressure. Pavelec has a few things to work on technically, but he has shown ability to dominate at times. His playoff performance in the AHL last season was stellar and he showed he can carry a team far in the postseason. With a record of 16-8, a 2.34 GAA and .921 save percentage, he dominated the 2008 playoffs. He has shown great resolve and intestinal fortitude so Pavelec will be expected to come in and be a backup in 2009-2010.
3. Boris Valabik – Defence, 23 (1st Round 10th 2004)
Currently with Atlanta/Chicago (NHL/AHL)
He's a monstrous defenceman at 6 foot 7 and 239 pounds and was at one time the meanest and toughest prospect not playing full-time in the NHL. He has the potential to become a solid defensive defenceman that scares anyone that lingers around his net. However, he does need to continue to work on his mobility and has shown very little offensive ability. He has become consistent defensively with his +33 rating and 413 penalty minutes in 108 games in the AHL. Do not think just because he is a European that he will not fight - he is a dangerous man when he drops the gloves. Valabik saw seven games in the NHL last season and did not look out of place, which gave the Thrashers brass hope. He must play a little more restrained when going for the big hits and use his wingspan and size to ward off players. He needs to be more durable and take fewer risks, but Valabik has the potential to be a top four defenceman.
4. 4. Spencer Machacek – Right Wing, 20 (3rd round 67th overall 2007)
Currently with Chicago (AHL)
This gritty, hard working two-way forward is an opportunist in the offensive zone and has shown his worth in the postseason. Machacek does not have elite hockey sense, puck skills or passing but he is good at everything and works hard. His skating is solid and his foot speed will improve when he adds a little more power and strength to his frame. He has a sneaky wrist shot and is good at tipping shots. Machacek plays physical despite his weight and if a tough forechecker that finishes every check and hits to hurt. He is as consistent and solid as they come defensively and works hard at the little things. Machacek is getting better at controlling gaps and his angles while keeping his feet moving. He gets a lot of shorthanded points and logs minutes on the penalty kill. Over the past four seasons, his game has consistently improved in every area. This season in the AHL, Machacek has played exceptionally well as a rookie posting 47 points in 74 games. He is clutch in the playoffs and has been to two Memorial Cups with 41 points in 50 games and a +21 rating. He is a solid team leader and could develop into a Fernando Pisani type player.
5. Riley Holzapfel – Centre, 20 (2nd round 43rd 2006)
Currently with Chicago (AHL)
He is not ideal size, but that doesn't matter anymore the way the rules are being called in the NHL. He plays a good two-way game and makes the most of his opportunities offensively and defensively. He is a good skater and is not afraid to mix it up. His offensive numbers as a rookie in the AHL were good and it should be no surprise since he had 208 points in 248 games in the regular season in his career in the WHL. He does not have elite puck skills or shooting prowess yet he manages to contribute because of his hockey sense and intelligence. He has shown he can step up his game in the playoffs and contribute in any role. He is decent on faceoffs and could develop into a fine number three centre in the NHL one day. His experience in the WJC will pay dividends in the future and he shows character and leadership and could develop into a solid pro.
6. Angelo Esposito – Centre, 20 (1st round 21st overall 2007- Trade Pittsburgh)
Currently with Montreal (QMJHL)
No prospect has been under as much scrutiny and debate as Esposito, who was considered the consensus No. 1 pick at one point. Expectations were high after a great rookie season where Esposito put up 98 points and won the Memorial Cup. His offensive numbers dropped the last two seasons as Patrick Roy had him dedicated to playing a two-way game and taking on more of a leadership role. Esposito has the quickness and agility to be a dangerous threat in the offensive zone. His hockey sense and ability to read the play make him a good playmaker along with the passing prowess to match. He has a dangerous wrist shot that is accurate and has been known to have a quick backhand shot as well. He has shown improvement in the physical game and will not back down from confrontations, but needs to add some strength to his frame. He will turn pro next season and Esposito should adjust fairly quickly considering all the experience he has gone through.
7. Daultan Leveille – Centre, 18 (1st round 29th overall 2008)
Currently with Michigan State (NCAA)
He's a skilled, but smaller forward who will need time to mature physically in college before turning pro. Leveille played very well as a freshman at Michigan State. He possesses the hockey sense and puck skills needed to play at the NHL level, which is perhaps the most important qualities. His vision and passing ability are very good and Leveille can make plays at full speed. His shot is accurate and quick off his stick but it lacks some power - which should come with time. Although Leveille's plus-minus in Michigan State was not very good, he does have the ability to be a solid two-way player. He will need some time to develop and learn some nuances of the defensive game and shows a strong desire to learn. Offensive potential aside, Leveille must be able to compete and win one-on-one puck. Expect Leveille to play at least two more seasons in college and the Thrashers to be patient with him.
8. 8. Jordan LaVallee – Left Wing, 22 (4th round 116th overall 2005)
Currently with Chicago (AHL)
He's an industrious, hard working forward that has the NHL size at 6-3 and 224 pounds. He posted 76 points in 156 games with 163 penalty minutes his first two AHL seasons. This year however, things regressed a little in terms of points. He has average puck skills and hockey sense and is not expected to contribute much offense. He does have a heavy shot and he is willing to play physical and crash the net for offence. His skating still needs work and is a little stiff and slow out of the gates. He is average defensively, which is not good enough to be a role player in the NHL so he has some work to do. With 253 games played in the AHL so far, LaVallee will be off the prospect list next season. He needs another year in the minors to refine his game and must prove he can take the next step or be passed by.
9. Paul Postma – Defence, 20 (7th Round 205th 2007)
Currently with Calgary (WHL)
The skinny blueliner had a breakout season offensively in his third year in the WHL, with 42 points in 66 games. Postma followed that up with a remarkable offensive output - posting 84 points in 70 games from the blue line. He shows some vision, hockey sense and passing ability to contribute at a pro level but it is unclear whether it is in the AHL or NHL. He has the skating, ability and quickness but just needs to add a little power in his stride. He has a good shot from the point and it is accurate and easy to tip or deflect. He is getting better defensively, but still needs time to work on some little things as well as gain some strength to battle down low. Postma is long-term project and the Thrashers will need to be patient.
10. Danick Paquette – Right Wing, 18 (3rd round 64th overall 2008)
Currently with Lewiston/Chicago (QMJHL/AHL)
It's hard not to like a player that is willing to stick up for his teammates and battle hard on a nightly basis. Now Paquette does not have the puck skills compared to other prospects drafted in the third round, but you cannot deny his intangibles. He is a typical North-South winger that finishes his checks, drives to the net and creates energy and chaos.He is not the biggest kid, but Paquette drops the gloves when needed and makes his teammates feel more at ease. He will play one more season in junior before turning pro and has the potential to develop into a fourth line role player one day.
11. Chad Denny – Defence, 22 (2nd Round 49th 2005)
Currently with Chicago (AHL)
At 6 foot 2 and 233 pounds, he already brings a load in terms of size. Denny still is raw in some areas of his defensive game and will take some time to refine his skills. Unfortunately, he has missed some games over the past two seasons and that has hampered his progress. He has the ability to produce offence shown by his numbers in junior, but it has not yet translated to the pro game yet. He must improve his overall mobility, physical conditioning and consistency at the AHL level before taking the step. If he can learn to keep his game simple in the defensive zone, he could be a player worth waiting for.
12. Andrew Kozek – Right Wing, 22 (2nd Round 53rd 2005)
Currently with Chicago (AHL)
Kozek is a pure offensive player with dangerous speed and the potential to become a pro if he can improve his other skills. He will need all four years at university to round out the other aspects of his game before turning pro. He added some weight to his 5 foot 11 frame and that's needed for puck battles. He has not put up the offensive numbers like he did in the BCHL at North Dakota, but still has a little time to progress and Atlanta will now push his development along faster. If Kozek can continue to learn some intangibles and adapt over the next two years, the Thrashers might have a nice complimentary player.
Atlanta Thrashers - NHL Entry Draft Record (1999 - 2003)
When looking at the drafting and developing record of a NHL organization it becomes an interesting blend of statistics and circumstances with perhaps some luck thrown in for good measure. Most of the time the General Manager receives kudos for a teams fortunes at the draft table when in reality it is usually never the case in today's NHL. For the most part there are three aspects that make the whole process work; first is the amateur scouting department's ability to evaluate and project talent which may be the most challenging of all. Next the organizations player development department must attempt to mold the prospects by giving the players tools to enhance his talents. Perhaps most importantly is the prospects responsibility to pay the price and sacrifice which generally requires a tremendous work ethic. If one of these aspects fails then the likelihood of a prospect turning into an asset to his organization and having a NHL career becomes remote.
The reason for the analyzing the years from 1997 to 2003 is to first give each NHL organization five years to develop their prospects as players from different leagues evolve differently. Secondly the years from 1997-2003 are the players that should be the building blocks of the core of your team as they will be in the 23-29 year old age range. What makes each organization unique is what they do with the picks they have as management will often trade draft choices for immediate help on their NHL and AHL teams. Now some players may be real late bloomers and eventually make the criteria set in this analysis down the road but at this stage it is fascinating to see the results.
Criteria of NHL games played that deem a player has been drafted and developed successfully.
||Forwards - Defencemen
||125-200 NHL Games required
||51-100 NHL Games Played
||100 NHL Games required
||25-50 NHL Games Played
|Pending Player - Represents a player who has a legitimate chance to make criteria
Atlanta Thrashers 1999-2003
Total: 5yrs –53 draft picks 10 – NHL Players = 18.8% success rate
Success in the first three rounds (1999-2003)
1st rnd Draft Choices: 6 total picks
5yrs – 6 draft picks – 6 NHL Players = 100.0% success rate
2nd rnd Draft Choices: 3 total picks
Undeveloped Prospects – Luke Sellers, Libor Ustrnul, Ilya Nikulin
5yrs 3 draft picks – 0 NHL Players = 0% success rate
3rd rnd Choices: 2 total picks
Undeveloped Prospects – Zdenek Blatny, Michael Garnett
5yrs – 2 draft picks – 0 NHL Players = 0% success rate
Total: 5yrs – 11 draft picks – 6 NHL Players = 54.4% success rate in first 3 rounds
First Three Rounds - Developed vs. Prospects/NA vs. Euro
Developed players: (5) North American, (4) European
Undeveloped Prospects: (2) North American, (3) European
Success in the last six rounds (1999-2003)
4th rnd to 9th rnd Choices: 42 total picks
5 yrs – 42 draft picks – 4 NHL Players = 9.5% success rate
Shane Malloy provides hockey prospect insight and analysis on his Prospect Insider feature on TSN.ca, Canada's leading sports website. Many sports networks, hockey magazines and major newspapers have drawn upon his expertise and knowledge. His passion for the game and involvement in grass roots hockey from the junior hockey to the National Hockey League is evident. He is currently a host and hockey event reporter on XM Sirius Satellite Radio (Home Ice 204) where he co-hosts a hockey radio show on Hockey Prospects and the Business of Hockey.
Prior to joining TSN, Malloy was the columnist-covering prospects for NHL.com for two years and a NHL and prospect columnist Fox Sports.com for six years.
This document is the intellectual property of Shane Malloy and cannot be used or duplicated in anyway without expressed written consent. Any use of this document without the expressed written consent of Shane Malloy will result in public exposure and legal prosecution.