Atlanta's Yearbook/Outlook/Better or Worse?

Atlanta's roster is relatively the same as it was last year at this time. A great trio of wingers (Kovalchuk, Kozlov, Hossa) followed by some, not horrible, but just average guys (Perrin, Dupuis, Larsen). The centers each have their good side, however none happen to specialize in offense (Newcomer Todd White comes the closest). The defense looks sharp in names (Zhitnik, Havelid, Exelby, Klee, McCarthy), but is inexperienced in the playoffs (minus Havelid, and Zhitnik). The goaltending remains exactly the same, other than having Kari Lehtonen aware of the pressure in the playoffs. But, even with these slight changes, could Atlanta be better than last year?

According to my sources...........The Thrashers may look the same on the outside, but with nearly every man on the roster having knowledge of playoff pressure, they can do much better. Hossa can repeat 100 points if he has Kozlov on his line again, and the upgrade from Eric Belanger to Todd White should be noticed. The somewhat young defense should benefit from a full season from Alexei Zhitnik and Ken Klee is also a good leader. Last year it was all about gaining experience, and this year, they have it.

But from what I see..................The Thrashers will have a season very similar to the one they had last year. The wins could go up if some of the centers (Holik, Slater) use their offensive abilities to their best, and if Brett Sterling can bring his scoring game to the next level, the three will become four. The defense will be better having Zhitnik for a whole year, and if Klee has another surprisingly good season, all the better. Lehtonen is still going (and growing) up, but if he ever falters, Hedberg is still reliable. However, with all the changes that everyone else in the Eastern Conference received, a first round exit is the best to hope for.

In the near future...............The Thrashers savior (if they end up needing one) will come in the form of Bryan Little. Although his name matches his stature, it nowhere near describes his skill. The 5' 10" center is IMHO largely overlooked when people rank prospects. He scored 107 points in the OHL last year, and although he could use some AHL time, I think he could be amazing by next season (08-09). Brett Stirling is also a rookie, though more ready due to his 55-goal rookie AHL season.

All in all, the Thrashers will get to the first round, get out (though likely in 5-7 games instead of four) and become even better in the next offseason. They are definitely on the upswing, and could be serious contenders soon.