It’s late May, so we must be talkin’ Atlanta Thrashers – just not in the context of the NHL playoffs, obviously.
When the Thrashers said their goodbyes this spring, I wonder if any of them hesitated to say ‘enjoy your summer’ to Kari Lehtonen.
The Atlanta goalie has supposedly never had any trouble putting his feet up in the off-season, leading some to speculate the reason he’s endured groin problems is because he shows up to training camp in less than stellar shape.
If Lehtonen requires any extra incentive to hit the gym this off-season he need look no further than the American League playoffs, where Thrashers prospect Ondrej Pavelec is putting up wall-like numbers.
The Chicago Wolves goalie has his team one win away from a Calder Cup final berth, thanks in large part to his 1.98 goals-against average, .934 save percentage and two shutouts in 16 games.
Pavelec, who will turn 21 in August, is a big goalie (6-foot-2, 196 pounds) with sound positioning and quick reflexes. And those post-season numbers speak for themselves.
Lehtonen, meanwhile, has shown flashes of brilliance in his young career, but his development has been hindered by questions about commitment and whether he was actually trying to let goals in at times.
After missing the playoffs for the umpteenth time this season, you get the feeling Atlanta GM Don Waddell is ready to get into the page-turning business. As such, what kind of offer do you think he’s going to toss Lehtonen’s way when the 24-year-old Finn becomes a restricted free agent this July?
This push from Pavelec means it’s reaction time for Lehtonen. And maybe decision time, soon, for Waddell.
A RUSH OF EMOTION
Any Thrashers fan who saw Ilya Kovalchuk’s emotional reaction to winning the World Championship for Team Russia has to hope those tears of joy (not usually associated with hockey in Atlanta) fall on his club jersey someday.
Kovalchuk’s countryman, Alex Ovechkin, is lauded for his obvious love of the game all the time. But don’t be fooled into thinking the same passion doesn’t burn in Kovalchuk just because he doesn’t slam into the glass every time he scores.
Has Kovalchuk hit the ‘off’ switch at times in Atlanta? Certainly. But giving him a reason to be excited in the form of more competent teammates would go a long way in stoking his fires.
Right now, Kovalchuk is a Georgia peach amidst a sea of lemons. Give him some incentive to get geared up – like a legit shot at the Stanley Cup – and I suspect intense play and emotional reactions would follow suit.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
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