BY MURRAY PAM
The 2007-08 rookie season for Atlanta Thrashers center Bryan Little was full of anticipation and promise.
After shattering the Ontario League’s Barrie Colts club record for goals (42) and points (109) in 2005-06, the 12th overall pick of the 2006 NHL draft followed it up with a 41-goal, 107-point campaign for Barrie. Not only was he reaching lofty point totals, but he was also part of Canada’s gold medal-winning team at the World Junior Championship in 2007.
The following season, Little proved his worth in Atlanta’s training camp and earned a spot in the lineup with the big club, but his adjustment to the NHL was difficult. A natural goal-scorer in junior, Little garnered only six goals and 16 points in 48 games with Atlanta.
Like many young rookies before him, Little’s confidence waned in his first year and his inconsistent play led to a trip to the farm, where he would finish the season with the Chicago Wolves.
“When I got the puck, I was looking to chip it or pass it right away,” Little explained. “I was a bit intimidated.”
Fast forward to this season where Little has shifted positions from center to right wing. He has put up 22 points in 26 games and as the season eclipses the one-quarter mark, Little has already surpassed his point total from his shortened rookie season experience.
The 5-foot-11, 200-pound kid with a scorer’s touch has enjoyed his move to the wing and attributes his success to his new-found confidence.
“This season I want to make more plays,” Little said. “I have more confidence when I am carrying the puck.”
Little’s linemate, center Todd White, is also having a career season and is happy to have the former Colt on his side.
“Little is taking initiative,” White noted. “Last season he would not have done that. He is an easy guy to play with. He is a good shooter and passer. We complement each other well.”
Little’s surge this season speaks volumes about his comfort level and familiarity with new head coach, John Anderson, who the Thrashers promoted from their AHL affiliate to relieve GM Don Waddell of his interim tag in the summer.
“Coach Anderson has been good for my confidence,” Little said. “He knows me and I know his systems.”
Anderson, who tutored Little behind the bench last season with the Wolves, is clearly satisfied with the 21-year-old’s play.
“I love his speed down the far side,” Anderson said. “He keeps his legs moving. He gets his shot off quick. It is one that can fool goalies.”
Little has undoubtedly been one of the few bright spots in Atlanta’s disappointing start to the season. But it’s all about the future in Atlanta right now and it’s clear Little is the real deal.