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Hockey World Blog Season Previews 2010: Atlanta Thrashers

Key Offseason Losses: Johan Hedberg, Colby Armstong, Maxim Afinogenov, Pavel Kubina, Slava Kozlov

Key Offseason Additions:Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Chris Mason, Fredrik Modin, Dustin Byfuglien

Last Season Ranking: 10th place, East

Offense: This is a franchise that had superstars Ilya Kovakchuk and Dany Heatley, and they still couldn’t produce more than successful season. Bryan Little is the only player to score over 30 goals for the Thrashers. He scored 31 in 2009 and 13 last year. Which Bryan Little will show up this season? The top line is expected to be anchored by Nik Antropov and newcomer Dustin Byfuglien with Niclas Bergfors on the left wing. Antropov and Byfuglien will be counted on to have strong seasons like they did last season. It will be more difficult for Byfuglien because in Chicago he was surrounded by star players and could fly under the radar. In Atlanta, he will be one of the star players mostly due to his performance in the playoffs for Chicago. Look for fellow former Blackhawks Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager to make contributions to the Atlanta offense.

In his second year, Evander Kane will be one of the players to watch for Atlanta. Last season he played in 66 games, scored 14 goals and recorded 12 assists.

In his second year, Evander Kane will be one of the players to watch for Atlanta. Last season he played in 66 games, scored 14 goals and recorded 12 assists.

Defense: An area where the Thrashers needed to improve upon because they allowed 250 goals last season. That placed them 24th in the NHL, as their problem was letting opponents get quality looks at the net and being out-shot very frequently.  New coach Craig Ramsay will be implementing a 5-man defensive system. A former Selke award winner, Ramsay will depend on his forwards to backcheck on defense just as hard as they rush down the ice with the puck. They are lacking depth beyond the first pairing of Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian due to Pavel Kubina signing with Tampa Bay. One upgrade they received was trading with the Blackhawks for shot blocker Brent Sopel.

Goaltending: They say that the goalie is only as good as the team in front of him. So when the Thrashers allowed 250 goals last season, Johan Hedberg bolted to New Jersey where he can backup Martin Brodeur and backup Ondrej Pavelec was put into the slot as No. 1. But the team management figured that Pavelec wasn’t ready to handle top goalie duties full-time, so they brought in 34-year-old Chris Mason from St. Louis to split time with Pavelec. Mason went 30-22-8 with the Blues, while Pavelec was 14-18-7. The big difference is Mason’s GAA was 2.53 while Pavelec’s GAA was 3.29. Not bad for someone who competed their first full season in the NHL. If the defense can play better, the goalies will play better. In return, the team could win more games instead of playing from behind so often.

Season Outlook: The best news to come out of the ATL was that GM Don Waddell was moving up to Team President while promoting his assistant Rick Dudley to GM. What Dudley did was hire Ramsay and take advantage of Chicago’s salary cap problems to get quality players Chicago wasn’t able to hold on to. They have the pieces there to make the playoffs, which they have done only once in team history. This might not be the season Atlanta makes the playoffs, but expect them to be a force on the Atlanta sports scene and the Southeast division in a couple of seasons.

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