8 Former Thrashers Still Active in the NHL

Unlike the common bird itself, former Atlanta Thrashers are a fading breed.

Recently, Winnipeg Jets’ defenseman Dustin Byfuglien’s contract was officially terminated. It’s highly unlikely the big blueliner — who decided on the eve of training camp back in September that he did not want to play in 2019-20 — will ever skate in an NHL game again.

If Dustin Byfuglien’s pro career is indeed over, it will leave just eight former Thrashers in the NHL. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If that’s the case, there will be just eight former Thrashers left in the NHL. Here’s a look at each of them, in alphabetical order, and what they’ve done since leaving the Peach State.

Zach Bogosian

Played 199 games for the Thrashers between 2008-09 and 2010-11

The Thrashers selected the big and mobile defenceman third overall in 2008 and he immediately joined the big club. He appeared in 199 games for the Thrashers in the three seasons before they relocated to Winnipeg, recording 24 goals and 39 assists for 59 points, but was also a minus-34.

The Thrashers chose Bogosian third overall in 2008 and immediately put him on the big club.

In the Jets’ early days, the still-young Bogosian played a top-four role, skating an average of 22:56, posting 16 goals and 52 assists for 68 points — including a career-high 30 in the Jets’ inaugural campaign — and recording middling-to-fair advanced numbers.

He was steady enough when he was in the lineup, but unfortunately, was dogged by injuries and never played more than 65 games in a season.

Bogosian was traded to the Buffalo Sabres along with Evander Kane in 2015. He was never particularly effective there over six injury-filled seasons, dressing for 243 games and recording 13 goals and 54 assists for 67 points and going minus-49.

Bogosian’s time in Buffalo ended rather ceremoniously. Last December, he requested a trade, and in February, the team waived him. He cleared waivers but refused to report to the Rochester Americans, so the Sabres suspended him and later terminated his contract.

Zach Bogosian, Steven Stamkos
Bogosian spent six injury-filled seasons with the Sabres from 2015 to 2020 before joining the Lightning in February. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Chris O’Meara)

The 6-foot-3 d-man then signed as a free agent with the Tampa Bay Lightning a few days before the trade deadline and skated in eight games, recording two assists, before the NHL shutdown in mid-March.

Braydon Coburn

Played 29 games for the Thrashers between 2005-06 and 2006-07

The Thrashers drafted the left-handed shooting d-man in the first round, eight overall, at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

It was a rare good pick for a franchise characterized by their near utter incompetence at the draft table and never acquired anything resembling organizational depth.

Related: Winnipeg Jets: Five Completely Forgettable Call Ups

Coburn bounced between the Thrashers and their AHL affiliate in Chicago until 2007, when they bungled any form of asset management and traded him to the Philadelphia Flyers for Alexei Zhitnik.

That trade turned out to one of the worst in NHL history. While Zhitnik played just 83 games for the Thrashers in the twilight of his career, Coburn blossomed into a top-four, shutdown mainstay for the Flyers. He suited up for 576 games over nine seasons and recorded 37 goals and 124 assists for 161 points while dishing out 925 hits with his 6-foot-5, 226-pound frame.

Braydon Coburn played 576 games for the Flyers over nine seasons before being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In 2015, the Flyers traded Coburn to the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he remains to this day, on the first year of a two-year deal he signed last June. Now 35, Coburn has suited up for 70-plus games in four of his five full seasons with the Lightning and has averaged 16:09 in ice time in 350 games. He is only 37 games away from reaching 1000 for his career.

Ron Hainsey

Played 243 games for the Thrashers between 2008-09 and 2010-11

The beefy, minute-munching Ron Hainsey played for the Thrashers in their final three seasons after spending time with the Montreal Canadiens and Columbus Blue Jackets, suiting up for all but three games and enjoying his best statistical season in 2008-09 (six goals and 33 assists for 39 points.)

Ron Hainsey in his Thrasher days. (Credit: Resolute/WikiPedia)

The defenceman’s offensive instincts seemed to dry up as soon as he put on a Jets’ jersey, however. Over 103 games in the Jets’ first two seasons, he recorded 23 assists but never lit the lamp.

The Jets let Hainsey walk after the 2012-13 season and he signed as a free agent with the Carolina Hurricanes. He was a reliable back-end figure there for four seasons, playing 300 games and recording 15 goals and 43 assists for 58 points.

Hainsey suited up for 300 games for the Hurricanes, the most of the eight teams he’s played for in his 17-year career.

Hainsey was traded to the Penguins in February, 2017, but he played just 16 games there down the stretch and joined the Toronto Maple Leafs prior to the 2018-19 campaign.

After two up-and-down seasons with the Maple Leafs in which he played his 1000th-career game but was oft-criticized for his lack of speed and that he — now in his late thirties — was occupying a top-four role instead of younger players.

Edmonton Oilers Connor McDavid Toronto Maple Leafs Ron Hainsey
The veteran Hainsey was a lightning rod for criticism during his tenure in Toronto. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Hainsey signed a one-year deal with the Ottawa Senators last July and was named an alternate captain. He recorded one goal and 11 assists in 64 games this season.

Evander Kane

Played 139 games for the Thrashers between 2009-10 and 2010-11

Another high pick, the Thrashers took the talented sniper fourth overall in 2009 after he put up 48 goals and 48 assists for the Vancouver Giants in his second full WHL season.

Like Bogosian, the Thrashers brought Kane to the NHL immediately and he recorded 33 goals and 36 assists for 69 points in 133 games over two seasons, dazzling with his speed, goal-scoring instincts, and fearlessness.

In the Jets’ inaugural season, Kane recorded a career-high 30 goals. However, between then and 2015, he proved to be a high-maintenance player who was a nightmare to deal with; he engaged in a variety of immature antics — from the Twitter post he made flashing fat stacks on a Las Vegas balcony to allegedly dining and dashing at fancy restaurants — that overshadowed his on-ice contributions.

After Kane showed up to a team meeting in a tracksuit and Dustin Byfuglien threw it in the shower, the Jets traded the problematic forward to the Sabres along with the aforementioned Zach Bogosian in exchange for Joel Armia, Brenden Lemieux, Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, and a 2015 first-round pick they used to select Jack Roslovic.

Kane spent three seasons with the Sabres and never recorded more than 43 points in a season. He was traded to the San Jose Sharks in February, 2018, and has recorded 65 goals and 52 assists for 117 points as a Shark since.

Evander Kane San Jose Sharks
Evander Kane joined the Sharks after three mediocre seasons with the Sabres. He’s continued to be a problem off the ice. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He’s continued to show his emotional immaturity despite being nearly 30 years old. A Las Vegas casino is suing the forward for $500,000 in gambling credits, and more alarmingly, a woman alleged Kane offered her $3 million to abort three different pregnancies between 2016 and 2018 but then didn’t pay up after she did.

Related: Evander Kane: Asset or Liability for the Sharks?

Kane isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, however; he’s in the second year of a seven-year contract with an average annual value of $7 million.

Ilya Kovalchuk

Ilya Kovalchuk is the Thrashers all-time leader in goals, points, and games played. (linesinthesand/Flickr)

Played 594 games for the Thrashers between 2001-02 and 2009-10

The second of the Thrashers’ two all-time first-overall picks, the offensively adept and versatile Kovalchuk was the most decorated and dominant Thrasher in their brief 12-year existence.

The Russian native racked up 328 goals and 287 assists for 615 points in just 594 games over eight seasons. He twice eclipsed the 50-goal mark: in 2005-06 and 2007-08, and scored 40 goals in three other campaigns.

In 2010, the Thrashers traded the face of the franchise — who wanted out of Atlanta — to the New Jersey Devils for Niclas Bergfors, Johnny Oduya, Patrice Cormier, and a 2010 first-round draft pick. That offseason, the Devils reupped Kovalchuk to a massive 15-year, $100-million contract.

Related: Ilya Kovalchuk Trade Revisited

Kovalchuk ended up fulfilling only one-fifth of that deal. In the summer of 2013, after playing 222 games with the Devils, he elected to retire from the NHL and return to Russia.

Ilya Kovalchuk Devils hockey
Kovalchuk ended up playing out just three years of the 15-year contract. (Icon SMI)

After five successful seasons with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg, Kovalchuk announced that he would return to the NHL and several teams went after him hard. The Los Angeles Kings ended up winning the “sweepstakes,” inking him to a three-year contract worth nearly $7 million annually in June, 2018.

The contract turned out to be a poor one as Kovalchuk didn’t have much impact with the Kings at all. After posting 34 points in 2018-19 and nine in 17 games this season, the Kings announced he would be a healthy scratch for the foreseeable future and later terminated his contract.

Kovalchuk signed as a free agent with the Montreal Canadiens for a paltry $700,000 in early January and he looked like a new man with Les Habitants, posting six goals and seven assists for 13 points in 22 games.

The Canadiens, who were slipping out of playoff contention by February’s trade deadline, smartly flipped him to the Washington Capitals while retaining part of his salary. Hilariously, Kovalchuk, now 37, is currently being paid by four different teams: the Devils, Kings, Canadiens, and Capitals.

Andrew Ladd

Played 81 games for the Thrashers in 2010-11

After winning a pair of Stanley Cups — one with the Hurricanes in 2006 and another with the he Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 — the latter traded him to the Thrashers in the wake of the Cup victory in a cap-clearing move.

Ladd played the 2010-11 season with the Thrashers and was named their eighth team captain in franchise history that November.

Andrew Ladd’s A got upgraded to a C during the Thrashers final season in Atlanta and he kept it when they relocated to Winnipeg.

Ladd was one of the first to embrace Winnipeg when discourse was swirling as to whether it was a true big-league city. He signed a five-year deal before they’d even played a game, that showed he was committed to pushing the new franchise forward.

He did just —push the franchise forward — in 348 games seasons with the C on his chest. A true competitor, he was admired for his skill and versatility on the ice and for being a quality person involved in the community off it.

The hard-working, feisty forward scored 110 goals and added 136 assists for 246 points with the Jets — with his best season being a 24 goal, 38 assist campaign in 2014-15 — before he was traded back to the Blackhawks in February, 2016.

Related: Ladd Trade Was, Is & Will Be Good for Jets

In retrospect, the Jets should thank their lucky stars Ladd turned down the six-year deal worth $6 million annually they offered him.

The season following the trade, Ladd signed a massive seven-year, $38.5 million contract with the New York Islanders that quickly became one of the NHL’s worst. The now 34-year-old has recorded just 72 points in 181 games as an Islander and has been hampered by a variety of injuries, most notably an ACL tear.

Bryan Little

The Thrashers chose Bryan Little 12th overall in 2006.

Played 282 games for the Thrashers between 2007-08 and 2010-11

One of the few picks that worked out well for the Thrashers, Bryan Little recorded 68 goals and 81 assists for 149 points in 282 games between being drafted 12th overall in 2006 and relocation.

Little, of course, is still with the Jets to this day, and has spent many of his 561 games as a steady and versatile top-six centre, putting up 149 goals and 223 assists for 372 points.

Little has seen his ice time wane a bit in recent seasons and he’s oft been a criticized by fans for not being a suitable man in the middle for the Jets’ young guns such as Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. Despite that, he’s produced 40-plus points in seven separate seasons; he also scored the Jets’ first hat trick in 2.0 history.

After playing all 82 games in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns, Little was limited to seven games this season. He suffered a concussion in the preseason and then a serious brain injury in early November caused by an errant Ehlers slap shot to the side of his head.

Related: The Severity and Impact of Bryan Little’s Brain Injury

Little had a procedure on his ear drum in February that takes three-plus months to recover from; one can only hope to see him back on the ice eventually, but only after he’s fully healed.

Blake Wheeler

Played 23 games for the Thrashers in 2010-11

The other former Thrashers still with the Jets nearly a decade later is their current captain, Blake Wheeler.

Wheeler, who came over to the Thrashers from the Boston Bruins in a trade late in their final season, is a prolific playmaker, extremely hard worker, and consummate professional who appears to only be getting better with age.

Blake Wheeler Atlanta Thrashers
Wheeler recorded 7 goals and 10 assists in 23 games for the Thrashers in their final season prior to relocation.

A key figure whose veteran presence and leadership ability has helped many Jets’ youngsters and draft picks blossom into bona fide super stars, Wheeler took a while to come into his own as a top-six forward. He’s even called himself “one of those late bloomers” and “one of those guys that it took a while to turn into a man, physically and mentally.” (from ‘Top 10 scorer is the Wheel deal,’ Winnipeg Free Press, 01/04/2016.)

He’s certainly all man now. In 872 games with the Jets, the power forward has put up 207 goals and 427 assists for 634 points. He’s recorded 74 points or more in his last five campaigns, had back-to-back 91 point seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19, and has been an All-Star seven times.

Blake Wheeler
Blake Wheeler has become the face of the Jets and a prototypical power forward who can be counted on to produce, night in and night out.. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

Wheeler’s production dropped a bit this season — 65 points in 71 games —but he was able to seamlessly slide to centre and help the Jets “stay in the fight” in the wake of Little’s injury. It was a selfless move as Wheeler would be the first to admit he prefers to be the guy on the wing, making things happen from the wall for Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor.

Despite his numbers dip, the campaign wasn’t without a personal milestone as he became the franchise’s all-time leader in points in December, passing Kovalchuk in one of the Jets most exciting games of the season.

Wheeler is in the first year of a five-year deal that carries an $8.25 million AAV. Jets fans are hoping he continues to age like fine wine rather than bananas.

Overall, at age 28, Kane is the youngest former Thrasher. That means in a decade or less, the Atlanta Thrasher will be extinct for good.

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