A good prospector knows which streams to avoid.


Panning for gold is hard enough work as it is – and time consuming – so when you have little or no chance of finding nuggets, you stay away.



When it comes to yielding hockey prospects, some teams are worth your effort and some are not.


Last week, I wrote about the Detroit Red Wings and how they do such a great job drafting and developing players. I’ll always give a Red Wings prospect a longer look because their farm system provides a steady stream of prospects to the NHL – especially from rounds 2 through 7.


A team I avoid – except for the obvious top-tier talent – is the Atlanta Thrashers, because they’ve mastered the trifecta of ineptitude.


Two of the components of that trifecta are drafting and player development. The other, is asset management, which doesn’t really speak about the Thrashers’ ability to develop players, but explains why they’re still struggling to be successful.


I thought about this last night as I watched the Thrashers play the Capitals. My son asked me, “Why are the Thrashers always missing the playoffs? Haven’t they been in the league for a long time?” Aside from one year when they were swept by the Rangers, it’s been a long run of futility for this franchise and poor drafting and development are big factors.


Here’s a quick look at Atlanta’s drafts from 1999 to 2003, and the players that have played more than 100 NHL games.


1999: Patrik Stefan and Garnet Exelby.

2000: Dany Heatley and Darcy Hordichuk

2001: Ilya Kovalchuk and Pasi Nurminen

2002: Kari Lehtonen and Jim Slater

2003: Braydon Coburn and Tobias Enstrom


When you pick as high as the Thrashers did during those years, your first-round pick should be an impact player.


Stefan was a bust, but 1999 was a weak draft year which could explain why Stefan was so highly touted. Atlanta didn’t opt for the Sedin package and picking just one wasn’t an option, or so the story goes. Heatley, Kovalchuk, Lehtonen and Coburn were good picks, and Atlanta is just guilty of poor asset management with them.


Dany Heatley turned into Marian Hossa who was dealt for Angelo Esposito, Colby Armstrong and a first-rounder (Daultan Leveille). Kovalchuk turned into Niclas Bergfors, Patrice Cormier and Johnny Oduya and New Jersey’s first-round pick this summer. Lehtonen let them down with a poor commitment to conditioning and was injury-prone. To a lesser degree, this is an example of poor asset management, but blueline prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy could still tip the scales back to even for the Thrashers.


Coburn turned into Alexei Zhitnik, who went back to Russia.


Getting impact players with top 10 picks is a bit like picking low-hanging fruit. Many people can do it. What separates successful teams from also-rans like the Thrashers is how well it can snag impact players and role players later in the draft. Trading for them and making smart free-agent acquisitions are also keys to success, but let’s focus on drafting.


When it comes to developing players in-house, the Thrashers have done a poor job. The jury is still out on their performance since 2003, but it still looks weak.


Of their top 12 forwards only Jim Slater, Evander Kane, Bryan Little were drafted by the team and the farm system doesn’t yield much hope of changing that.


Even when you consider Bergfors and Armstrong – the net result of trades – it doesn’t look good. Two guys I focused on in the mid-season report are Brett Sterling and Spencer Machacek. I’m not a fan of Sterling, but GM Don Waddell is so that means you shouldn’t give up on him until Waddell is gone. I think Machacek will be a solid citizen – the kind of player all teams need and want – but not an impact scorer.


On defence, they’ve snagged Tobias Enstrom and Zack Bogosian and there’s still some hope for Paul Postma and Arturs Kulda.


In net, they boast Ondrej Pavelec and I’ve got my eye on fifth-rounder Alex Kangas. Kangas took a step back with the Minnesota Gophers this year, but don’t give up on him yet.


As a fantasy GM, you need all the help you can get to scout prospects. Without the benefit of a large travel budget to go see all these players yourself, you need to keep in mind certain factors.


Given their drafting and development history, I do not have a lot of confidence in any Atlanta Thrashers prospects. I never completely close my eyes to them, but as a keeper league GM, I don’t rate any of them very highly.


You’re safe with any of their top 10 picks, some of them are gold, but the rest are mostly sand and gravel.

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Larry said:

drafting stats great article/comments!
Its almost like the Thrashers have been drafting guys by looking at stats- rather than potential, a physically mature kid with average wheels can dominate in junior- and play top minutes in the minors- but unless hes a defensive dman- or a thug,he is black aces fodder. You would hope that at some point they wouldve developed a few role players atleast.
The Islanders have the least talented NHL roster IMO, but alot of 2nd-5th rounders the last few years- if a few of them pan out- they will be back in the playoff hunt
April 12, 2010
Votes: +0

lcbtd said:

Interesting Great article and great discussion below.

I'm not sure how much it costs an NHL team to operate their own AHL team but considering the benefits, it seems like every team should do it.

As for teams to avoid, add the Islanders to that list. In fact, I'd rather draft a Thrasher prospect than an Islander prospect.

April 11, 2010
Votes: +0

fzusher said:

... Precisely, Ryan. It's no coincidence that most of the Thrashers draftees that played significant time for the Wolves became career minor leaguers and depth NHLers - Derek MacKenzie, Simone Gamache, Colin Stuart, Nathan Oystrick, Pat Dwyer, Guilleaume Desbiens, Jordan Lavallee. It's not that they didn't have the talent to be NHLers - witness how Pat Dwyer is doing in Carolina this year (their big draft busts other then Stefan failed even with the Wolves - see Alex Bourret). It's that what they learnt there is not how to be NHLers but how to be good AHLers.
April 10, 2010
Votes: +0

Ryan Van Horne said:

Morin Studley, Morin is on the radar for sure, but having been drafted just last summer, it's too early to pass judgement on him, IMO. He had a great year in Kitchener, but he hasn't had an impact in Atlanta yet -- not even in the pro ranks. I agree he has promise, but left him out because of his age and the level he's playing at -- junior -- and not his talent.

If he pans out, he could help Atlanta turn the corner.

But, as fzusher pointed out, the Wolves are part of the problem. Farm teams should serve the interests of NHL teams. An NHL team should choose its farm team wisely and Atlanta has not. While it does help for players to be in a winning environment and learn from veterans, young players need lots of playing time to develop -- and they need to be used in the roles they're going to fill in the NHL.
April 10, 2010
Votes: +0

studley49 said:

... I know he's not enough of a stud to help boost the system, but Jeremy Morin is a huge prospect for Atlanta. Not going to discuss him much but, IMO, he's a huge omission from this piece.

I do agree with you overall: while other players like Niclas Lucenius, Eric O'Dell and Jimmy Bubnick could still turn into NHLers, they aren't very helpful fantasy-wise. Sadly I have taken chances on players like Leveille (simply because of his raw talent in his draft year) and the benefits I have reaped are hit and miss.
April 10, 2010
Votes: +0

fzusher said:

Chicago Wolves part of the problem I think a big part of the Thrashers developing weakness is their affiliation with the Chicago Wolves. Most teams own or partly own their AHL affiliates, and therefore see developing NHL players as the affiliate's first goal and winning the AHL as a secondary goal. The Wolves are an independently owned business and therefore winning AHL titles is their top priority. As a result they fill their ranks with veteran career minor leaguers that take quality minutes away from the prospects.

This year is ridiculous in this respect. The Wolves top 9 scorers, in order, are: Jason Krog, Tim Stapleton, Sterling, Joey Crabb, Johnny Pohl, Machacek, Matt Anderson, Kevin Doell, Anthony Stewart. Last year their top scorers were Joe Motzko and jeff Hamilton, with Steve Martins, Anderson and Crabb in the top-9, Jamie Rivers and Clay Wilson as the top scoring Ds. The year before: Krogg, Jesse Schultz, Darren Haydar, Martins, Alex Giroux, Crabb and Doell were top-9 Fs, Joel Kwiatkowski, Brian Fahey, and Karel Pilar in the top-4 Ds. The year before: Haydar, Chad Larose, Krogg, Martins, Doell in the top-9 F, Fahey and Troy Milam in the top-4. Before 2006, when the Wolves were shared between the Panthers and the Thrashers, same story, so it's not the derth of suitable Thrashers prospects that's causing it. The Wolves have never been led in scoring by a prospect.

And if you look at their draftees who've made it, Hedman, Bogosian, Enstrom, Slater, Kovalchuk, Heatley, and Stefan went straight to the NHL. Little, Nurminen and Hordichuk played half a season with the Wolves, Coburn one almost full season, but both Little and Coburn started those seasons with the big club and Nurminen and Hordichuk split their seasons. Only Exelby and Valabik spent significant seasoning time with the Wolves. So the Thrashers seem to know they are better off developing all but their defensive Ds themselves.
April 10, 2010
Votes: +0
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