Player Projection: Bryan Little

NHLHS Atlanta Thrashers correspondent Laura Astorian takes a look at the Thrashers top candidate to have a breakout season in 2010-11, Bryan Little.

The 2008-2009 season was not a good one for the Atlanta Thrashers, finishing third to last in the Eastern Conference with a record of 35-41-6.  There were a few bright spots that year, like the end of the year flurry to finish on a high note, or the 20+ goal seasons of six players: Ilya Kovalchuk, Colby Armstrong, Slava Kozlov, Rich Peverley, Todd White, and Bryan Little.

Granted, it wasn’t enough to help pull the Thrashers into the playoffs, but many fans assumed that it would be something to build on for the next season.

The 2009-2010 season was built on high expectations.  After the offensive push at the end of the previous season, many felt that John Anderson’s system was working and working well.  And then something happened.  Offensive output from Kovalchuk was the same, and Nik Antropov and Maxim Afinogenov were both adding offensive output, but the other 20+ goal scorers from the previous seasons were mired in a slump.  Todd White only managed 7 goals (though it was revealed after the season that he was playing with a separated shoulder).  Kozlov was a scratch for about a third of the season.  Peverley’s goal production dipped slightly, while Armstrong’s returned to a normal 15 goals.

Bryan Little, though, was considered to make the 2009-2010 season a sequel to the prior one.  In 2008-2009, Little scored 31 goals in a rapid fire season that no one expected from the then-sophomore hockey player.  As often happens, however, after that kind of a season, people assumed that Little wouldn’t significantly drop off in production the next year.  He did.  Production dipped down to only 13 goals on the season.  He wasn’t getting the powerplay time that added to his goal total any more, nor was he playing on a line with White and Kozlov.  None of the members of the “Little-White-Russian” line were effective last season, and none of them benefitted from playing with the others.

This season, obviously, Little will again have new line-mates, possibly being centered by Antropov and playing with Niclas Bergfors on the other wing.  New linemates, one of which is big and can cover Little, and the other of which is a scoring playmaker as well, should encourage Little to light the lamp a bit more often.  Antropov was an assist machine last season, tallying up 43 helpers on the top line.  That number might drop a bit thanks to the loss of Kovalchuk, but after the February trade, Antropov picked up scoring duties and still continued getting the puck to his teammates.

New, consistent linemates are not the only thing that should help Little recover a bit of his scoring pace.  Former coach John Anderson was let go partially due to a lack of growth from the younger players, especially Little.  New head coach Craig Ramsay and associate head coach John Torchetti are both noted for working with younger players; Torchetti’s work in Chicago is especially praiseworthy.  A new look coaching staff, a new set-up on ice, and a dose of confidence, and Bryan Little should be good to go.

Laura Astorian
NHLHS Atlanta Thrashers Correspondent
Twitter: @hildymac