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Today our blogging team expert is Aaron B from Bird Watchers Anonymous. Aaron helped us out last year when he was blogging on his own site blueland outsider and we had to have him back for an encore... and you'll see why as he knocks Question #6 out of the park. We asked Aaron nine fantasy relevant questions about the Thrashers and the NHL in general. Follow the jump to read his answers...
by Aaron B, Bird Watchers Anonymous
Q1) Thrashers Breakout of the Year?
Evander Kane, for three reasons. One, with no hot-shot Russian sniper clogging up the point on the power play (and by necessity, a new playbook), Kaner stands to see a lot more PP time. Two, there wasn't exactly a huge influx of offensive firepower into Philips Arena this summer. Looks like Kane is in line for top-two line minutes as the Thrashers' resident power forward. Three, the kid has some serious drive. I had the chance to interview Evander before the '09-10 season, and someone asked him where he thought he would play, and he seemed confident about make the big club. I said he sounded pretty sure of himself. He looked me dead in the eye and said, "I'm making. The. Team." I didn't doubt him.
Bryan Little is at a crossroads. His first breakout season, he found some undeniable chemistry with Slava Kozlov and Todd White. Together, the three of them racked up some more-than-solid numbers on the man-advantage. Last season was a much more underwhelming story. After starting the year skating mostly with Kozlov and White (and producing alarmingly few points), Little was bumped up to top line duty with Nik Antropov and Ilya Kovalchuk. After Kovy was shipped to NJD, Little lined up with Antropov and Nic Bergfors. Little put up almost as many points with Antro and Bergfors as he did with Antro and Kovy, and it took him about 2/3 of the ice time. The chemistry was pretty great toward the end of the season, and the Thrashers almost snuck themselves into a playoff spot. There's also been talk of moving Little back to his natural center position, which may take some pressure off of him to produce, goal-wise.
Q3) Breakdown Player on the Thrashers?
Quite a few contenders, that's for sure. Can Freddy Modin shed the dreaded "injury-prone" tag? Will Zach Bogosian bounce back after a disappointing sophomore season? Is Bryan Little a 31 goal man, or a 13 goal man? How much of Dustin Byfuglien is potential, and how much of him is a real-deal hockey player? Is Ondrej Pavelec the goalie of the future for Atlanta? Can Niclas Bergfors build on the solid showing he put up after coming over from New Jersey? Can Ron Hainsey worry more about defensive positioning and less about his hair?
Q4) League-Wide Breakout of the Year?
Yikes. League-wide? That's a lot of pressure. I'll go with Patrick O'Sullivan on this one. No real reason, but he'll be on my roster this year just as a hunch. Last year he managed 34 points on a really bad Edmonton Oilers squad with an ever-changing list of linemates. I think in Carolina, Patty may have enough of a burr in his saddle to settle in and post another 50+ point season. He may not be THE Sleeper of the NHL this year, but I believe he'll be a surprising source of offense.
Q5) Who are your First Five Picks in a Fantasy Draft?
Ryan Miller, Mike Green, Nick Backstrom, Corey Perry & Dustin Byfuglien
In a cap league, I think ATLs own Chris Mason is going to be a great value at under $2 million. Steve Mason might (stressing, might) return to his previous form and would be a tremendous value at under $1 million. By no means should Dan Ellis be chosen – the mere mention of money stresses him out.
Q7) Taylor or Tyler?
Tyler short-term, Taylor long-term. Tyler looks to be in a better position initially, but if I'm a highly-touted prospect, I like the idea of spending some developmental time in Edmonton rather than Boston. Just a little less stressful.
Q8) Your Stanley Cup Pick?
Uh, magic dart-board hours of research & study indicate Chicago challenges a second time, but falls to a crazy-Ted-Leonsis-feulled Washington Capitals team that discover the ancient art of physical shut-down defense.
BONUS) Is Ondrej Pavelec as bad as his numbers say he is?
Absolutely not. He's a hell of a goaltender, but when has Atlanta actually developed a goalie correctly? The answer is: now. Rick Dudley has brought in "goaltender consultant" Clint Malarchuk, who is the closest thing to a goalie coach the Thrashers have had in forever. Add Chris Mason in front of him to be a leader, an example and cavalry, and Opie is in the best developmental position a Thrashers goalie has ever been.
Huge thanks to Aaron... definitely check out his stuff and all the Thrashers news over at Bird Watchers Anonymous.