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February 5, 2010
From Daigle To Datsyuk
Ilya Kovalchuk Traded To The New Jersey Devils

by Corey Pronman

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In what has been a whirlwind of rumors and tweets the last few days finally concluded last night when USA Todayís Kevin Allen reported that Atlanta Thrashers superstar Ilya Kovalchuck had been traded to the New Jersey Devils. Overall hereís how the trade shaped out:

To New Jersey Devils:

F Ilya Kovalchuck

D Anssi Salmela

Atlantaís 2nd round pick 2010

To Atlanta Thrashers:

F Niclas Bergfors

D Johnny Oduya

F Patrice Cormier

New Jerseyís 1st round pick 2010

New Jerseyís 2nd round pick 2010

This was obviously a tough trade for the Thrashers organization to make as they let go of the most illustrious player in their franchiseís history. They hope now to build for the future, as even though there may be a chance Kovalchuck resigns with them in the summer, they have to look forward and deal with the pieces they have now and what they obtained from New Jersey. The question is, are the Thrashers currently deep enough to build an organization that can be competitive in the future? Firstly, letís analyze piece by piece what the Thrashers obtained (minus Johnny Oduya, since he may not be part of their future being a UFA following the 2012 season).

Niclas Bergfors, Right Wing, 5í11 190, DOB: Mar 7 1987, Drafted 1st round 23rd overall in 2005 by NJD:

Somewhat of a late bloomer for New Jersey and always known for his high amount of talent, Bergfors took until this season to finally crack the Devils team. While New Jersey is known for taking it slow with their prospects, four years in the AHL for a winger is long even for their standards and scouts were wondering whether Bergfors would pan out as initially anticipated.

Bergfors is more of a goal-scorer with good hockey sense and shooting ability than anything else (as seen by his relatively low Goals to Assists ratio throughout his pro career) but has some good puck skills and hands. While he has a great skill set he doesnít always bring it every night, which is sometimes an issue. While his 13 goals and 27 points in 54 games are good for a rookie, you have to take into account that Bergfors has played a large amount of time on the top line with Travis Zajac and Zach Parise. So, his role is certainly outside the norm for a rookie, but that's largely because he's starting his NHL career off as a 22 year old. Bergfors projects as a good second line /decent first line goal-scorer.

Patrice Cormier, Center, 6í2 205 DOB: Jun 14 1990, Drafted 2nd round 54th overall in 2008 by NJD:

If you havenít heard of Patrice Cormier yet, you must have either just started following hockey at the turn of the new month, or ignore any non-NHL related news. Cormierís name has been just about everywhere the last few months, for both good reasons (being Captain on Team Canadaís silver medal team at the World Juniors) and for bad reasons (remember the much publicized ugly, cheap-shot elbow to the head of Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts that resulted in a season-long suspension for him).

Cormier is who he is though in terms of his talents, heís a grinder. He isnít going to pan out into a 25 goal scorer at the pro level; heís big, physical and will make a career in the NHL on a teamís bottom six. However, he does have some offensive skills around the net though and will get the occasional dirty goal. Don Waddell has gone on record as saying that thereís a good chance Cormier will be on the team next year, which in my opinion is a bit of a rush for a kid missing a ton of development time this season and three years removed from being drafted.

First round pick NJD 2010:

Itís obviously difficult at this point to say what overall pick this will be, but as of now the Devils are 6th overall in the league in points, so that would line up the Thrashers for the 25th overall draft choice. So going to the Puck Prospectus Top 100 mid-term rankings for this yearís Entry Draft, these are the most likely players to be taken with the first round pick:

23.	Stanislav Galiev, Left Wing, Saint John- QMJHL
24.	Devante Smith-Pelly, Right Wing, Mississauga- OHL
25.	Derek Forbort, Defense, U-18- USNTDP
26.	Teemu Pulkkinen, Right Wing, Jokerit- SM- Liiga
27.	Alexander Burmistrov, Center, Barrie- OHL

Obviously at the 23-27 range, you may not be getting the next great player. After all, in this range, the players either project to be average at the pro level, or have good upside but a few question marks as to whether they will be able to reach their ceilings.

Trade Conclusion:

Overall, after dealing Kovalchuk as a half-year rental to the New Jersey Devils, the Atlanta Thrashers ended up adding to their organizationís future:

  • A good second line/decent first line goal-scoring winger
  • A decent projectable grinding center with some offensive tools and character questions
  • A late first round pick, which usually will turn into an average NHL player.

Thatís not a bad haul if you look at the trade from an overall value or added GVT perspective. However ,the problem is that they did not acquire anything of substantial value. This is akin to the Marian Hossa trade, and what Boston got in the Joe Thorton trade; teams getting a bunch of bicycles instead of going after the motorcycle. Names the Thrashers shouldíve gone after were prospects from the likes of Swedish forwards Mattias Tedenby and Jacob Josefson. Iím not saying that they didnít inquire about those players, but judging from Don Waddellís post-trade comments where he seemed to elude to winning now or potentially being buyers at the deadline, it seemed like sacrificing Oduya for a prospect may not have been on the agenda.

It's hard to tell if New Jersey wouldíve even parted with those players, because according to reports Waddell really had to push the Devils just to obtain Patrice Cormier, but the point is that thereís no centerpiece player in this deal. This trade has no players who have the potential to become valuable assets in the Atlanta organization on either the top line or first defensive pairing. Bergfors has an outside chance and the first round pick even more of an outside chance, but you can find a Patrice Cormier elsewhere if needed. The direction of the franchise and of their management seems flawed as trading Kovalchuk is a pure selling move yet they donít seem to see themselves as pure sellers.

Franchise Youth Overview:

The Farmís Top Prospects:

  • Angelo Espositoís injuries have about derailed him, which is unfortunate for Atlanta as he actually was a prospect with good offensive upside.
  • Spencer Machacek is close to cracking the big team, having already been called up previously, but really projects to be a second line forward at best, if even.
  • Carl Klingberg is still a bit away from making it, a hard-working physical player with some decent offensive upside, time will tell where that offensive upside will place him.
  • Jeremy Morin played for the US at the World Juniors. After playing on the USNTDP for years, Morinís transfer to the OHL has gone well with 35 goals and 65 points in 44 games for the Kitchener Rangers.

On the Big Club (23 and under):

Evander Kane, Wing: He is obviously a prospect with tremendous upside picked 4th overall this past summer. Heís very young and still has plenty of room to grow and develop, and his combination of offense and toughness will be scary when he fills out.

Zach Bogosian, Defense: He's going to be an anchor on the Atlanta defense for a while. It's players like him and Kane that Atlanta wants to keep long-term, which is why they didnít give in to Kovalchukís outrageous contract demands. At 19, Bogosian is displaying such a high-end two way ability and eating huge minutes from the backend already that he may very well become the cornerstone of the franchise.

Bryan Little, Center: He has taken a step back after his tremendous age 21 season last year, which was to be somewhat expected after he posted a ridiculous 18.0 shooting percentage. He obviously has time to develop, but one has to wonder whether he will be able to develop and adapt to the pro game better in Chicago of the AHL.

Ondrej Pavelec, Goalie: A very physically gifted and athletic goalie, his game to game consistency and focus has to pick up if he wants to succeed at the NHL level, but there are many goalies like him that tend to go through these kind of issues every year. He and Lehtonen make for a very talented young goalie duo.

Boris Valabik, Defense: As an absolute monster at 6í7, 240 lbs. on the backend, thereís no expectations of point production from Valabik. He will make a living out of stopping the opposition and hurting opponents, which he thoroughly enjoys at times. His skating abilities will be an issue going forward, but for all giants not named Tyler Myers thatís always the case.

Conclusion:

With Kovalchuck gone, the team still has some corner-pieces going forward such as Kane and Bogosian. Their young core also consists of Bryan Little, Boris Valabik and the recently acquired Niclas Bergfors. While they also have good players in their prime such as Tobias Enstrom and Nik Antropov, the team really isnít in a position to make a run as of yet. Atlanta lacks the depth of talent throughout their lineup that most competitive teams possess and the talent they do have isnít fully developed to the point that they can be key contributors. The questions in net are an issue at least for the present, and the farm system is pretty barren of anything substantial coming on the way. The Thrashers are at least a few years away from being a competitive team.

Time will obviously answer the questions of whether or not the trade was a good move or not, but Atlantaís inability to obtain an asset of high upside may come back to bite them. The Niclas Bergforsí and less so the Patrice Cormierís of the world arenít easy to obtain, but the Kovalchukís are obviously much harder. That void of a high-end forward is glaring now, and while Kane may at some point fill it, Atlantaís philosophy of choosing to go with the quantity of assets rather than the quality of assets in the Ilya Kovalchuk deal may come back to bite them as it did with the Marian Hossa trade. The philosophy of the organization going forward is in question, as the move yesterday shows that Atlanta seems to think that they are only one-step away from competing when they clearly are not.

Follow Corey on Twitter at @coreypronman.

Corey Pronman is a contributor to Puck Prospectus, an Associate Scout for the USHL Sioux Falls Stampede and runs the statistical hockey site The Hock Project. You can contact him at CPronman@fau.edu.

Corey Pronman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Corey by clicking here or click here to see Corey's other articles.

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Numbers On Ice (02/04)
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From Daigle To Datsyuk (02/17)
Next Article >>
Illegal Curve (02/05)

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