Last March, on trade deadline day, the radio voice of the Thrashers Dan Kamal commented on XM’s NHL Live that re-signing Ilya Kovalchuk was “priority one” for the team and that “there is no 1-a or 1-b” regarding this issue. As I’ve opined previously, I agree with Kamal that there is no higher priority than getting the captain to put pen to paper on a new contract and that is where the bulk of Don Waddell’s attention should be right now. However, there are a couple other players on the roster that I wouldn’t mind seeing Waddell take care of as well…sooner rather than later.
Of the forwards that are expected to play in Atlanta this season, there are but four that are under contract past next summer. Todd White, Chris Thorburn and Marty Reasoner are signed through the 2010-11 season.. after that, they’ll become UFAs. Then there is Nik Antropov who signed a 4-year contract in July.
Spencer Machacek is under contract for this season and next, but it’s yet to be seen whether he’ll play in Atlanta or not this year.
Colby Armstrong, Slava Kozlov, Jim Slater, Eric Boulton and Rich Peverley are all scheduled to be UFAs after this year…Bryan Little is set to be a restricted free agent.
And while Army and the Peever are two that I would like to see signed to extensions as early as possible, the name on that list that I feel should be placed on a priority level just below Kovalchuk is Bryan Little.
Last season, in his first full year of play, the 12th pick in the 2006 draft did everything he needed to do in order to show he is indeed ready to play at this level full time. His 31 goals were second on the team, behind Kovy’s 43, and his 51 overall points was good enough for fourth… between White’s 73 and Armstrong’s 40. Those numbers solidified his role as a top-six forward on this team.
He began the year as a part of the only line that was able to generate points on a consistent basis…playing to right White and opposite Slava Kozlov. At the mid-point of the campaign, that line had accounted for 48 of the team’s 124 goals…Little had 19 of them…and had amassed 113 combined points during that time. It was the lone bright spot during the season’s first half that was otherwise painful to watch.
Toward the end of the season, Little was primarily playing on the right side of Kovalchuk’s top line and continued to produce offensively once there…whether it was White or Peverley at the pivot.
In the fall of 2007, he made the team during training camp and played with the Thrashers to begin the year. On opening night, just after the Thrashers’ division championship banner was raised, he scored the only goal for the team during a 3-1 loss to the Capitals. In doing so, he became the first Thrasher to score in his NHL debut. He was demoted later in the season to play in Chicago, but there he helped the John Anderson-coached Wolves on their way to an AHL championship. However, in 48 games played at the NHL level that season, he produced 6 goals and 10 assists.
Little is one of those players that will, in my opinion, live up to the hype given of his potential. It is not inconceivable that he could be pushing 40 goals and/or 75 points this coming season. If he has that kind of year, his price will do nothing but go up all the more…and deservedly so.
This is why I feel that right after Ilya Kovalchuk, Don Waddell should have Little on is agenda.