Top 10 Atlanta Thrashers of All-Time
By Alexander Monaghan
The Atlanta Thrashers are no more. Atlanta, as a city, could not prove itself to be a strong enough “hockey city” and because of that sold the franchise to Winnipeg, who proved today to be a hockey town. Over their storied franchise, the Thrashers only made the playoffs once from their inaugural season in 1999 to their eventual demise in 2011. Those four fateful games would be a quick memory as the New York Rangers managed to sweep a team who could not find a way to win when it mattered most.
Laura Astorian graced us with an excellent goodbye to the Thrashers. She put her heart and soul into the effort for SB Nation Atlanta and Bird Watchers Anonymous, watching her hometown team leave because it was deemed to be not a hockey town. However, between 1999 and 2011 there were a few good players who passed through the system.
As a less sentimental goodbye to the Atlanta Thrashers, here are their Top 10 players of all time.
1. Ilya Kovalchuk — As the captain of the Thrashers during the 2009-2010 season, Kovalchuk tried to put his team on its back and get back into the playoffs. Unfortunately, it seems like whenever he tried to actually step up, his emotions get the best of him and his team failed. He refused a contract extension to remain a Thrasher for seemingly the rest of his career and was then jettisoned to the New Jersey Devils for three players and two draft picks. While with the Thrashers, he became their leading scorer of all-time, potting 328 goals and 615 points. His eight seasons in a Thrashers uniform were the most by any one player as well as he clearly became the face of the franchise. He also gave the team their only Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy, leading the League in goal scoring back in 2003-2004. Controversy and inconsistency aside, Kovalchuk will go down in the history books as the greatest Atlanta Thrasher ever.
2. Dan Snyder – As an honorary choice, Snyder gets our nod at number two due to how he tragically died back in October of 2003. As the team prepared for their season opener, they were forced to do so without their friend and teammate. His death led to Dany Heatley needing to leave Atlanta and his number 37 remains the only number to every get retired by the Thrashers. In addition, the team awarded their annual Dan Snyder Memorial Award to the player that “best embodied perseverance, dedication, and hard work without reward or recognition, so that his team and teammates might succeed.”
3. Vyacheslav Kozlov — As a long-time linemate of Kovalchuk, Kozlov enjoyed seven seasons in a Thrashers uniform. He still is one of three players to score 100 in their jersey and the only player outside of Kovalchuk to post at least 400 points. When you think of Kozlov, you likely remember him for his long career in a Detroit Red Wings jersey but after that and a very brief stint with the Buffalo Sabres, Kozlov was all Thrasher, which made his benching/exile last year all the more hurtful.
4. Dany Heatley — Heater gets in at number four basically only because he was a high-end talent that the team grew on their own. His three short seasons with the team, which rendered him an All-Star MVP and a Calder Memorial Trophy winner, puts him in the top five in nearly every offensive category. His reign as a Thrasher will always be memorable whether good or bad, which gives him a slight edge over the player he was traded for.
5. Marian Hossa – Keep in mind the only season the Thrashers actually did make the playoffs, came with Hossa adding supplementary scoring to Kovalchuk. That season the team actually worked incredibly hard, earning the Southeast Division title. Hossa was the third player to ever score 100 goals in an Atlanta Thrashers uniform as he sits third in their all-time points leaders with 248 points in only 222 games.
6. Tobias Enstrom — Similar to Heatley, Enstrom gets a bump up the list since he is a homegrown talent. Unlike Heatley, he is only one of two players to actually remain active members of the team. Last season, the diminutive blue liner surpassed Hossa for the third-most assists in team history. His creativity with the puck put him on the top pairing and top PP unit when Kovalchuk was on the team. His intelligence with the puck and playmaking ability kept him there after the captain left. The team in Winnipeg received a very special player in Enstrom.
7. Eric Boulton — A sentimental choice Boulton is selected for his work dropping the gloves. His 639 PIM ranks first amongst every player as he spent six seasons in a Thrasher sweater. He is the only other member of last season’s Thrashers to make the list as he gets honored for the many shots to the face he took. Don’t believe me? Click here.
8. Kari Lehtonen — With bad years come bad goalies and Lehtonen just so happened to be the best of them. His 204 games played ranked first amongst Thrashers’ goalies as they experienced a plethora of below average to mediocre netminders like Ondrej Pavelec, Johan Hedberg, Milan Hlinicka and Pasi Nurminen. Lehtonen for the majority of his time in Atlanta was known as the “goalie of the future” but he never got a chance to prove that due to injuries. Even in their four playoff games, Lehtonen was relegated to the bench in favor of Hedberg due to his inconsistent play.
9. Marc Savard – Savard was mostly known as Kovalchuk’s playmaking center but he did a good deal of damage over those three years posting 63 goals and 196 points in only 184 games. Of the 31 players to dress in at least 164 games, Savard was only one of three to score at least a point-per-game. After a career-high 97 points with the Thrashers, he would opt for free agency and become a Boston Bruin, where he remains (sidelined) to this day.
10. Kelly Buchberger – He may have only played 68 games in the Atlanta Thrashers sweater but he also wore the C for the first time. With so many players on the bubble, we thought it right to mention the first choice to lead this expansion team.
Honorable Mention: Ray Ferraro, Patrick Stefan, Bryan Little, Jim Slater, Garnet Exelby, Shawn McEachern, Steve Staios, Scott Melanby, Bobby Holik, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Jeff Odgers, Chris Tamer, Chris Thorburn, Niclas Havelid, Rich Peverley, Frantisek Kaberle, Todd White, Andy Sutton, JP Vigier, Yannick Tremblay
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