This 2008-09 Thrashers season is entering into it’s closing act with but nine more games remaining on the schedule. Although our team won’t be playing any after our allotted 82 match-ups, there has been a sense of hope and promise that has crept into the mindset of Thrashers fans given their play of late. We can cite the performances of several players that have made an impact lately, specifically team captain Ilya Kovalchuk. But Kovy’s performance comes as no surprise as he’s one of the NHL’s premiere players.
However, there were three players that started off the season with certain questions surrounding them and one that joined halfway through the campaign that had fans questioning just who he was at the time. However, these four player’s performances have contributed mightily in this new sense of optimism… albeit guarded optimism… as we look forward to next fall and I would like to present them as my “2008-09 Surprise Performers of the Year”.
As you read, I invite you to re-read some of the things we were voicing concerns over regarding these players via the links I’ve provided.
Todd White: Last summer I questioned what type of role White might have in John Anderson’s system this season. Remember, of course, that at the time I wrote that piece his dissapointing 14 goal, 23 assist season was still fresh in our minds. But I wrapped up the post by stating, “…while it’s true that least season did not pan out exactly the way he would have liked, both in regards to his personal numbers and the team’s overall performance, this coming season does provide a new beginning. John Anderson’s O-fensive system could prove to be one he fits into better than the one he was operating in last…at least there will actually be a “system” for White to operate in. And that might be all the difference he needs”.
Indeed it looks like Todd White has found his place in the Thrashers’ lineup. Going into Tuesday night’s game in Montreal, (game number 74 for Atlanta), White has scored 20 goals and has 46 assists. His 66 points are a career best and he’s tied with Slava Kozlov for the second most overall points on the team behind Kovalchuk.
Whitey started off the season on the second line with Bryan Little and Kozlov. But in the past few weeks, Anderson has elevated White and Little up to play with Kovy…the second line now consisting of Kozlov, Rich Peverley and Colby Armstrong.
How has that worked out? Well, seeing that Atlanta has averaged 3.67 goals in the past seventeen games, I’d say the experiment has been working out just fine, thank you very much!
Marty Reasoner: Another pleasant surprise has come in the person of Marty Reasoner. He was brought in to fill the skates of Bobby Holik…departed to New Jersey via free-agency. Reasoner has 12 goals and 25 overall points and his +10 leads the team…not bad for playing on a team that is -26 in GF/GA differential. But the big bonus here has been his dependability on defense and the fact that he isn’t prone to amassing penalty minutes in a Holik-esque fashion. To date he has only 30 PIM compared to Holik’s 90 last season. Marty has also been a help in the faceoff circle, winning 52.2% there.
That he was not traded away at the deadline a few weeks back…and that it seems as though he’d like to remain with the organ-I-zation beyond this season…is very welcome news.
Slava Kozlov: Last year was not a memorable one for The Slavinator. As we had confirmed last summer, he played much of the year hurt and his numbers suffered for it. Coming into the season many wonder if the Kozlov of old could return again and put up numbers that we’re more accustomed to seeing from him.
Indeed he did just that.
Kozlov had produced 22 goals and 44 assists so far. 11 goals and 29 assists have come while the Thrashers were on the power play. The 40 points while on the man advantage are an NHL best going into Tuesday night’s action…one above some cat named Ovechkin. His strong start to the year while playing with Little and White continued after he was teamed up with Peverley and Armstrong. In fact, he is currently riding an eight-game points streak.
Nice to have our old Kozzy back!
Rich Peverley: Then there is Rich Peverley…The Peever…the Pevs Dispensor…the Peevinator. The waiver-wire pickup of the year as far as I’m concerned. Remember when he came on board in the middle of January? This team was D.R.T. at the time and he injected a spark that hasn’t faded since. In 30 games played in a Thrashers jersey he’s accounted for 10 goals, 15 assists and his +9 is second best on the team behind Reasoner. And, like Reasoner, he plays a very smart defensive game.
An added bonus here for Thrashers fans is the fact that he’s signed through next season. As has been discussed here before, Don Waddell should be looking to extend this man’s contract as soon as he can.
Now, this is in no way meant to be a slight to the outstanding service that has come from the likes of Zach Bogosian, Bryan Little and Kari Lehtonen…even Stuart and Crabb when they have been in the lineup. Certainly these guys and others could be spotlighted for their work this season.
But to me, given the questions surrounding White, Reasoner, Kozlov and Peverley when they began play this year, (in Pevs’ case, in mid-January), these are the four biggest…and most pleasant…surprises that have emerged during the season.