Southern Fried Hockey
Let’s take a break from the usual storylines involving the Rangers, Islanders, Wings, Leafs and free agents still available (I know I missed one or two other usual topics but you get the picture). Let’s talk about the Thrashers. Probably not a great topic of interest to many of you, I would imagine. But it’s always helpful to be able to see and understand the smaller parts of the big picture.As we all can see, the Thrashers are not what you would call a contender. Even with the acquisitions of this off-season, they will do no more than contend for a playoff spot (if even that much). But Thrashers management seems to understand and accept this, which is a bit out of the ordinary in this win-now-or-else era of hockey. The goal for the team is to be more competitive and to allow their talented prospects a chance in the NHL. And talented prospects they do have.
Kozlov and McEachern provide the experience that Atlanta so desperately needs. Whether they score alot or a little makes almost no difference; their experience and stabalizing factor will be more important to the team. Smehlik and Krupp are older and injury-prone, but they are steady when healthy. And that is all that the Thrashers need. They have a stable of young Dmen on their way up; these two will provide excellent fill-ins until the time comes. Stefan has been a bust offensively but his defensive prowess is starting to show, and with that big frame he will be tough to go against. Other skilled players like Kallio and Bartecko need to find their offensive game and get on track.
Tremblay is starting to find his form as an offensive defenseman and Frank Kaberle would do the same if he can just get his confidence level up.
Hartigan and Piros both have soft hands and that un-teachable gift for offense, they just need the experience. Agitators like Snyder, Tapper and Cowan will be very tough to play against. With only a very limited amount of games between the three of them, they already have somewhat of a reputation for being annoying (ask Lindros about Snyder). Many future NHL blueliners should come out of this crop. Safronov in time will be a great two-way defenseman; Exelby and DiPenta will be hard hitters in the back; Weaver will be just as steady as possible. Farther into the future brings big hitters like Lessard and Ustrnul and offensive threats like Foster and Nikulin.
Until he comes over to North America, the Thrashers have a fine group. Hnilicka will look better with a defense in front of him, Nurminen has the ability to be a star, Garnett is one of the best young goaltenders that no one has heard of.
Overall, the Thrashers future is definitely much brighter than their present. But with their recent acquisitions and the youngsters with a year under their belt, the present should at least be tolerable. Fans here in the south will enjoy it more and be ready for a brighter future (DYN: around 50% of the metro Atlanta population are northerners, more than enough to keep hockey alive in the south). Games against the Thrashers will be tougher this year and tougher still in the coming years.
It has already been proven that hockey can rise in the south. Now, we’re just gonna make it rise a little farther south.