LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 25: General Manager Rick Dudley of the Atlanta Thrashers speaks on the phone during the 2010 NHL Entry Draft at Staples Center on June 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Some of the old blood might have to go to make way for the new if the prospects that impressed at camp impress during training camp. Who is likely to go?
The Falconer at Birdwatchers Anonymous got a chance to speak with Thrashers General Manager Rick Dudley after prospect camp on Tuesday. His question was very similar to what many of us who attended was wondering after seeing the strong performances of the prospects -- what happens if one of them challenges for a roster position? Dudley's answer was an unequivocal "the kids will play." If some of the prospects demonstrate NHL ready skills during training camp and preseason play, then the Thrashers are more than ready to move contracts to make room for them.
Which players, though, do the Thrashers move and who gets the chance to make the league? Let's look at the three prospects with the strongest chances to make the team in September.
He was this year's focal point for the fans in the stands, though quite a few people associated Russian with "Kovalchuk's replacement," which is absolutely as far from the truth as you can get. As I mentioned in my NHL Hot Stove write up on Burmistrov, he is not a player in the Kovy/Ovie model. He's a playmaker, and he's patient, and he works with his teammates. He creates chances and plays himself, but he looks to the others to contribute. He has super quick reflexes and can change direction on a dime. He was actually setting up plays faster than the other prospects could figure out, which is a good sign. He does need to put on some weight, though, before training camp. He got knocked off the puck a few times fairly easily. He set up Ben Chiarot's goal in Saturday's game for one of the fastest plays that I've probably ever seen.
I would more than consider him a top contender to crack the lineup, especially if we haven't filled the 20-goal scorer slot that Dudley considers important. No, he won't be a 20-goal scorer, but he is an outstanding setup guy who could help one of his linemates hit that plateau.
Many fans are hoping to see him on the team next year, though I am assuming that to be a year off, not just because of development but also thanks to the fact that our roster's full barring a trade. He's quick and has good stickwork. He's got clear vision - he can complete a tape-to-tape pass in a flash, and he's got a blistering wrist shot. He's one of the prospects that scored regularly during drills - he's got a good aim.
Finally, Patrice Cormier is going to be given every chance to make the team. Dudley and Don Waddell both have been saying that he would be given every chance to make the squad since acquiring him in the Kovalchuk trade in February. Cormier has given them reasons to say that. Ben Wright of the Blueland Blog mentioned that Cormier "looked just like a NHL player in a room full of prospects." That size is translating into some locker room clout: Patrice Cormier instantly stepped into a leadership role when he arrived. It comes naturally to him. As I was interviewing him in the locker room someone cranked up the radio. One quick glare from Patrice and the player turned it back down. Not many players could pull that off."
This guy is built like a tank, and from all accounts is a ready made leader on the ice and in the room. Or else other guys are just scared they'll get bowled over. One or the other. Watching him you can tell why Dudley's so high on the kid. He plows to the net to get into position, and he can break up the rush very well. He's a great checker, and easily knocked the other players off of the puck. I don't see him getting batted around the league too much.
So, there you have the three players who I feel will challenge for a spot come September. Who to move, though? Klingberg is a left wing. Cormier is a center, as is Burmistrov. The roster seems to be a bit packed. The forward lines could very well look like this at the start of next season, as the roster stands:
Bergfors - Antropov - Little
Kane - Peverley - Byfuglien
MacArthur - White - Ladd
Boulton/Eager - Slater - Thorburn
What to do? The easiest conclusion to jump to is that the team moves Todd White and places Cormier in his position for a bruising checking line (Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien can be switched, though I put Buff on the second line so he'll have to play up to their level). How do the Thrashers get rid of Todd White? According to capgeek.com, he has a salary hit of $2,375,000 for this season, his last on this contract. No one expects him to have another 73-point season like he did in 2008-2009, and what team would pay that much in this climate for a third line center? Honestly, since the team can't buy him out for right now (the window closed July 1 and a new one doesn't open until August) for $866,667 and save the team a chunk of change, we're a bit stuck with him unless some other team really wants to take a gamble. His salary's too high for a team that needs to dump cost. Waiving him is probably not feasible, so it looks like White might be, if need be, the 13th guy. There is always the possibility that he is waived the month before camp as a just-in-case measure if Dudley really sees one of the kids making the cut.
Jim Slater is probably not going anywhere -- he's a constant fixture and the longest tenured Thrasher if you take his draft date into consideration. He also is a great energy guy and had a career year last season. Clarke MacArthur is a candidate for a trade to free up a space for Klingberg. If need be, White can be bought out, Rich Peverley could center the third line (Klingberg-Peverley-Ladd is pretty solid as a tertiary scoring line) and Burmistrov could center Kane and Byfuglien.
One thing is apparent regardless of if the aforementioned prospects make the team or not -- this Thrashers team is built for grit and to not be a pushover. Cormier and Klingberg fit into that idea perfectly, and Burmistrov could add the scoring depth that Dudley wants. The moves may be up in the air, but however things work out, the forward corps will be stacked.
To come: a look at the defense: who is the seventh man next season, and will Kulda make the lineup. Stay tuned.
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