Thursday, January 20, 2011

Keep Your Eye On These Three: Atlanta Thrashers

The Thrashers aren't given much credit for the talent they've produced - however slim that talent pool may be - but they have a pretty solid crop of prospects waiting in the wings and I think a few of their under-the-radar guys can be solid fantasy options.

Paul Postma, D
Low Risk, High Reward
During his draft year Postma was an after-thought, lasting until the 7th round of the 2007 draft before the Thrashers selected him with the #205 overall pick. That season Postma posted some solid numbers for Swift Current in the WHL, 24 points in 70 games to finish second in team defensive scoring. Not exactly the intro to make you think that Postma carries "low risk" status, huh?

Even his post-draft year, which saw him get traded to the powerhouse Calgary Hitmen after only 2 games, didn't seem to earn Postma much credit: sure, he led the Hitmen in defensive scoring, notching 14 goals and 42 points in the process, but the Hitmen also had Karl Alzner and Michael Stone get 35+ points each - and even though they had more pedigree to their name, they were definitely not considered to be offensive defencemen.

Postma finally seemed to get his chance to shine during the '08-'09 season for a different-looking, but still very powerful, Hitmen squad which boasted the #2 and #3 scorers in the WHL that season, Brandon Kozun and Brett Sonne. Postma finished 13th in the league in points with 84 in 70 games, including a massive 23 goals, and had 17 more points than the next-highest scoring defenceman. Postma slowed down that post-season, but his play still helped Calgary win the WHL championship and represent the WHL in the Memorial Cup (Calgary eventually lost the championship game to Taylor Hall's Windsor Spitfires).

Last season, Postma turned pro with Atlanta's AHL affiliate in Chicago, and yet again he performed well. Until Atlanta received Ivan Vishnevskiy as part of the Kari Lehtonen trade, Postma led the team's in scoring from the blueline with 29 points - 15 of which were goals.

Always improving, this season Postma has already passed his rookie scoring output in 46 games, accumulating 8 goals and 23 assists for 31 points.

Once a graveyard for developing defencemen (see: Braydon Coburn, Boris Valabik, Steve McCarthy), Atlanta now has one of the more productive bluelines in the NHL: Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom sit 2nd and 3rd, respectively, in the defencemen scoring race, and the rest of the squad certainly has the ability to pitch in whenever needed. Because of this new-found depth, the Thrashers have the luxury of letting Postma stay in the AHL to fully round-out his game before making the jump to the NHL, but I'm almost certain he'll be in Atlanta, producing, as early as part-way through next season.

Edward Pasquale, G
High Risk, High Reward
Even though Ondrej Pavelec has stepped up as Atlanta's goalie of the present and the future, goaltending is something that you better have depth in - at least one NHL-capable back-up to go with a few young up-and-comers that are given time to develop into a NHL-caliber players. Atlanta is spot-on with their goaltending pipeline with Chris Mason currently backing up Pavelec, and with prospects like Chris Carrozzi and Edward Pasquale in the system ready to grow as professional goalies. Although Carrozzi may have more name value, I believe Pasquale will be the better goalie when all is said and done.

Pasquale, a late '90 birthday, was drafted in the OHL Priority Selection by Belleville but in the '07-'08 season Edward was the main asset moved to Saginaw in acquiring Jan Mursak and Nigel Williams for a deep playoff run. Pasquale became the Spirit's starting goalie at this point and went on to win 8 of his 13 starts during the remainder of the season.

Pasquale finally took a huge step in his development as a prospect in his draft year, being relied upon as the Spirit's workhorse goalie. That season he played in 61 of the team's 68 games, logging a league-leading 3536 minutes in net (344 minutes more than Thomas McCollum). Edward also finished the OHL season 9th in save percentage even though he faced 128 more shots than any other goalie in the league.

After being drafted by the Thrashers, Pasquale's final junior season saw most of his numbers drop - except for his 0.916% save percentage which put him tied with fellow Atlanta prospect Carrozzi for 4th in the league.

Edward made the move to professional hockey this season, where he is part of the numbers game amongst Atlanta's goaltending depth charts. Although his role within the Thrashers farm system was intended to be a platoon in the ECHL with Carrozzi, Pasquale has spent most of the season in the AHL either backing up Peter Mannino or splitting time with Drew MacIntyre. While his numbers aren't necessarily stellar, his numbers compare quite fairly to his elders'.
Mannino: 27 GP, 12 W, 0.896 SV%, 3.09 GAA 
MacIntyre: 11 GP , 5 W, 0.901 SV%, 3.04 GAA
Pasquale: 11 GP, 5 W, 0.892 SV%, 3.16 GAA
Long story short, my faith in Pasquale as a legitimate NHL goaltending prospect roots in the fact that NHL teams love guys that can steal games for them, log a ton of minutes, and persevere when things seem rough. Pasquale's perseverance will definitely be put to the test given his place on the Thrashers' depth chart, but the fact that he has already demonstrated the other two qualities during his career shows his upside.

Julian Melchiori, D
Very High Risk, High Reward
Melchiori was drafted by the Thrashers in the 3rd round of the 2010 draft out of the OJHL's Newmarket Hurricanes, namely for his unknown level of upside. During his two years in the OJHL, the 6'3" defenceman posted 45 points in 87 games, including a 7-goal season in '09-'10.

After being drafted by Atlanta in June, Melchiori joined the Kitchener Rangers for the '10-'11 season though he originally intended on developing in the NCAA. Now listed at 6'4" and 209 lbs., Julian hasn't quite lived up to my expectations on a hot Rangers team; however, Melchiori's 14 points in 41 games put him third in team defencemen scoring behind the league-leading Ryan Murphy and overager Jamie Doornbosch, both of which see ample time on the team's powerplay.

With the Rangers currently sitting in 3rd in the OHL's Western Conference (2 points back of Owen Sound with two games in hand), Melchiori should, at the very least, get the opportunity at a deep playoff run where he should gain valuable experience that can translate into a more productive season in '11-'12.

Only 19 years old, there is still plenty of time for Melchiori for develop. Considering the talent currently on the Thrashers roster, one can imagine Atlanta beginning to give their defensive prospects plenty of opportunity once they are forced to make some hefty financial commitments over the next few years, and Melchiori should be one of those guys in due time.

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