For years and years, I always remain stunned over the lack of depth that the Atlanta Thrashers always had. Some stunningly stupid draft picks, trades and signings. We can all thank god that True North got rid if Don Waddell, the former long-time GM of Atlanta. The additions of Eric Fehr, Kyle Wellwood, Tanner Glass and Kendall McArdle are upgrades compared to years past. The group up front and their performance this year will be determine the team success.
All but one spot is accounted for in the top two lines (Kane, Little, Antropov, Ladd & Wheeler) and with Eric Fehr unlikely to be ready for the season opener, an oppurtunity is going to present itself to a few players, mainly a few rookies. These prospects Carl Klingberg or Alexander Burmistrov would do their best to ensure they remain on the top two lines, moving Fehr down down to third line. Klingberg looks to have more offensive ability, while Burminstrov would be more of a complete player.
The only 30 goal scorer out of the bunch during his career is Bryan Little with 31 (2 years ago) and captain Andrew Ladd 29 last year. None of the five will give us 35 goals, but all of the previously mentioned five are more than capable of scoring 25 goals if not more. Do we have that unstoppable offensive force up front, that can boll through the defense? Not yet but if anything we’ve got something most teams lack in the top six. We’ve got size (Wheeler & Antropov), speed and skill (Little& Kane) and one of the best two way forwards in Ladd.
Bottom eight forwards
Days away from training camp, the Winnipeg Jets roster is slowly coming into shape. The recent addition Kyle Wellwood adds a semi-offence threat to the third line. That is a bigger threat compared to what the other options were. In picking up the former Shark, Leaf & Canuck, it now would take a miracle for Tim Stapelton to make the team. The two are very similiar, except Wellwood’s somewhat proven compared to Stapelton’s 10 points in 55 NHL games.
The possibility of moving Wheeler or Fehr to the third line to play with Wellwood would not be a bad thing. They’d be well on their way in having a solid three line, something the Thrashers/Jets franchise has never had in its 11 year existence. Other third line candidates could be rookies Ben Maxwell, Spencer Macachek, then there is Burmistrov or Klingberg. If Jason Gregorie blows away the Jets coaching staff and management, he could also make an appearance on the wing with Wellwood. Could Gregorie become the next Mason Raymond or Derek Stephan, past players who came to rookie camp, then training camp to make a huge impact in their first season.
Assuming Jim Slater does not recover 100% from his concussion, a spot on the fourth line is also up for grabs. Who would be the best to play alongside Chris Thornburn and Tanner Glass? Would Jet coach Claude Noel move Thornburn to the third line to add some size to compliment Wellwood. The most likely scenario is Patrice Cormier centering the fourth line. Others like Aaron Gagnon, Kenndal McArdle might have a chance, but consistency could their downfall. Good news about the bottom four (forward) spots is this, there are 10 or more players to choose from. Lets hope the hardest working, most consistent forward earns that spot. I hate seeing a one-way forward given a spot only because of his contract status, compared to a two-way forward who’s not subjected to waivers.
For two NHLers Troy Bodie & David Koci both were invited to training camp, this could be there last chance to crack an NHL lineup. Bodie showed in 2009-10 he could be a regular in the NHL scoring 5 times in 44 games. The next year he got into the doghouse with former Jet great Randy Caryle and never got out. The Portage la Prairie native would provide more speed & skill than Koci, has been used as a penalty killer in his days in Anaheim. Koci could be the heavyweight the team does not have. The Czech native’s has something in his favour, he can be used as a forward and a defenseman. His play was much improved late in 10-11 season, when he played the majority of the time on the blueline.
Could Kenndal Mccardle become the next Anthony Stewart? Both were first round picks by the Florida Panthers. It’s fair to say both were given very few chances to play with decent players while in Florida. Stewart had 4 goals and 12 points in 105 games with the Panthers, before making the Thrashers last year in training camp. McArdle in 33 games with the Panthers had 1 goal and 3 points. In 2010 Stewart’s chances of making the team were slim to none, but hard work and a willing coach, he made it and it paid off. Why could McArdle not do the same this year? He’s got speed, size and has some offensive ability, give the kid a chance and let’s see what comes out of it.
It’s a long shot to see a Mark Scheifele make the team this year, but atleast we know he’s coming within a year or two. Of the 24 players on the roster, only 7 of them are home grown and drafted by the Thrashers. But realistically the team is getting there in regards to having prospects within the system that can make an impact, most of them are a year or two away from making the team. Aside from Scheifele, we’ve got kids like Paul Postma, (Carl) Klingberg, Zach Redmond, (Jason) Gregoire and Eric O’Dell all of which should be with the team within a few years.
When its all said and done
An absolute must is some production from the bottom two lines. Wellwood will not make us into a Stanley Cup contender, but having a two way center who wins 55% of his faceoffs is an upgrade to last year. Can Kane and Wheeler take the next step and become dominant, will Antropov find his game again. So many questions, weeks into the season answers will start to emerge.