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30 ATLANTA Thrashers
Mark Bechtel
October 08, 2001
Anytime a team tries to sell season tickets with radio ads featuring sound bites from the draft, it's a safe bet it isn't loaded with talent. Such is the case with the three-year-old Thrashers. After Atlanta lost two of its top three scorers because it refused to pay them what they wanted (Andrew Brunette left as a free agent, and Donald Audette, then a free-agent-to-be, was traded last March), the Thrashers will be younger than in either of their first two seasons. "From that first year everybody is slowly being pushed out," says coach Curt Fraser. "Now it's the youngsters' turn."
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October 08, 2001

30 Atlanta Thrashers

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Insider

CATEGORY

SI RANKING

SKINNY

FORWARDS

25

Time for promising Stefan to prove he belongs

DEFENSE

30

Lots of holes and inconsistent players

GOALTENDING

29

Hnilicka may unseat Rhodes for starting job

SPECIAL TEAMS

28

Penalty killing subpar; can Kovalchuk spark PP?

MANAGEMENT

26

G.M. Waddell, coach Fraser on the hot seat

Anytime a team tries to sell season tickets with radio ads featuring sound bites from the draft, it's a safe bet it isn't loaded with talent. Such is the case with the three-year-old Thrashers. After Atlanta lost two of its top three scorers because it refused to pay them what they wanted ( Andrew Brunette left as a free agent, and Donald Audette, then a free-agent-to-be, was traded last March), the Thrashers will be younger than in either of their first two seasons. "From that first year everybody is slowly being pushed out," says coach Curt Fraser. "Now it's the youngsters' turn."

The good news for Fraser is that among those youngsters is perhaps the most impressive collection of left wingers this side of the Berkeley chapter of Greenpeace. In June, the Thrashers made 6'1", 220-pound left wing Ilya Kovalchuk the first Russian taken with the top pick. He'll be joined by fellow rookie left wing Dany Heatley, who was the second pick in 2000. General manager Don Waddell says Heatley is a natural scorer. "Give some guys five opportunities, they may score one goal," Waddell says. "Give him five opportunities, and he'll score three." Early reports were favorable: Both Kovalchuk, 18, and Heatley, 20, were standouts in preseason.

Waddell and Fraser know that being a top pick guarantees little. With the first selection in 1999 they took Patrik Stefan, a left wing who has scored just 15 goals in 138 NHL games. But Fraser feels that among the 21-year-old Stefan, Heatley, Kovalchuk and 24-year-old wing Tomi Kallio (14 goals in 56 games last year), he'll get production by committee. "We're not going to turn one of these kids into a 30-goal scorer right away," says Fraser, "but maybe we can turn three of them into 15-goal scorers."

That would make them something of a novelty in Atlanta, because the only current Thrasher who scored more than 15 goals last year was 37-year-old center Ray Ferraro. Ferraro, who had 29, was at his best last December, when he amassed 18 points and the Thrashers went 10-5-0-0, giving their fans a taste of playoff fever. When the calendar changed, so did Atlanta's fortunes, and the question this year becomes whether those fans will be patient—especially when their team's captain isn't. "I'm extremely disappointed with what happened in the off-season," says Ferraro. "The kids on our team are good and I know they will get better, but they'll be better when I'm not here."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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