This loooooong post is really just an attempt to bump that nightmare-inducing picture in Morty's last post down off the screen. You're welcome.
In an Olympic year, depth is far more crucial to a team’s success than is normally the case. Because of a sixteen day break in February (as opposed to the usual four day All-Star break), teams play more frequently than normal. More frequent games means more physical and mental fatigue, which means more mistakes, skating with your head down, and general opportunities to get yourself injured.
On top of that, you have a lot of the league’s best players participating in a high-stakes international tournament during that sixteen day break instead of resting. Thus, if they don’t get themselves injured during that tournament, they come back to the NHL more tired than ever and face off against guys who just had two weeks off to recharge their own batteries. The potential for teams to find their difference-makers on the IR in late February is very high. On the flip side, teams who don’t boast many Olympic caliber athletes have an opportunity to take advantage of their opponents’ tired stars after the medal ceremonies are over.
So what does this mean for our Atlanta Thrashers? How good should we all feel about the depth on this team for the 09-10 campaign? Rick Dudley told Rawhide this week that he’s very impressed with the assets at our disposal, and stated that there will be guys who deserve to be in the NHL starting the season with the Wolves because there’s just no room for them on the Atlanta roster.
In this post we’ll look at the forwards, since depth at those positions are the most complicated. In another post later this weekend, we’ll look at the defense and goaltending situations.
The center position is one that in the past has been woefully shallow for Atlanta. That is no longer the case. With John Anderson penciling Nik Antropov in at the top center spot, and Jimmy Slater presumably set in stone as the fourth line pivot, the Thrashers have intense competition for the middle two center spots. Todd White, Richard Peverly, and Marty Reasoner are all vying for those two posts. White and Peverly are both very capable of playing on the top line with Kovy and any given right winger. Marty the Party and Jimmy Slater can fill in admirably for a time on the second or third line if injuries stack up and require that.
On left wing, it currently looks like we’re expecting a rotation of Kovy, Kozy, and Kane(y?), with Thorburn playing on the checking line. Thorburn has served time on just about every line in the past couple of years, so there should be little concern if he has to move up the lineup due to injury. Likewise, it seems as though Anderson and Waddell are high enough on Kane that if he has to play second line minutes for a stretch this season, it probably won’t hurt the team or his development.
Right wing isn’t nearly as deep for Atlanta as the right. With Anderson’s top line, we can anticipate Little, Armstrong, and probably Peverly or Reasoner moving over from their natural center position, and Eric Boulton peddling his fisticuffs on the Greek Gods Line. In case of an injury, any of those first three should be able to fill in on the top line admirably in case of an injury.
I wouldn’t expect Boulton to move from his spot on the fourth line regardless of the injuries above him in the lineup. Thorburn and Slater on the other hand have the speed and skill to contribute as high as the second line for a game or two if called upon to do so. For the most part, any injury to the top two lines would necessitate a shift upwards in the lineup by the players in that position. Thus, if the Czar should tweak something and miss a few games, Kozlov would take over on the top line, while Kane played left wing on line two, and Thorburn and a call-up from Chicago would hold down the left side on the third and fourth lines. Circumstances would dictate whether Thorburn stayed put on the fourth line and let a kid play third line minutes or if he moved up and made room on the checking line for the rookie.
Our reserved in Chicago for the forward positions consist of Tim Stapleton, Angelo Esposito, Brett Sterling, Joey Crabb, Anthony Stewart, and Spencer Machacek. It would do any of those players some good to get a taste of NHL life while playing third line minutes for part of the season, I have a hard time holding on to my optimism should any be required to play on the second line due to a plague of injuries to our NHL regulars. However, as long as six of our top nine are healthy enough to form two scoring lines, even dressing four of these reservists along with Slater and Thorburn in the bottom six forward positions should be competitive. Especially considering that every other NHL team will be facing the same injury problems as the Thrashers.
In my next post, we’ll discuss the big step forward folks are reporting from Mark Popovic and what that means for Atlanta’s depth on D as well as the goalie merry-go-round we may see this season.
For the Chronicle, I’m Razor Catch Prey.