Against Atlanta, Bondra not only stuffed home a goal but also pinned several Thrashers against the boards and conscientiously cleared the puck as a penalty killer. "I put pressure on myself by asking for the trade," he says. "But when I was still here in September, I knew that I had to regain the trust of this team."
Bondra will be seeking a big raise over the $3.8 million he's earning this year, which is partly why McPhee has had no luck in making a trade. The G.M. says he's determined to extract a "good young NHL player" in any deal. On Monday, Bondra softened his stance and said that he'd be willing to sign a long-term contract with Washington. "Well talk with his agent over the next couple of weeks," says McPhee. "Maybe we can work something out. If not, we're still prepared to trade him."
Hot Prospects in Showdown
Looking Out For No. 1
As the World Junior Championships wrapped up in Moscow this week, NHL draftniks were riveted to the battle between Canada's 17-year-old Jason Spezza and Russia's 17-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk, one of whom should emerge as the No. 1 pick in the June draft. Spezza, a 6'2", 209-pound center hailed for his on-ice vision, entered the championships as the favorite to go first, and he played solidly, with three goals and an assist in his first four games. Kovalchuk, a 6'2", 203-pound explosive right wing with a hard shot, wowed onlookers by shredding Canada's defense in Russia's 3-1 preliminary-round victory. He had four goals and an assist in his first four games but raised eyebrows with his tendency to taunt opponents.
"He's got a [strong] personality, but that's O.K.," says Thrashers general manager Don Waddell. "If I have the first pick today, I take Kovalchuk." Others side with Sharks scout Ray Payne, who prefers Spezza because "he's smarter overall."
Both players downplay the significance of being selected No. 1, but Kovalchuk has a reason for wanting to leave Russia for the NHL. "It would be nice to go to a warmer climate," he says.