Atlanta Stacks Up

Atlanta is making a major push for the playoffs, adding two significant players in as many days. First, the Thrashers added defenseman Alexei Zhitnik from the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for up-and-comer Braydon Coburn. Then, on Sunday, Atlanta acquired forward Keith Tkachuk from the consistently-floundering St. Louis Blues for forward Glen Metropolit and a first-round draft pick in 2007. There are some particulars involved with the latter deal, including the possibility of a 2008 draft pick heading to the Blues should Atlanta resign Tkachuk.

The two deals are obvious grabs at Atlanta’s playoff drive hopes, adding some size and experience in exchange for youth in Coburn and inconsistent “experience” in Glen Metropolit.

Many people might say that the first deal gives up a touch too much for Atlanta. Braydon Coburn, formerly Atlanta’s top defensive prospect, brought size and all-around play to the Thrasher’s blueline. He was Atlanta’s first choice, eighth overall, in the 2003 entry draft, too. In return, Atlanta gets Zhitnik from the bargain-basement Philly Flyers. The Flyers have been dumping players and having a fire sale in recent weeks, first sending Forsberg off to Nashville for Scottie Upshall and now dealing Zhitnik. In Zhitnik, Atlanta gets years of tireless experience. They also get a 13-year vet, an average power-play quarterback and someone that often plays a very “disinterested” style of hockey. One wonders if losing Coburn, a hot young prospect for a budding Thrasher squad, was really worth it for someone as inconsistent as Zhitnik.

The other deal, Sunday’s trade for Tkachuk, calls up similar sentiments. Atlanta dealt Metropolit, who scored a modest 28 points in 57 games for the Thrashers. Metropolit is never the type of player that is going to spark too much hockey pool interest, but he is a relatively consistent third-line player with enough jump and energy to remain a constant threat on the ice against any other team’s comparative third line. Still, at 32 and with only four years of NHL experience, giving up Metropolit for Tkachuk may not be the worst possible deal for Atlanta. In Keith Tkachuk, Atlanta picks up a veteran power forward with heaps of personality and leadership potential. Tkachuk was also the best player on the St. Louis Blues and his production sat comfortably around a point-per-game as it typically does. Still, Tkachuk is starting to show his age and is certainly slowing down. Plagued by a number of injuries, he played only 41 games last year after showing up in St. Louis dreadfully overweight and out of shape. One hopes that his dedication has turned around for Atlanta and that he can teach young Kovalchuk and Hossa a thing or two about the NHL. Perhaps he’ll learn a thing or two in return from the speedy, flashy wingers.

Atlanta’s process of shoring up experience for the playoffs may well hold up. Currently sitting at sixth in the East, the Thrashers look to make a splash in the playoffs this year and hope to make a serious run for Lord Stanley’s Cup. With hot wingers in Kovalchuk and Hossa, an experienced and sometimes surly forward in the newly acquired Keith Tkachuk, an inconsistent defense led by Alexei Zhitnik and Greg de Vries, and an exciting young goaltender in Kari Lehtonen, Atlanta looks to turn a few heads and secure their status as a “team to watch” in this year’s race for the ultimate prize in professional sports. Whether those hopes will turn into year-end glory for the Thrashers remains to be seen.

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