Thursday, July 16, 2009
While the Colby Armstrong re-signing has yet to be confirmed by the Thrashers organization (now confirmed), the same website that broke Kari Lehtonen's acceptance of his qualifying offer has been very reliable in the past.
Both Kari Lehtonen and Colby Armstrong have agreed to one year contracts, with Lehtonen scheduled to make $3 million dollars for the next year (his same salary from 08-09) and Armstrong's contract worth $2.4 million.
These two signings knock out the high profile restricted free agents left for Waddell with the likes of Jordan LaVallee, Tim Stapleton, Joe Motzko, Boris Valabik, Grant Lewis, and Scott Lehman remaining.
Let's take a deeper look at the Thrashers re-signings, starting with yesterday's inking of the young Finn netminder. Last year, Lethonen posted a record of 19-22-3 in 46 games while registering a goals against average of 3.06 and a save percentage of .911. In four full seasons with the Thrashers, Lehtonen has only appeared in more than 50 games one time (2006-07) and Kari's GAA was over three per game for the first time in his career.
Kari's 2008-09 numbers were very similar to his 2007-08 statistics and Karppa missed significant time in both seasons due to injury.
Regarding Lehtonen's contract and status within the team, I think that Kari accepting his one year qualifying offer was a solid move for both sides. Lehtonen's numbers don't warrant a raise and the arbitration process may have just proven that even further. Kari has stated numerous times that he wants to remain in Atlanta, but this is the second consecutive one year contract that the Thrashers have signed with Lehtonen.
From the Thrashers standpoint, I think this is a very smart move. I've been met with some opposition on the official Atlanta Thrashers Message Boards. Here are my reasons why I think that a one year contract is beneficial:
1. Because this is a one year deal and Kari Lehtonen is neither 27 years old or has seven years of NHL service, Lehtonen will remain a restricted free agent next offseason.
2. With Lehtonen's injury history and inconsistency in net, the Thrashers are not committing multiple years to an unkown commodity.
3. Atlanta doesn't give up on Kari Lehtonen; giving Karppa every chance (two one year deals and a roster spot is very generous) to live up to his talents and potential.
4. Ondrej Pavelec, while a very good prospect, is still not ready for a starting spot in the NHL. Pavelec should be given a real shot to make the roster this camp, regardless of Lehtonen and Hedberg being under contract already.
5. If the Thrashers fall out of contention, Kari Lehtonen still has a good bit of trade value. Atlanta doesn't need to get a king's ransom in return because the prospect pool is reasonably stocked and the NHL roster is starting to take shape.
To me, I think the one year deal makes sense for Lehtonen and his future as an Atlanta Thrasher. This is yet another opportunity for Kari to prove himself to this franchise and raise his game to the level that fans have only seen for five or six game stretches. As for Colby Armstrong, I'm less of a fan of his one year contract.
Armstrong is reportedly going to make $2.4 million on a one year deal that the Thrashers agreed to before his case went to arbitration. Colby had his first 20-goal season in his first full year with Atlanta in 2008-09 and ended up with 40-points (22 goals, 18 assists). The salary of $2.4 million seems fair for Armstrong; a young player with positive scoring upside, solid defensive game, a good physical presence, and a strong locker room personality with leadership qualities.
Colby, after a slow start that mirrored the team's, really picked up his play around the holidays last season. After scoring just three goals in his first 29 games, Army churned out 18 goals in the final 53 games; a scoring pace of nearly 28 goals per 82 games. Colby finished with 31 points in the in those final 53 games from December 16th on.
While I feel the $2.4 million invested in Colby Armstrong for next season is certainly worthwhile, I can't help but be pessimistic about the Thrashers chances at signing Army long-term. The general consensus amongst fans (for what it's worth) is that Colby was heartbroken after his trade from Pittsburgh to Atlanta in part of the Marian Hossa trade during the 2007-08 season. There is speculation, not completely out of thin air, that Colby Armstrong is not enamored with hockey in Atlanta; the atmosphere, the culture, the coverage, and possibly even the product on the ice.
The Thrashers are going to have a hard time convincing Army to stay in Atlanta for the long-term when his first chance at unrestricted free agency comes available next summer. Colby has done nothing but put on the right face for the public in Atlanta, but I'm hard pressed to believe that Armstrong wouldn't take advantage of the opportunity to listen to offers from larger, more traditional hockey markets. There was plenty of interest in Army at the trade deadline this past season and he is coveted by many executives around the league. Colby has the build of a perfect addition for a playoff bound squad.
I know that Don Waddell insisted on Armstrong in the Hossa deal and that the Thrashers GM would love to sign him to a long-term deal. I can't help but feel that this short-term contract was pushed from Armstrong's camp. The NHLPA is in place so that players like Armstrong can take advantage of unrestricted free agency when that right is afforded to them. I would not take any intention to test free agency next summer as a personal insult to the Thrashers either... My crystal ball doesn't always work, but I foresee this coming season as Armstrong's last in the ATL.
However, if Armstrong doesn't factor into the Thrashers' long-term plans, then Atlanta could have a very valuable bargaining chip come the 2010 trade deadline day. Also, Atlanta is not without solid checking line wingers in the system with Spencer Machacek, Riley Holzapfel, and Carl Klingberg all pointing to NHL time within the next couple of seasons... not to mention the likes of Joey Crabb, potentially Jordan LaVallee and Tim Stapleton, Anthony Stewart, and even long shots like Niklas Lasu, John Albert, and Andrew Kozek.
Colby is a really good hockey player and maybe a surprise and spirited run from the Thrashers in 2009-10 might not just convince Ilya Kovalchuk to remain in Atlanta, but also quality depth guys like Colby Armstrong as well.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Evander is back in Atlanta!... and Zim is back onto the blogosphere! Sorry for the long stretch between entries. I'm not going to make excuses, but my excuse for not updating the blog has been that I was planning an elegant and dazzling broom-jumping ceremony. As a result, my left hand seems a tad heavier than my right.... and time was very hard to come by before the 2009 NHL Entry Draft Day (a great way to remember my anniversary is to remember the day the Thrashers drafted Evander Kane!).
So, much has happened in Blueland since Slightly Off-Topic was last up and running. Atlanta added nine new hockey men to a prospect pool that is starting to look very respectable (and we'll learn more about in this post and also in reports from the Thrashers Prospect Development Camp which starts tomorrow.)
Thrasher fans waived goodbye to the very popular Garnet Exelby and hard-working Colin Stuart in favor of former all-star and Stanley Cup champion Pavel Kubina and the rights to Tim Stapleton.
Also, Atlanta has signed Nik Antropov to a four year, $16 million dollar deal and re-inked the likes of Marty Reasoner, Nathan Oystrick, Jim Slater, and Joey Crabb and re-re-signing Jason Krog and Joel Kwiatkowski and just plain signing some goalies Drew MacIntyre and Peter Mannino.
Busy offseason for Waddell and with five goalies now on the roster for essentially two professional teams, Don may not be finished as rumors and speculation of a trade circles the Thrashers.
But for now, this blog of entry will deal with finding out more about the Thrashers' draft choices not named Evander Kane. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled with the selection of Evander in the first round at fourth overall, but information is a plenty regarding Kane, his game, his future to the Thrashers and so on and onforth. Let's dig a little deeper into a Thrasher draft that many independent sources have ranked quite favorably.
Atlanta's 2nd Pick - 2nd Round, 34th overall - Carl Klingberg (Gothenburg, Sweden)
As a second round pick, Klingberg has naturally gotten a good amount of press already. Touted as a physical player with some size (6-3, 205 lbs.) and a North American power forward mentality. In the great job that fellas like Ben Wright from the Blueland Blog and The Falconer from Bird Watchers Anonymous have done in getting information from the recent draft picks, the fan base (us!) have learned that the Thrashers had Klingberg rated as a first round pick.
Lost in all of the toughness and power forward talk was just one sentence from the NHL European Central Scouting Service that got me very excited:
“He has explosive acceleration and is strong on his skates – he is hard to hold off when he’s driving the net. He works hard down low in the zone and is courageous enough to go into tight battles.”
Explosive acceleration! That's not a descriptive phrase that just gets thrown around lightly. Klingberg isn't just big, tough, and physical, but the kid can skate too. According to various sources, Klingberg doesn't have the greatest hands in the world and collects most of his offensive points around the crease and driving the cage.
Zim's Take: Great pick. Waddell has already stated that Klingberg will go back to Sweden and compete for a spot in the SEL for Frolunda. The Thrashers really added a lot of size and skill to the prospect pool with this draft and Carl is at the top of that list. I think it's safe to say that Klingberg projects at his very lowest as a third line winger (think Colby Armstrong-like production) and with a steady development of his offensive game Carl's ceiling is a top six guy.
Atlanta's 3rd Pick - 2nd Round, 45th overall - Jeremy Morin (Auburn, New York)
Another second round pick, Morin has also gotten a good bit of publicity from the contingent of Thrashers bloggers, reporters, and public relations folks (with Ben Wright and The Falconer once again leading the way).
When looking up scouting reports from Jeremy Morin all over the internet there is one consistent phrase that keeps popping up: pure goal scorer. In one article I drubbed up from Kevin Allen in the USA Today, USA Hockey's Jim Johansson called Morin, "possibly the best pure goal scorer in this age category in the world." At 6-1, 189 lbs., Morin has an average NHL body size and well on his way to bulking up his frame.
In an interview with USA Today two days before the draft, Morin described himself as "... a goal-scorer, a guy who takes pride in scoring goals. I like to create offense any way I can and I'm not afraid to get my nose dirty and I'm willing to pay the price to score goals."
Morin then compares himself to Brett Hull in style (a fair comparison by all the literature I've read on him) and also talks about his weaknesses "I'd say I can always get stronger — that's going to come in time. But skating, I can improve my skating a little bit. I don't consider myself a slow player at all, but I can even out my stride. I can work on the defensive side of the game a little more."
Zim's Take: Pure goal scorers aren't easy to come by especially when we look up and down the Thrashers prospect depth chart. Though nobody would say it in any of the interviews, I get the impression that Morin is still a bit raw. He'll be going to Kitchner, which is a very good junior program, and I think that Jeremy has a good chance to be an NHL player. He's one of those guys that has the top end skill, but how his skating, strength, and defensive tendencies develop and relate to the NHL game will determine whether he's a top six guy for the Thrashers or the Wolves long-term.
Atlanta's 4th Pick - 4th Round, 117th overall - Edward Pasquale (Toronto, Ontario)
After a third round with no selections, the Thrashers took a goalie with their fourth pick of the draft in the form of Edward Pasquale. A 6-2, 218 lb. kid, Pasquale was a somewhat surprising pick for the Thrashers, even in the fourth round. With Kari Lehtonen and Ondrej Pavelec currently battling for NHL top goalie status and a promising Alex Kangas playing NCAA hockey with Minnesota along with the drafting of Chris Carrozzi in 2008, Pasquale joins a goalie corps. with some depth (a rare franchise luxury).
However, the Thrashers saw enough in Pasquale that Waddell decided to cash in his fourth round pick on the Toronto kid. NHL Central Scouting's Al Jenson had this to say on Pasquale: "He's got the look of an NHL goalie down the road. I like his foot speed, he's got an excellent butterfly, and when he goes down he covers the net well. He moves well with excellent net coverage."
Sportsnet.ca had a good pre-draft writeup on Edward as well, highlighting the fact that he was a workhorse for Saginaw (OHL) and his stats could have been affected thusly. Conditioning appears to be a concern for Pasquale, something that Thrasher goalies of the past have battled.
This USA Today scouting report praises Pasquale's glove hand and technical skills, but calls to caution Edward's emotional and inconsistent play as well as an inability to win the big game. Evidence to Pasquale's emotion is this video.
Zim's Take: Atlanta is taking a risk in Pasquale. I'm willing to bet that the Thrashers scouts loved his technical ability, fire, and size... I'm guessing that the Thrashers are willing to be very patient with Edward as he matures into a professional hockey goalie. Conditioning and inconsistency are two very important parts of goaltending at the NHL level and to me those are very big concerns. I'm all for taking risks in the fourth round, but I'm not sure that Pasquale couldn't have been had later.
Atlanta's 5th Pick - 4th Round, 120th overall - Ben Chiarot (Hamilton, Ontario)
The first defenseman the Thrashers took in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, Chiarot is an interesting pick. Another young man with a solid frame (6-2, 211 lbs.), Chiarot is described as "a no-nonsense, stay-at-home defenseman" in this article on the Guelph Storm website. The same article makes reference to Chiarot's on-ice vision and overall awareness improving throughout this past season, but also notes Ben's lack of top end skating ability and some poor decisions on the puck. The article praises his one-on-one defensive skill, his utilization of reach, disrupting passing lanes, and his positional awareness defensively.
A full article on Ben Chiarot from The Hamilton Spectator (solid read if you like to get some background information), back in January, gives an honest description of Chiarot's game: "His game is all about simple. The next time he goes on an end-to-end rush will be the first. He clears the front of the net, makes a good outlet pass and generally introduces bruises to any opponent stupid enough to hang around the Storm net. And so far this year he's posted an impressive plus-11, proving how responsible he generally is."
Zim's Take: Chiarot will be an interesting prospect to follow for the Atlanta Thrashers. With very low-to-average defensive depth (in terms of prospects) in the Atlanta organization, Chiarot has a very good opportunity to make some noise for the Thrashers. A stay-at-home guy in a defensive system, Chiarot isn't the prototypical John Anderson defenseman and the learning curve is going to be very drastic when he becomes a professional in a couple of years. With good physical attributes and defensive mold, Chiarot could end up being a valuable asset for Atlanta.
Atlanta's 6th Pick - 5th Round, 125th overall - Cody Sol (Woodstock, Ontario)
The Thrashers took their second Saginaw Spirit prospect when drafting 6-4, 215 lb. Cody Sol in the fifth round. Known as a tough guy, Sol is an imposing physical presence on the blueline, especially on his juniors team. Cody had 128 PIM last season.
According to this piece in the Sentinel-Review, Sol was also being looked at by Vancouver and Chicago heavily. With the addition of Rick Dudley to the Thrashers front office from the Blackhawks organization, I can't help but think that Dudley had a good bit to do with the drafting of Sol. The same article states that Sol expects to be in Saginaw next year to continue development on his puck handling skills and his skating acceleration.
Information on Sol is hard to come by on the net, but I believe that The Falconer has some upcoming articles on the Thrashers draftees and I seem to remember reading that he talked to Sol.
Zim's Take: Another large, physical defenseman to add to the mix can never be a bad pick up. Sol doesn't quite have some of the upside of some players that were still on the board that might have been a bit riskier, but Cody does add an element of toughness coming from the blueline that the Thrashers have rarely addressed through the draft (only Valabik comes to mind). Atlanta does done very well drafting defensemen after the late rounds (Exelby, Enstrom, Kulda, Postma)
and with some hard work, Sol could be added to that list.
Atlanta's 7th Pick - 6th Round, 155th overall - Jimmy Bubnick (Esterhazy, Saskatoon)
Surprisingly, at 6-2 and 194 lbs. with a solid 57-point season for Kamloops in the WHL, Jimmy Bubnick was still around for the Thrashers to grab in the sixth round. Rated by the Thrashers (or so they say) as a second round pick, Don Waddell was lucky to add a talent like Bubnick so late.
If taken earlier in the draft, Bubnick would have been labeled a high-risk, high-reward type player, but at 155th overall he can only be a low-risk, high-reward guy. In an interview with Faceoff Factor, Bubnick described his play: "I’d tell them that I’m a power-forward. I can go into the boards and win a lot of battles. I’ve got a pretty good shot. I’d say that I focus on winning battles in the front of the net and creating room for myself that way." Later in the interview, Bubnick admits that foot speed is the weakest part of his game.
McKeens Scouting Report on Bubnick (via the Star Phoenix), along with some other fun tidbits: "Bubnick has a goal scorer's instincts and good hockey sense in the offensive zone. Inconsistency plagued his first two seasons in Kamloops but he does have potential to produce at the next level."
The Red Line Report via USA Today also voices concerns about Bubnick's foot speed back in October of 2008: "Another sniper with skating issues is Jimmy Bubnick of Kamloops, who leads all WHL snipers with seven goals after eight games. We love just about everything about Bubnick, except for the heavy boots. But if he continues to score at this pace, he may force us to move him into our first round regardless of our reservations about his skating."
Zim's Take: Does Jimmy Bubnick really skate so poorly as to drop him from a potential first rounder all the way to the sixth? I guess so because it happened. Goal scoring and offensive awareness doesn't grow on trees so for the Thrashers to find a viable offensive option so late is always a bonus. There are some NHL players that have made healthy careers by putting up points without blessed speed... former Thrasher Andrew Brunette comes to mind. Bubnick has a long road to hoe if he wants to play NHL hockey, but that road is not impossible. I'm glad that Atlanta didn't select him any earlier.
Atlanta's 8th Pick - 7th Round, 185th overall - Levko Koper (Edmonton, Alberta)
The second forward that Don Waddell drafted in the late rounds that he claims to have had as a second rounder, Levko Koper is an interesting commodity. After doing some research on Koper the other day (the inspiration for this blog post!), I found that many sources had Koper as a potential second or third round pick. Unfortunately, Koper's "wild" incosistency cost him until the seventh round to hear his name called.
A great scouting report is written up by Michael Remmerde of the NHL Draft Notes blog and the full article can be found here. Remmerde lists Koper's strengths as his skating speed and acceleration, his ability to finish and get to scoring areas, his penalty killing, as well as his performance in big games.
Of concern is his inconsistent production, but more worrisome is his inconsistent effort. Remmerde description is priceless, but a little eerie for Thraser fans: "Inconsistency drove me nuts. I could give him either a 75 or 25 on competitiveness, depending upon when we're talking about. Was at his best in May 2008, during Spoke's Memorial Cup run. Was very underwhelming through much of the middle of this past season, before stepping up again in playoffs."
Koper received a bit of a jab from the Red Line Report via USA Today when some of his most productive teammates were playing international hockey back in January: "We haven't seen fit yet to drop Levko Koper significantly on our list, but it's definitely worth noting that he scored exactly zero goals in the three weeks that Drayson Bowman, Mitch Wahl, and Pat Johnson were away competing for the U.S. at the World Juniors. Hmmm… it's a little suspicious, no?"
Zim's Take: Koper seems to be one of those enigmatic players with a ton of potential and natural ability but a floating mind. Organizations will always take chances on guys like this, especially in the low rounds, because the upside is too much to pass up. If Koper can consistently bring the type of pesky energy that he's gained notorioty for, then Levko may have a shot of being a 3rd line guy in the NHL. I'm very interested to see how Koper develops over the next couple of years.
Atlanta's 9th Pick - 7th Round, 203rd overall - Jordan Samuels-Thomas (Hartford, Connecticut)
Jordan Samuels-Thomas has some size at 6-3, 198 lbs. and being an American, I'm quite confident that Waddell has good knowledge on the Thrashers final draft pick of 2009. There isn't much in the way of scouting reports on JST available on the web, but all accounts are that he has developed nicely after a 54-point season in the USHL. JST will probably not be playing in that league in the coming year as he attends Bowling Green University.
Zim's Take: Another guy with size and a scoring touch at a lower level, Samuels-Thomas is probably a long shot to make an NHL roster. I can't seem to find much about his actual attributes and game in terms of scouting reports. Waddell has done well to find some guys like John Albert and Jesse Martin in the later rounds that have turned in good NCAA careers so far... maybe JST will fall into that category as well.
This is all of the information I could find on the Thrashers non-Kane draft choices. I hope you enjoyed it and it was informational. I encourage you to read all of the linked articles as there is some really good character stuff in there... it's always fun to learn more about these guys (kids), even if it's not hockey related.
Thanks for reading and check in later for some more Thrashers posts on the way including some Nik Antropov talk and much much more! I'm back baby!