Thursday, February 5, 2009
Joe Motzko... A Thrasher for the long-term?
As the reality of this season smacks Thrashers fans in the face with each and every loss, the Atlanta hockey organization is left with a few questions regarding the approach for the rest of the season. Who do we trade? Who do we keep? What are their prices? Who is a part of our future?
It is my personal belief that the administration (from GM Don Waddell to the coach John Anderson) have accepted the most likely fate of the 2008-09 campaign. A season that will likely end up with a top-5 draft pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. There is no secret that the Thrashers are rebuilding and despite the best hopes and dreams of die-hard fans like myself; we knew this before the season too.
During the year, Atlanta has given chances, second chances, and in some cases third chances to the mid-tier young players in the organization. When I say mid-tier young, I'm not referring to talent, but age; the early to mid-20's players getting their chance at a top six role or a regular NHL job.
Bryan Little, though in his early 20's, has definitively won a job... in the top six no less, but the likes of Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, Nathan Oystrick, and Boris Valabik have yet to nail down a spot. With those spots loosely (in some cases very loosely) occupied, the Thrashers have recently called up Colin Stuart and Joe Motzko.
Thrasher fans got a good look at Colin Stuart in his time with the team last year. A solid defensive player with a good skating stride and a decent forechecking game, Stuart is in a battle for a spot on the lower forwards lines. Stuart is not an upgrade by any means, but on a team that has won just 18 of 52 games, nearly every spot is available.
And so we come to the arrival of Joe Motzko. A much different style of player than Colin Stuart, Motzko is on the verge of being labled a AAAA hockey player (good enough to play on a scoring line in the AHL, but not productive enough to play everyday in the NHL.)
In conversations and comments from Chicago Wolves fans, Motzko's work ethic is questioned, despite leading the Wolves in scoring in his time in the AHL. To understand a player like Joe Motzko, we must first document his journey to the NHL.
Motzko played four years of college hockey at St. Cloud University in Minnesota. Getting significant time from his freshman year all the way to his senior season, Motzko had 52 goals and 90 assists for 142 points in 154 career games in the NCAA. The 6-0, 184 lb. winger played with former Thrashers Mark Hartigan for four seasons and also shared the ice with NHLers Tyler Arnason and Ryan Malone.
In May of 2003, Motzko was signed by the fledgling Columbus Blue Jackets. He played two games during the 2002-03 season for the AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch. In 2003-04, Motzko got a two game call-up for the CBJ's playing in two February games before being returned to the AHL.
After the lockout, Motzko got two more games in the 2005-06 season. This time Joe played a pair of games in December, including a 5-2 loss at the hands of the Atlanta Thrashers on December 9, 2005 (Ronald Petrovicky had a had trick for Atlanta!).
In January of 2006, Motzko was moved to Anaheim along with former St. Cloud University teammate Mark Hartigan and a 4th round pick for Zenon Konopka, Curtis Glennross, and a conditional 7th rounder. Motzko spent most of the year with Anaheim's AHL team in Portland. Motzko did play in three playoff games for the Ducks including one game in the Stanley Cup finals against Ottawa... sort of, Joe only got 2:46 of ice time.
In July of 2007, Motzko signed with Washington Capitals as a depth forward. Once again assigned to the AHL, Motzko appeared in eight games for the Capitals scoring two goals and two assists before Atlanta acquired him in a deal that sent another AHLer (Alexandre Giroux) to Washington. FYI, Giroux played 11 games with the Capitals earlier this year when Washington was struck with a brash of injuries.
Now, with 398 AHL games, 151 AHL goals, and 195 AHL assists under his belt, Joe will play his 22nd NHL game on Friday when Atlanta hosts New Jersey.
Guys with that many points in professional hockey that have only had a few looks at the NHL, bounced around a little bit, and are 28 years old aren't in the NHL for a reason... usually.
Sometimes that reason is a lack of physical attributes... the NHL is a much more physically demanding game than that of the AHL. In the NHL, players need to be strong, fast, quick, and usually have some size.
Motzko is 6-0 tall and 180 lbs. Those measurements are not what NHL experts would call "having size", but the same experts wouldn't say that he "lacks size" either. He's about average. Skating doesn't seem to be a problem as I watched Motzko intently in Tuesday's game. Once again, Joe is not a great skater, but he can hold his own at the NHL level.
After physical attributes are ruled out, the mental side of the game comes into effect. Now, we as Thrasher fans have a very small sample by which to judge Motzko; just two games. Input from Chicago Wolves fans is always welcome, but I've found that as a Thrasher fan, while I keep in mind what Wolves fans have said, I have to watch a player myself to gauge the mental side of the game.
The one game I've seen Motzko play, Atlanta had a strong game as a team. This weighs into the observation too. However, Joe Motzko was very serviceable at an NHL level on Tuesday. I though the Motzko - Reasoner - Armstrong line was a very good puck possession trio for Atlanta. Joe was in the right places at the right times and scored a goal because of his good positioning. Motzko's goal wasn't spectacular or lucky, just solid.
Now the question that was poised nearly 2,000 words ago... Can Joe Motzko help the Thrashers? Can he stay a Thrasher?
My response: This year? Yes. Long-term? No. The Thrashers are giving a shot to a hockey player that has paid his dues. Regardless of his faults as a player, Motzko has produced admirably at the AHL level. His playing time in Atlanta isn't snaking any time from a player that deserves it more, in my opinion.
However, unless Motzko thoroughly impresses, I think the Thrashers are going to bring up some of the younger talent to get a good look at the NHL during the final months of the season. Atlanta may be waiting until after the trade deadline to start fusing some of the young prospects into the picture. Players like Riley Holzapfel, Spencer Machacek, Jordan LaVallee, and even Brett Sterling appear to have a brighter future for Atlanta than the Joe Motzkos and Colin Stuarts in the franchise.
I believe that the Thrashers risk losing Motzko to waivers if he is sent back down, so the Thrashers are going to give him a good hard look before making that call. There is an outside chance that Atlanta is trying to showcase Motzko and/or Stuart as add-ons for a deal that might include Marty Reasoner, Mathieu Schneider, Eric Perrin, Colby Armstrong, or Niclas Havelid.
In any event, Joe Motzko is getting a chance. I'm glad the Thrashers are rewarding a player that has produced for the farm team, but I'm wary for now. I'm hoping to see at least LaVallee back in Thrasher blue by the end of the season.
For Joe Motzko... good luck and work hard.