Pondering possible line combos for next season's Atlanta Thrashers

thrasherscoachramsay.jpgFor hardcore hockey fans, drawing up various line combos is a delightful exercise of armchair coaching. The Atlanta Thrashers feature a boatload of new faces – many of whom played support roles with the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks – so that activity might be even more enjoyable for Thrashers writers, bloggers and fans.

Still, aside from adventures in NHL ’10 or NHL 2K10, the only place where the mixing and matching of lines matter is on the ice. Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constituion caught up with new coach Craig Ramsay, who might make it easier for people trying to guess what kind of lines the team will throw on the ice.

Ramsay: “The reality in my mind, if you are a really top-flight team, you have a high-end scoring line. Then you have a high-end checking and scoring line. Then you have another high-end line that can do a little of everything, perhaps score more than check. I look at things a bit differently. My one and three [lines], would be in my mind, offensively gifted lines. The second line is more of a grinding, puck control line, who I also expect to score. My fourth line would also be more of a puck control kind of line, that would be used in checking roles and to change the momentum of a game and would also be expected to score some goals.”

Rather than throw some darts at random Thrashers players on my wall, I thought it might be wiser to ask someone who follows the team closely. I asked Laura Astorian from Thrashing the Blues to share her guesses for what the team’s lines will look like in 2010-11 (you can also look at the Sept. 17 participants in this document). Here is what she said, keeping him mind I asked her out of the blue tonight.

With Little at wing and Pevs at center, it’d look like:

Little – Antropov – Bergfors

Kane – Peverley – Ladd

Dawes – Slater/Burmistrov – Modin

Boulton – Slater/Eager – Thorburn

If Cormier hadn’t been hurt, you could plug him in at 3rd line center for sure, but that broken foot during practice isn’t helping him. Slater also has a wrist injury right now, so he might not be good to go to start – I haven’t heard what the deal is yet. Also, this isn’t taking Fredrik Pettersson into consideration, and he’s looking good.

Defense should be this:

Enstrom-Bogosian (they’re paired together again, which is just awesome)

Hainsey-Byfuglien

Oduya-Sopel

The 7th guy’s up in the air. I’m betting Kulda goes down and is our first call-up in case of injury, and Boris Valabik stays at 7th.

Interesting stuff. I still wonder if the Thrashers’ glut of offensive defensemen may justify playing Byfuglien at forward, but Astorian is justified in putting “Buffy the Hamburger Slayer” on the blueline since the player, coach and GM are in favor of the move.

What kind of lines do you think Atlanta will throw out there on most nights? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments and take a look at their training camp battles, which can be found in the Southeast Division collection.

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    Jackets sign d-man Murray to two-year, $5.65 million extension

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    Columbus has agreed to terms with young blueliner Ryan Murray on a two-year, $5.65 million extension, the club announced on Thursday.

    “Ryan Murray is a talented, smart player who has been a very steady performer on our blue line and we are extremely happy to have this deal completed,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. “Ryan has earned more ice time, showed steady improvement and contributed in all situations for us throughout the season.

    “We look forward to his continued growth and development with our club.”

    Murray, 22, was the second overall pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, taken one spot behind Nail Yakupov. While the first few years of his career were a disappointment — Murray missed a boatload of time to various injuries — his ’15-16 campaign has been a step in the right direction.

    Murray has four goals and and 17 points in 55 games this season, sitting third on the team in TOI per game (22:27).

    Of those numbers, the 55 games played is perhaps the most important, as it makes Murray one of three Blue Jackets – Boone Jenner and Gregory Campbell are the others – to have played in every game this season.

    Considering Murray’s previous career-high for games played in a season is 66, he’s well on his way to breaking that mark.

    Originally slated to become a restricted free agent on July 1, Murray is now locked in with Columbus (at $2.825M annually) through 2018. Of all the club’s blueliners, only he, Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson are signed for that long.

    NHL confirms ’17 Draft for Chicago, an ‘ideal setting’

    CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 18:  Owner and Chairman Rocky Wirtz of the Chicago Blackhawks prepares to speak to the crowd during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship Rally at Soldier Field on June 18, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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    Well, it’s official — the NHL Entry Draft is coming to the Windy City for the first time.

    On Thursday, the league announced that Chicago and the United Center would play hosts to the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, marking the first time in league history the ‘Hawks organization has hosted the event.

    “The energy and passion Chicago has for the Blackhawks makes United Center the ideal setting for the 2017 NHL Draft,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “The Draft will be one of the central moments of our Centennial, and the NHL family is looking forward to bringing this signature event to Chicago for the first time.”

    Though it’s still far off — heck, the 2016 draft, which will be held in Buffalo this June, hasn’t even happened yet — the ’17 draft already has a few key names attached to it.

    Chief among them is WHL Brandon forward Nolan Patrick, the son of ex-NHLer Steve Patrick.

    Nolan, 17, scored 56 points in 55 games for the Wheat Kings in his first full campaign, capturing the Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy as the WHL’s rookie of the year.

    He’s expected to be one of the top players selected in ’17, as is Timothy Liljegren, a defenseman currently plying his trade with Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League.

    Leafs and Coyotes headline Craig Button’s list of top NHL-affiliated prospects

    TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 2:  William Nylander #21 of Team Sweden is stopped by Ville Husso #30 of Team Finland during a quarter-final game in the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship at the Air Canada Centre on January 2, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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    Maple Leafs and Coyotes featured prominently on Craig Button’s list of the top 50 NHL-affiliated prospects.

    Button, the former Calgary GM whose current title is TSN’s Director of Scouting, has two Leafs forwards — William Nylander (1st) and Mitch Marner (6th) — and two Coyotes forwards — Dylan Strome (2nd) and Christian Dvorak (3rd) — in his top six.

    Flyers defensive prospect Ivan Provorov is fourth, with Jets forward Kyle Connor fifth.

    Click here to read the other 44 youngsters that made the cut.

    One of them is Jimmy Vesey (8th), the Harvard scoring sensation the Predators need to sign by August, otherwise he can become a free agent.

    Goalie nods: Ducks give red-hot Andersen second straight start

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    Bruce Boudreau has one of those “problems you like to have” in Anaheim.

    Much of his club’s recent surge is due to excellent play from both netminders — John Gibson and Frederik Andersen — but after alternating starts for the last five games, Boudreau will give Andersen his second straight nod when the Ducks take on the Jackets in Columbus.

    The Danish netminder is full value for consecutive starts. Andersen made 28 saves and allowed just one goal in a win over Philadelphia last time out and has been on fire over his last six games, going a perfect 6-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .941 save percentage.

    “We just wanted to change the rotation a little bit,” Boudreau said of tonight’s starting goalie choice, per the O.C. Register. “Gibby’s done really good against Chicago and Vancouver and Freddie’s done really good against Edmonton, Calgary. He played an outstanding game last game and I thought he deserved this game tonight.”

    Anaheim is in the midst of a lengthy seven-game road swing. After tonight’s game, the Ducks take on the ‘Hawks, Oilers and Flames before wrapping the trip in Vancouver on Feb. 18.

    For Columbus, Joonas Korpisalo starts in goal.

    Elsewhere…

    — Looks as though Jhonas Enroth gets the nod in Brooklyn with Jonathan Quick banged up. The Isles are going with Thomas Greiss, who has emerged as one of the NHL’s top backup netminders this year.

    Robin Lehner goes for the Sabres in Philly tonight. Steve Mason will make his sixth straight start, and Michal Neuvirth will resume backup duties after being activated from IR.

    Semyon Varlamov‘s expected to be in goal for the Avs tonight when they take on the Sens. Ottawa will go with Andrew Hammond after Craig Anderson started against Detroit last night.

    — Minnesota is going back to Devan Dubnyk, tonight, who has lost nine in a row (0-8-1) with a 3.32 GAA and .881 save percentage over that time. Washington will start Braden Holtby.

    Tuukka Rask versus Connor Hellebuyck as the Bruins take on the Jets.

    — Dallas looks like it’ll go back to Kari Lehtonen after his strong effort in Tuesday’s win over the Wild. Chicago, unsurprisingly, is sticking with its workhorse No. 1, Corey Crawford.

    — Toronto’s switching things up and going with Jonathan Bernier as its road swing continues in Edmonton. The Oilers are going with Cam Talbot, one day after sending Anders Nilsson to the minors.

    Karri Ramo versus Alex Stalock tonight in San Jose.