Next up on the preview list are the Thrashers' defensemen... all eight of them that are starting the year with the team. That might seem like one two many, and it is, but Freddy Meyer made it difficult to send him down to the Chicago Wolves, what with his two goals in the pre-season, and Valabik apparently earned the right to stay up despite his scratch status for most of the past two weeks. As of right now, that means that the defense consists of Brent Sopel, Ron Hainsey, Dustin Byfuglien (who fancies himself Elvis Costello, apparently), Tobias Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Johnny Oduya, Meyer, and Valabik.
This year, the Thrashers have so much depth at defense that they sent two people - Arturs Kulda and Andrey Zubarev - down who would have been solid choices for the seventh slot on any other NHL team. With the addition of Byfuglien to defense, the Thrashers' top six rivals many teams' top four for talent - any of the top six you could make an argument for a placement on the top defensive pairing. This is where the drama comes in - who is playing with whom, and who gets the ice time?
Bogosian and Enstrom played well with each other at the start of last season before they were split up by John Anderson. Enstrom continued playing well with Pavel Kubina, but Bogosian struggled with Ron Hainsey. This pre-season, Sopel was paired with Hainsey, and they ran a strong campaign for least effective defensive pairing. Hainsey and Oduya, however, played well together, making seeing them paired together something that would not disappoint.
Enstrom and Bogosian can be paired together for their offensive capabilities. Enstrom holds the team's assists by a defenseman record and Bogosian scored ten goals last season - and more could have been a possibility had he not gotten injured. At the very least if they're not paired together, expect to see them get some powerplay time.
Big Buff's move to defense confused people, but while he got his fame as a winger, he was drafted as a defenseman and was successful both in the points column as well as in the plus/minus column in that position. His being moved to that slot was more of a wrench in the gears of the defensemen who were fighting for a position that a problem for either himself or a loss for the offense.
So far in the pre-season, the shots on goal have been marginally lower than they were during the year last season. The quality SOG, though, have been significantly limited for the opposition, as partially shown by the one-goal games that the Thrashers found themselves in. The defense is markedly improved, and might very well be the brightest spot on this season's team. It will also come in handy for the Thrashers, considering the firepower that the Southeast Division has in store for them this season.