ATLANTA - SEPTEMBER 25: Alex Burmistrov #49 of the Atlanta Thrashers carries the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes at Philips Arena on September 25 2010 in Atlanta Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Thrashers Season Preview: The Roster Takes Shape

The Thrashers are trimming their roster for opening night. Some of the cuts may surprise you.

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Previewing The Thrashers' Forwards

Finally, as the last part of the preview leading up to tomorrow night's home opener against the Washington Capitals (7:30 at Philips - be there!), I'm going to take a quick look at the teams' offense.

With the turn-over of the off-season, the Thrashers added size and grit, emulating more of a Western Conference style of team than a traditional "built on speed" Eastern Conference squad. Adding Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Anthony Stewart, Nigel Dawes, and Fredrik Modin all give the team a bit of an edge in being able to use speed and a bit of a push to crash the net. Size isn't necessarily mandatory, seeing as how Dawes, Bryan Little, and Niclas Bergfors aren't particularly big guys - Nik Antropov dwarfs them - but they have a presence on the ice that flies in the face of their stature. Evander Kane is speed and size in a perfect combination. Kane's beefed up since the end of last season, looking visibly larger even without the uniform on. Gone is the young 18 year old kid of opening night a year ago - in his place is a large and fast second year player who will still be able to skate rings around defenders while intimidating pugilists to not mess with him.

Of course, Slater, Boulton, and Thorburn return to contribute to the penalty kill as well as to act as players that can shut down the opposition's number one line. Eager will be expected to contribute to that as well, making the team's third and fourth lines interchangeable as far as checking lines go. All lines should have the ability to score, but what's notable about the team is the fact that all four lines will be defensively tough to play against. Eastern conference teams have problems with approaching the shut down, shove guys out of the way style of the West, as evidenced by the WC's winning record over Eastern teams last year. This might give Atlanta an edge when it comes against playing teams such as the Capitals and the Penguins, who don't respond well to roughness (especially the Capitals, who don't have anyone to counter with).

As I've looked at before, the Thrashers will have no problem scoring this year - or at the very least they'll have no problem replacing the goals lost in the offseason.  Add that to improved defensive responsibility at all ends of the ice, and this years' forwards should be able to carry the team farther than expected.

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Thrashers Sign First Round Pick Alex Burmistrov

To make his staying with the club official, the Thrashers had to sign Alexander Burmistrov to a contract by 3:00 today. They accomplished that last night, signing the eighteen year old Russian to an entry level deal. While some Thrashers fans questioned Burmistrov’s staying with the club, his hard work throughout the preseason and his dedication to working out and putting on weight apparently made an impression on general manager Rick Dudley.

According to league rules, Burmistrov may play in nine NHL games this season before it activates the first year of his contract. This is a good chance for him to get acquainted with the team, and if at the end of those nine games he needs to return to his OHL team he can. Jim Slater might be healed up by then, and this is a no-risk roster move for the team.

Due to age restrictions, Burmistrov cannot be demoted to the Thrashers’ AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves.

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Working Our Way Up In The Preview: Chris Mason And Ondrej Pavelec

I figure that I would start the season preview off with the goaltenders. First to be yelled at when a goal is scored, and occasionally first to be praised when a miracle run to the playoffs happen, the goaltenders are the backbone of the team. In the past, the Thrashers' could be said to have had scoliosis. Kari Lehtonen, starter since 2005-2006, was prone to groin injuries and poor conditioning that hampered the team. The only year that he played a full slate of games, 2006-2007, was the year that the Thrashers finished first in the division and made the playoffs. Lehtonen's playoff jitters, coupled with former coach Bob Hartley's goalie-juggling, cost the Thrashers badly in that series.  

Every other year that Lehtonen played with Atlanta, his flashes of talent that fit a former second overall pick weren't enough to overcome the constant injuries and messy play. As Kari went, so did the team. Technically, then, I suppose that means that the Thrashers should be in Dallas right now, but fortunately that's just the former goaltender.  Don Waddell grew tired of waiting for Lehtonen to fully recover from a back injury sustained then re-tweaked in 2009. Lehtonen's off-season surgery was postponed far enough to interfere with his ability to play in the 2009-2010 season, and Waddell read the writing on the wall, trading him to the Dallas Stars for defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy (who later became part of the trade to Chicago for Andrew Ladd).

This left journeyman goaltender Johan Hedberg and young Ondrej Pavelec as the tandem. Pavs was seen as the new goalie of tomorrow, so when Hedberg had a significantly better statistical season than Pavelec, Thrashers fans wondered about the goaltending situation for 2010-2011. Pavs was going to be here, like it or not. His occasionally stellar play at the start of the season gives a glimpse of hope into what he will be like when he fully matures.  He's not fully mature, however. Thankfully, the Thrashers got a teacher who is as talented as Hedberg and who is a better goalie - for about the same price.

Chris Mason could read the writing on the wall when the Blues signed Jaroslav Halak. So could the Thrashers, extending him a two-year, three million dollar contract offer. Mason jumped at the chance to mentor the young Pavelec, as well as join the new look Atlanta team that holds a great deal of promise. If Pavelec is hard to predict, what of Mason? 

Just as hard to predict as the play of the goalies is who will be the number one and who will be the number two. Chances are far better that they will enter into a 1A and 1B tandem based on gameplay. Pavelec needs to make sure that his play passes muster, because in St. Louis Mason stepped in when Manny Legace faltered and played thirty three straight games to get the Blues into the playoffs. Where Pavelec is streaky, Mason is a workhorse that you can expect to deliver a solid performance night after night. Mason has a tendency to allow a soft goal a game (which appeared to usually come in the third period to most Blues fans), but as long as the defense limits quality scoring chances, he should be the goalie that the Thrashers look to for the long haul this season.

This year's tandem has the potential to be the best that the Thrashers have seen if Pavelec steps up the consistency and quality of play. At the very least, Thrashers fans are in for a treat from hard worker Chris Mason.

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