When I saw the news today that the Thrashers had placed defenseman Boris Valabik on re-entry waivers, my first thought was that the 6’-7” Slovak was heading back to Atlanta…possibly because Freddy Meyer’s mid-body injury was going to keep him out for a longer period of time. But it seems as though Valabik’s placement on waivers has nothing to do with his return but instead looks as if the move was made to give him a chance to be picked up by another team.
I guess Rick Dudley tried but could find no takers in a trade and is simply clearing the field a bit for other defensive prospects such as Arturs Kulda, Paul Postma, Andrei Zubarev, etc.
Valabik, drafted in the first round in 2004, would leave after playing in a grand total of 80 games at the NHL level… scoring no goals, 7 assists, collecting 210 PIM to go with a –14 rating. That’s a disappointing return for a 10th overall draft pick.
But that’s not unusual in these parts, as I’m sure you’re all aware of…painfully so.
So, at the risk of subjecting myself to having you toss cyber-bricks in my direction, allow me to take the opportunity of yet another first round pick departing Thrasherville to review the list of others that have done so.
1999- Patrik Stefan: The first ever “Face of the Future” in Thrasherville, Stefan was selected over both the Sedin twins. He scored a total of 59 goals, 118 assists and was a –41 in 414 games while with the Thrashers before being shipped off to Dallas in 2006 along with Jaroslav Modry. In return, Atlanta received Niko Kapanen and a seventh round selection in 2007. Then-GM Don Waddell then used that pick to draft Will O’Neill.
…sigh… Yeah, I know. I know.
2000- Dany Heatley: I really don’t want to go down this road again and rehash in great detail the circumstances that led to this number two overall pick’s departure from Atlanta. The long and short here is that he asked for a “Get Out of Atlanta Free” card shortly before the 2005-06 season. He claimed the desire to move on with his life after a terrible accident took the life of his friend and teammate. Heatley was dealt to Ottawa where he signed a long-term deal with a no trade clause.
Then in the summer of 2009…he demanded to be traded.
What Atlanta got in return from the Senators was forward Marian Hossa and defenseman Greg DeVries…the big name there being Hossa. At the 2008 trade deadline, Hossa bolted for the door after not being convinced this organization was on the right path with Don Waddell at the helm.
In return for Hossa…and Pascal Dupuis…the Thrashers got two NHL players, a prospect and a draft pick from the Penguins. One of those players, Erik Christensen, was traded for a prospect. The other, Colby Armstrong, left Atlanta as a free agent last summer. The prospect obtained from Pittsburgh, Angelo Esposito, is now playing with the AHL Chicago Wolves after having healed from his second ACL injury in as many years. The player selected with the Penguins pick, Daultan Laveille, is currently playing at Michigan State University.
DeVries departed in the summer of 2007 when he signed as a free agent with the Nashville Predators.
2001- Ilya Kovalchuk: Coupled with Heatley, this first-overall pick made up Atlanta’s dynamic-duo whom the franchise would build the foundation of success. Kovy was the new “Face of the Future” from the day he was draft…right up to the day he was traded, that is.
The much-drawn-out Kovy drama that engulfed Thrasherville for the better part of a year ended last winter when he, along with defenseman Anssi Salmela, were traded to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Nic Bergfors, Johnny Oduya and prospect Patrice Cormier. There was some draft picks exchanged as well, which were used in the big trade with the Chicago Blackhawks last summer.
For Salmela, it was a return back to a Devils organization that had traded him to the Thrashers a year prior in exchange for veteran defenseman Niclas Havelid.
New Jersey then owned the rights to try and re-sign Kovalchuk before the July 1 free agency period…something they eventually got around to doing in September after considerable tossing and tumbling with the NHL and the CBA
2002 – Kari Lehtonen: The Thrashers “goalie of the future” was selected with the second draft pick…right before some dude named Jay Bouwmeester. However, Kari would have issues with a tender groin and back…and conditioning in general. After being pushed into the starting role when Pasi Nurminem suffered a career-ending injury, Lehtonen debuted as the number one goalie on opening night 2005 in south Florida. He lasted one period before Kari-Down ’05 began.
A relatively successful 2006-07 season helped the Thrashers to a playoff birth, but Kari-Down ’07 and Kari-Down ’08 began early in those seasons and limited his ability to suit up for lengthy periods of time. Last year, Kari-Down ’09 began in the summer following back surgery, something he would not fully recover from until shortly before his trade to Dallas in February 2010.
In return for the goalie, Atlanta got defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy and the 4th pick in last summer’s draft. Vishnevskiy was then traded away to the Blackhawks, along with a number-two selection in 2011, for forward Andrew Ladd.
Oh yeah, Jimmy Slater was a first-round pick in ’02, but he was Don Waddell’s choice with the 30th overall.
2003- Braydon Coburn: The 8th overall pick in ’03 was defenseman Braydon Coburn. In February 2007, he was sent packing to Philadelphia when Waddell hit the panic button during the playoff stretch of that season. Heading over to the Thrashers…ducking for cyber-bricks…Alexei Zhitnik.
Now, the Thrashers did make the playoffs…and Zhitnik did actually help his new team do so. But the next fall he then became the poster-child for trades gone bad as his play dropped off significantly. He was relegated to the press box for much of the last few weeks of the season.
Then in the summer of ’08… just after Don Waddell said Zhitnik would “play a big part in the Thrashers’ future”… Zhitnik was waived, his contract bought out, and he was then paid $1.16 million for the next two years to not play for the Thrashers.
Coburn, on the other hand, has become very acquainted with postseason play. Last spring he and his Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks…and Marian Hossa.
That would then bring us back to…
2004- Boris Valabik: Was Boris was ever labeled as the “defensive face of the future”?…shrugs…I dunno. But given he was the first defender taken by the Thrashers so high in the draft…and to date, only one of two who hold that distinction…it’s not a stretch to have looked upon his selection that way. However it seems now that six after slipping on a Thrashers jersey on the stage in Raleigh, North Carolina, Boris may indeed be leaving on that same train out of Thrasherville that Stefan, Heatley, Kovalchuk and Coburn did.
As for 2005…do we even need to re-hash the now infamous first-round draft debacle that gave us Alex Bourret?
But with all of that said, this brings up to the more recent first round picks… the new “Faces of the Future” if you will. They are… Bryan Little, 12th overall in 2006… Zach Bogosian, 3rd overall in 2008, Evander Kane, 4th overall in 2009 and Alexander Burmistrov, 8th overall in 2010.
The Thrashers had no first-rounder in ’07.
Little, Kane and Bogosian have already played in more NHL games than have Valabik and it sure looks like we can say the same thing about Burmistrov by this time next year. These four are not only playing in games, but are contributing to sense of general optimism that prevails around Thrasherville.
That’s what you’re looking for from “earning” the right to obtain these kinds of players so early in the draft.
With Valabik’s perceived departure, these are the guys who will help close the book on the Thrasher “Faces of the Future” – 1999-2005 edition.