TORONTO – Bryan Little has been making big strides for the Atlanta Thrashers lately.
The second-year forward has seven goals in his last four games, including one in the Thrashers’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night.
The play of Little and his linemates – centre Todd White and left winger Vyacheslav Kozlov – is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise forgettable year for Atlanta. Little, who recorded his first career three-goal game Boxing Day against Carolina, said his running mates have had a big hand in his recent hot streak.
“I just think some of the bounces have been going my way and my linemates, especially tonight, Whitey made a great pass to me,” said Little, the 12th overall pick in the 2006 NHL draft.
“I’ve been getting a lot of goals around the net right now. “I just hope it keeps going.”
Thrashers head coach John Anderson also credited Little’s linemates, but also said his new sniper is also benefiting from being in the right place at the right time.
“I think he’s just getting to the little quiet spots where the puck is going to get to him and he’s figured it out down low,” said Anderson. “(White and Kozlov) are tremendous passers. Kudos to him and I hope he keeps it going.”
After splitting time between the Thrashers and the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves as a rookie last year, Little has blossomed as an NHL sophomore. The 21-year-old leads Atlanta with 19 goals and he’s chipped in 12 assists to sit fourth in team scoring.
“Bryan has a great quick stick, he’s great in front of the net and works extremely hard so we try to get him the puck as much as we can in open space,” said White, who’s having a career year of his own with 33 points (12-21) in 37 games.
The most productive member of Atlanta’s top line is Kozlov. The slick Russian is second behind Ilya Kovalchuk in team scoring with 35 points (15-20).
“I think it’s a good mix of three guys who are unselfish and we’re always looking for the open guy,” White said. “It’s been a lot of fun playing with those two guys. We always look for the guy with speed and get him the puck.”
Despite scoring against the Leafs, Little ended the night minus-2 and was guilty of some youthful errors. Still, the way things are going it’s easy to see why his confidence is growing with each game.
“I think the more I keep putting them in, the more confidence I’m going to get,” said Little, a former star with the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts. “Even though tonight wasn’t a great game for me, I still have confidence because I put a goal in. I just want to keep it rolling right now and I don’t want to let up.”
At this time two years ago, Little was an integral part of the Canadian team that won gold at the world junior hockey championship in Sweden. He does what he can to keep tabs on this year’s Canadian squad, and former Barrie teammate Stefan Della Rovere in particular.
“I’ve been checking it out online when I’m in Atlanta and I got a chance to catch some of (Canada’s win over Germany on Monday),” Little said.